Choosing the Right Study Abroad Programs

If your student wants to study abroad, then he/she faces the challenge of selecting the right program that will provide the best possible cultural and educational experience.
You can be of tremendous support to your student throughout the education abroad process. The Office of International Programs will assist you to be the most effective, while giving your student a sense of independence and confidence.

Criteria for Program Selection: The first thing your student must do is decide what needs and desires must be fulfilled while studying abroad. Study abroad programs vary greatly in a number of different ways. You can assist your student in narrowing down choices by asking a few questions, such as:

  • Where do you want to study abroad?
  • When do you want to study abroad?
  • What do you want to gain from studying abroad?
  • Do you want to live in a dormitory, an apartment or with a host family?
  • Do you want to improve your foreign language skills or become completely fluent in a language?
  • How long do you want to study abroad?
  • How much will your studies abroad cost?

You might also pose follow-up questions, such as:

  • Do you want to study in a country that doesn't speak English?
  • Do you want to be in a city or in the country?
  • How much is the cost-of-living (Stellenbosch, South Africa, vs. London, England, for example)
  • Do you want to volunteer while abroad?
  • How will this affect your major and career goals?
  • How will this affect your credits?
  • How will you arrange housing for when you return? What about voting while you’re away? Paying credit card bills? Cell phone reception and bills?

Perhaps your student already knows the answers to some of these questions, but these and others like them can be more helpful than you realize once the process of choosing a study abroad program begins.

A preliminary caution is to read the study abroad program literature carefully. Encourage your student to cut through the language that sounds like advertising to get to the meat of the information he/she is seeking.

Choosing When to Study: Your student must also decide when he/she would like to study abroad. Programs run during the regular semester, and some are offered during the January Term and/or summer. Semester programs present the student an opportunity to earn 12-17 credits/units, while Jan-term and summer programs led by our faculty offer 1-4 credits/units.

The Curriculum: Your student must decide what program provides the type of curriculum he/she would like to study. Some programs are foreign language-based, while others give choices of different majors or general education courses. While most students tend to choose a program that is in alignment with their college studies, your student may want to take electives or classes that do not contribute to the major he/she is working toward. The location has a lot to do with that. Your student may not have studied art before, but would not be able to pass up a chance to take art history class in Paris or Florence.

The Supporting Players: Whether or not your student decides to study with other Americans can also make a huge difference in what program to choose. Some programs involve studying alongside other American students, which often finds the students spending all their time with others just like them. But other programs can fully immerse students in the native culture, placing them either in an internationally-populated apartment complex or with a host family. Your student can choose to enroll directly in an international school and be fully immersed, or study abroad through his or her American college and travel with a group of U.S. students.

Overcoming the Language Barrier: Language skills are another element to take into consideration. If your student is already fluent in the language of the country in which he/she will study, that student will likely have no problem learning in classes that are taught in that language. Students with less proficiency in the foreign language have options, including outside classes that teach them enough of the language to "get-by"; programs that facilitate the enhancement of foreign language skills by incorporating them into the curriculum; or schools made for American students taught entirely in English. Keep in mind, though, that students tend to learn a foreign language faster when they experience hearing and speaking it in its native country, so the Americanized version of a study abroad experience is not always the most enriching way to go.

Where to live: A number of housing options exist. Some students may choose a program in which they live with a host family in their destination country. These host families often assimilate the student into daily life in the household and expect the students to contribute. Other students will choose to live in a dormitory to be with students from their native country. Figure out what your student would prefer the most and explore options available for the particular country/program.