As I finish up my pre-departure tasks for my study abroad trip next spring, I thought of some tips that I would have shared with myself at the beginning of the process of choosing a study abroad program. Here are some things to consider when choosing the study abroad program that works best for you.
When choosing a program, you want to make sure that you are making the most affordable decision possible, because let's face it — we're all broke college students. I recommend looking at your university's programs where your financial aid and merit scholarships count towards the trip's tuition and costs.
For me, these programs were held during the semester rather than summer or winter breaks, where your scholarships did not count towards your tuition and costs of the trip. You want to choose the most affordable option, but also a program that you are passionate about and would like to travel to, whether the country's in Europe, South America, or Asia!
Do research on each of the programs that you're interested in, look at the breakdown of the costs of the trips, and weigh your options wisely — you want to be aware of each program's costs and if they will be affordable to you.
You'll also want to look for any outside or university-sponsored scholarships you might qualify for. If you're a first-generation college student or plan on studying a critical language while abroad, you might find a scholarship that you qualify for.
Choosing a location goes hand in hand with affordability, so you should do your research on where each study abroad program goes and how accessible travel and transportation is to other places around your host country. For example, I'm studying abroad in Luxembourg this spring, and one of the benefits of this program is that it is close and easy to travel to other countries including France, Germany, Belgium, etc.
I would make a list of locations that you might like to study abroad in and see how affordable these programs are at your university. Other things to consider when choosing the location are safety, affordability of the cities in your host country, and the cultures you might be interested in learning more about in the country!
One of the most important factors in choosing a study abroad program is the duration of your study abroad trip. Study abroad programs are typically semester-long, year-long, or shorter trips during regular semesters and your university's breaks.
If this is your first time studying abroad, perhaps you'll like to go with students of your university to a semester-long program where the staff of your university will be holding classes throughout the semester. If you're an experienced traveler, perhaps a shorter trip during summer or winter break with fewer students, fewer class credits, and a more focused academic program would be better.
Everyone has different preferences, experiences with travel, and funds for the programs they might be interested in. The duration will impact the affordability of your program, so you should definitely do research on your university's different programs.
4. Housing Choices
For housing choices, most universities give students the option of staying with a host family. During my study abroad program in the spring, I will be staying with a host family and couldn't be more excited to learn firsthand about the languages and cultures of the family.
If you're looking for other options, you might want to look into apartments or special housing for certain majors or programs. For example, my university's program in Luxembourg offers a special house that students can apply to get into, but there are some pros and cons with these differences in housing.
For example, staying with a host family might be cheaper than living in an apartment where you'll have to cook meals for yourself rather than getting at least one meal a day from your host family. If you get an apartment or house, you'll most likely have to pay more rent than if you were living with a host family, but living with a host family who doesn't speak English may make it difficult to communicate at times.
Doing research on the housing options your university's programs offer and finding what you would prefer is incredibly important when deciding on a study abroad program.
5. Degree requirements
Finally, before you study abroad, you should look at your degree and major requirements and how studying abroad is attainable with achieving those requirements. As a psychology major, which is a relatively low-credit major at my university, I will only have to take one psychology class for my degree.
For someone with more than one major, they might not be able to study abroad or for as long as others because study abroad programs don't often include classes for every major. You'll want to see what classes the study abroad programs you're interested in usually offer and consider your major requirements before you make a decision.
While you should be having fun and exploring different topics while studying abroad, you also don't want to negatively impact your ability to complete your graduation requirements.