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Studying Abroad: Everything You Need to Know

Studying abroad is one of the parts of college that many students look forward to the most. It’s an opportunity to experience a new culture, meet new people, and see new sights. But there is a lot of planning involved in studying abroad. 

In this guide, we’ll help you consider whether studying abroad is right for you. Then, we’ll help you choose a program, prepare for your semester, and offer a guide to making the most out of it while you’re there. Let’s get into it:

Also see: Top study abroad scholarships

What is study abroad?

Studying abroad allows students to complete between one and two semesters of their studies in another country through an extension of their school or a partner organization or school. Some programs allow students to enroll at universities in the place they are attending, while others offer classes designed specifically for international students.

Each school and program varies in how these credits are counted. Some count towards generic education requirements and others act as direct substitutes for classes they could have taken at their home university. Study abroad requires significant planning beforehand on the part of the student. They typically need to make many accommodations to ensure they will remain on track for graduation after completing their semester.

Pros and cons of studying abroad


  • Studying abroad is a great opportunity to expand your worldview and meet new people
  • Depending on your academic program, you may gain insight into another country’s academic system
  • You can use study abroad to connect with your heritage
  • Studying abroad is a rare opportunity to live in another part of the world for a period of about three to four months
  • You can take the opportunity to learn a new language
  • Some programs, such as Semester at Sea, involve hands-on learning that could never be replicated in a classroom environment

Also see: Top reasons to study abroad


  • Studying abroad might make it harder to complete your major requirements, especially if you are a double major
  • Some study abroad programs have significantly less reputable academic programs
  • You might miss out on valuable time with your friends in college
  • The costs of travel and living in a new place add up. If you are on a tight budget, you’ll have to save up in preparation for your semester
  • If you are enrolled work-study, you probably won’t be able to earn income during your semester abroad
  • The many challenges and excitements that come with living in a new place may disrupt your academics

How to choose a program

When it comes to choosing a program, first-hand testimonials are your best friend. If you know anyone who is currently on the program or has completed it, don’t be shy. Reach out and tell them you’re considering it. Oftentimes, students will be excited to recount their study abroad experiences. Chances are, they’ll be more than willing to talk to you.

If you don’t have any connections to the program, you can try reaching out to their admissions staff. They can probably put you in touch with a current student or recent alumnus. It’s very valuable to get this sort of insight; they will tell you things that admissions materials and pamphlets cannot. Here are a few ideas of what to ask about:

Housing situation

When it comes to the program’s housing situation, there are a few things you’ll want to find out:

  • Cleanliness: Are common areas kept clean?
  • Location: Is it central to the city you’re studying in or on the outskirts?
  • Noise level: Is it a quiet dorm? Do you hear a lot of the other students, or of noises from the street? Is there major construction going on nearby? This is not always a dealbreaker, but it’s always better to be prepared beforehand.
  • Privacy:  Do you get your own room? Does that room share a bathroom or a kitchen with other rooms?
  • Integration with the culture: Are you considering a homestay with a local family? Do you want to stay with other international students or a dorm with mixed local students and international students?


  • Difficulty: Are you seeking out an easy academic semester to allow you more time to explore your chosen study location? Or do you want a rigorous academic setting?
  • Integration with the culture: How much do you want your classes to be built around the place you’re staying? Do you want to learn the same topics you’d be learning in the States, or use your location as a case study?
  • Student demographics: Do you want to study among local students, international students from around the world, or strictly other Americans? Do you want a program that is integrated with a local university or run on its own?

Social opportunities

  • Social programs run by your organization: Are there social “happy hours” or other events to help bring together people on your program?
  • Language in your chosen place of study: Do you want to go to a place where English is spoken widely? Or would you rather use the semester to focus on a second language?


    • Population: Do you want to study in a big city, in a remote town, or on a boat in the sea? There are many options out there, and you can decide what experience you’re looking for
  • Proximity to other places of interest: Many study abroad students in Europe use their semester to travel around the entire continent. Do you want a place with convenient routes to other spots, or do you plan on bunkering down in your place of study?

How to prepare for your study abroad semester

Work on your language skills

Once you’ve chosen your program, it’s a good time to start preparing. If you are not fluent in the primary language of your place of study, a great place to start is practicing that language. Finding a practice buddy, using DuoLingo, and buying some workbooks is a great start. You can also watch movies in the language and turn on English subtitles, or vice versa.

Brush up on history

Next, you can help enrich your understanding of your future place of study by reading up on it. Look for some books, television shows, or documentaries that illustrate important elements in its history. With this information, you’ll have a much more meaningful experience once you arrive.

Pack for the weather

You should also read up on the climate and make sure that you pack appropriate clothing. Try to find some guides as to what to pack – sometimes, 50 degrees Fahrenheit can feel a lot colder in one place than another! 

Get some tips

This is also a great time to talk to some people who have completed the program. Find out if there’s anything that you use regularly that is hard to find in the place you’re going. Some Americans are surprised by other countries’ lack of availability of things they take for granted. Any other advice from fellow Americans on where to go, where to avoid, and what to do, can all be useful.

How to make the most of your time overseas

Once you’ve arrived, you’ve got the entire semester, or sometimes the entire year, at your disposal. Some students will experience a lot of homesickness and feel overwhelmed by the new place. But if you push past these feelings, there is a great world of opportunity waiting out there for you. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your time:

Put yourself out there

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, the last thing you may want to do is talk to new people. But the best way to feel at home in your place of study is to be outgoing. Go to the mixers that your program offers and find local events that would attract similar-minded people.

Learn from everything around you

A huge breadth of differences exists across cultures. Some are very obvious, and others are more subtle. Remain observant of everything going on around you, and you’ll find interesting things everywhere you look. Try to identify everything you like about the culture you’re visiting, and incorporate it into your own life. This will bring you home as a changed person!

Stay up on your classes

With all the new excitement going on, it is understandable that a student may fall behind in classes. But the last thing you want to do during your adventure abroad is to stress about failing a course. Make sure you keep up with the work you need to do so you can continue to enjoy the place you’re in.

Don’t forget to write home

Make sure to keep in touch with your friends and family during your time abroad. They will all want to know what you’re doing, and you will feel good having kept in touch with everyone waiting for you at home. Talking to people about your experience is a good way to keep stock of it and grow from it.

Related: Top foreign language scholarships


Studying abroad is an amazing opportunity for students who want to see more of the world. You will find yourself in situations that you could never experience in a classroom and will probably grow significantly as a person. As long as you keep an open mind and learn from everything going around you, studying abroad will be an unforgettable experience!

Also see: Top scholarships for college sophomores