Studying abroad is becoming more popular than ever. A report from the Institute of International Education found that 304,467 U.S. college students traveled overseas for academic purposes during the 2013-14 academic year, a 5% increase from the previous year. Colleges and universities have met this demand by offering more international opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students across all major fields of study, and a growing number of online learning institutions are following suit.
Students choose to learn abroad for several reasons. International programs allow participants to step out of their comfort zones and immerse themselves in a foreign culture. Students also observe different education and business practices, and have the opportunity to forge lifelong connections and expand their global professional network. Other potential benefits of studying abroad include foreign language skills, graduate school opportunities, and higher rates of post-college employment. If you’re interested in studying abroad, here are some introductory questions to ask yourself:
This guide to studying abroad will explore the academic requirements, financial costs, program options, and other key aspects of studying abroad. Our goal is to provide a detailed resource for online students who are curious about attending college internationally.
There are several factors students should take into consideration as they research different international academic programs. While not an exhaustive list, some major points include:
Affordability: The cost of studying abroad can vary a great deal from school to school. Some colleges work with students and partner universities abroad to keep the price as low as the equivalent of one semester of study at the student’s home university, but it’s not unheard of for a study abroad program to cost over $31,000 per semester — more than twice the amount of stateside options. This includes tuition, course materials, and housing, as well as daily expenses like food, nightlife, and in-country travel. Students can pursue grant and scholarship opportunities to help mitigate the various costs of studying and living abroad if a program doesn’t fall within their budget.
Program Format: Some study abroad options follow a classroom schedule similar to stateside programs, while others follow a more independent track. Students should decide which format is best, in terms of both personal preference and professional goals. Credit transferral is another important consideration. Students should concentrate on programs that will help them work toward their major/minor degree requirements in order to get best return on their investment.
Duration: Study abroad programs generally fall under one of three categories: short-term, semester, and full-year. Students should explore programs that will allow them to finish school and earn their degree within a reasonable timeframe.
Destination: Each country presents a unique experience for U.S. students, and those who wish to study abroad should choose their destination carefully. Geography, weather, food, arts, political climate, and other factors should all play a role in helping students decide where to study abroad.
Students who go abroad gain a wealth of knowledge, skills, and cultural insights. Here are some of the major benefits of international study:
Post-College Employment: Business leaders today stress the importance of international commerce and cooperation, and students who have gone abroad are considered valuable assets to companies and organizations who operate on a global scale. A 2012 study by IES Abroad found that 95% of college graduates who studied overseas were able to secure employment within one year of finishing school. In contrast, 49% of students who did not study abroad reported the same outcome.
Language Skills: Many linguistic experts agree that cultural immersion and daily conversation are key to becoming fluent in a second language. Studying abroad allows students to speak with local residents in their native tongue and in a wide range of contexts.
Cultural Experience: Studying and living in a foreign country forces individuals to leave their comfort zone and take part in new customs, traditions, and ways of life. These experiences not only help students gain a worldly perspective, but also allow them to return home and educate others about international culture.
Once-in-a-Lifetime Travel Opportunity: For many individuals, studying abroad is the most convenient way to experience another country and live outside the U.S. for an extended period of time. College students generally have fewer responsibilities and obligations as working professionals or parents, and many study abroad programs incorporate in-country travel and cultural activities to help enhance the overall experience.
Study abroad programs are significant investments, and students should carefully research different international destinations in order to calculate all costs and set a realistic, reasonable budget. Important financial factors to consider when choosing a program include:
The study abroad program’s location is another important consideration. The 2016 cost of living index reveals that countries in Western Europe, East Asia and Australia/New Zealand are among the most expensive in terms of day-to-day expenses. In contrast, the cost of living in countries such as Central and South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe is lower.
Once a student has calculated the total costs of studying and living abroad, he/she will be able to create a comprehensive budget plan. Aside from airfare, housing, tuition, and other essential expenses, most international student expenditures fall into five major categories. Here are some ways to reduce day-to-day costs in each of these categories:
Transportation: Students will save money by taking advantage of local bus and subway systems instead of daily car rentals, taxis, and other private conveyances. A bicycle or scooter is also a good investment depending on the accessibility of the area.
Travel: For weekend and holiday getaways, hostels tend to offer more cost-effective accommodations than hotels and resorts. Traveling during certain times of the year (i.e., tourist off-seasons) may also prove less expensive.
Shopping: Every student will vary in terms of disposable income, but study abroad participants are urged to create a shopping budget and stick to it as much as possible. Local residents can also be helpful sources of information about inexpensive shopping locations and where to find high-quality products. One important detail to note: many credit cards assess a 1% to 3% surcharge for purchases made overseas.
Dining: Eating out can take a toll on student funds. Those who study abroad should stick to a fixed meal budget and avoid ordering from menus with no prices listed. Paying with cash (as opposed to a debit or credit card) is often an effective way for students to follow their budget. Forgoing meals out in favor of cooking at home will generally save money in the long run.
Social/Nightlife Activities: Going out and socializing is as integral to international studies as it is to college life in the U.S. Curtail after-hours costs by leaving credit cards at home and bringing enough cash to have a good time while still following a budget. This measure also helps prevent credit card theft. Hosting dinner parties and attending free functions allow students to socialize affordably, while frequenting bars and nightclubs tend to drain bank accounts.
Once a student has met with an advisor, selected a program, and calculated the costs of studying abroad, the next step will be filling out a program application. Requirements will vary by school and specific program, but generally they will include the following components:
Apply for a passport at least six months before the departure date in order to ensure it will arrive on time. Some countries require U.S. citizens to hold a valid passport for at least six months prior to arrival; additional restrictions may apply to visitors whose passports are set to expire six months or less after they return home. U.S. citizens can obtain a passport through a federal or state court of record or a U.S. State Department passport agency; some post offices also offer this service. Obtaining a passport will require the following:
In most cases, a student visa will be required for study abroad opportunities of any length; CIBTVisas offers a comprehensive guide to each country’s specific visa system. Processing a student visa can take several months, so be sure to submit an application plenty of time ahead of the departure date. Visa application requirements vary by country, but generally include the following:
Flights can fill up quickly and airfare rates rise as the departure date approaches, so be sure to book tickets as far in advance of the study abroad program as possible. Locating reasonable fares can be tricky. Sites like Kayak and FareCompare allow users to weigh the costs of flying with different carriers. Additionally, agencies like STA Travel and Studentuniverse offer flexible and cost-friendly tickets for students.
Luggage is another consideration. Students in semester- or year-long programs may wish to bring extra clothing and personal items, and this may require them to check a certain number of bags. Most international carriers allow passengers to check one bag and carry-on two pieces of luggage free of charge. However, these fees will vary by airline. Some carriers also offer discounted fees on additional checked bags for airline credit card-holders and members of qualifying organizations (such as AAA).
Studying abroad gives students the opportunity to enjoy foreign food and experience new dining settings. Students who follow a reasonable budget will be able to enjoy a wide range of their host country’s local cuisine, from a gourmet meal at a swanky restaurant to hot-and-ready dishes from food trucks and street vendors. Here are a few tips for eating and drinking abroad:
Splurge with a Fancy Meal: Students who follow their budget should be able to afford an occasional meal at a fine dining establishment. Consult with local residents to learn about the best spots.
Scope out the Street Scene: Many countries are famous for meals prepared in food trucks or by street-side vendors. These meals are usually inexpensive and quite tasty. However, street food may increase health risks associated with bacteria and foodborne illnesses. Cooked food is safer than raw options, and students in countries with unsafe drinking water should avoid menu items containing fresh produce.
Frequent the Grocery Store: For most students, buying food from the grocery store and preparing it at home is the most reasonable way to minimize dining costs. Family-owned markets and convenience stores are typically cheaper than chain grocery stores. Open-air markets may also be an inexpensive source for meat and produce.
Invest in Proper Cooking Utensils: A fully stocked kitchen can help students resist the urge to dine out too frequently. Students are encouraged to bring some extra spending money for basic kitchenware once they’ve arrived in their study abroad accommodations. This tends to be a cheaper and more convenient option than packing these items in airline luggage.
Leftovers: If possible, students who cook meals at home should prepare an extra portion for the next day’s lunch. Bringing a lunch to school will significantly cut down on food costs, freeing up space in their budget for outside dining options.