As you learn more about life outside your hometown, you may want to experience the world beyond your campus or even outside the country. The chance to study abroad is one of those chances that seem available only at a certain time of life. Your college years provide a great opportunity to see and experience life in another place while continuing your studies.
- Why go. Employers love a candidate with international experience. If you need more reasons, how about the ability to understand, work with and communicate with people from a variety of cultures or the opportunity to experience firsthand the atmosphere, history and attitudes of a different country?
- Who can go. Many college students go abroad for a semester during their junior year. But some programs exist for students from freshman year through graduate school. You may also see requirements for minimum grade point averages or certain courses, depending on the program.
- When to go. Because of the variety of study abroad programs, you can go at any point in your college career – freshman, sophomore, junior or even senior year. You can also choose the length and timing of your stay – go for a semester, a year, a summer or over winter break.
- Where to go. Depending on what you want to study, you can choose from programs on virtually every continent. In general, you want to choose a place you have a genuine interest in and one that you feel safe in. Check out the U.S. State Department's travel warnings.
- How to go. If your school has a travel abroad program, start there. If not, you can make plans through a number of agencies.
- Make a plan. Decide where you'd like to go and what you'd like to study while there. Do some research on the Internet to see what programs are offered in different locations. Read about other students' experiences on blogs and agency sites. Pay attention to deadlines – many agencies offer discounts or waive application fees if you register early.
- Understand the finances. Some schools offer programs that allow you to study abroad for the same costs you are already paying for tuition and room and board. Federal and state financial aid is also available.
- Learn the language – or not. Some programs require a basic knowledge of the language; others don't. English is common in many destinations. Whether or not you are comfortable with the language barrier, you definitely need to understand some culture basics. Make sure you can say a few phrases and know what gestures and actions are not acceptable.
- Find your comfort zone. Before you commit to a program, make sure you understand the environment. Will you be attending an international school where most students come from other places or a local college? Will you stay in dorms or with a host family? Are there coordinators from the agency onsite or nearby to help with issues as they arise?
- Mind the details. Make sure you know which documents you'll need to enter, study in and leave the country; then allow yourself enough time to apply for and receive the necessary documents. Understand the exchange rate and how much everyday items will cost you. Ask whether any excursions, day trips or other travel is allowed or included in the program. Find out how medical or other emergencies will be handled and who is responsible for the cost.
- Get credit for your work. Talk to your academic advisor about how credits for the courses you plan to take abroad will transfer. (Make sure you get any promises in writing.) Also find out whether you'll graduate on time or if you'll need to make up a few classes.
- Stay in touch. Some programs include prepaid cell phone plans. If yours doesn't, talk to your cell phone service provider about whether your phone will work and what charges will apply while you're abroad. It can be very expensive to use your cell phone for international calls. Other options include international calling plans (often available at your destination) and using the Internet. And, of course, you can always use the post office.