Oh, the Place You’ll Go! How to Choose Your Study Abroad Program

globeCongratulations–you’ve decided to study abroad! (If you haven’t yet, read my previous article for 9 good reasons you should take the plunge.) The next step is to decide where to go. If you still aren’t sure, here are a few tips:

  1. If you currently receive financial aid or scholarships, check whether your funding will carry over to all the study abroad programs you might be interested in. Some may cover any educational costs you incur no matter which country you’re in, but others may only cover study abroad programs if they are hosted by your school. (It may not be worth signing up for a multi-site study program in Asia if your full ride will only cover study in Europe.)
  1. If you need to save money, consider traveling to countries with exchange rates that are in your favor. I was able to travel to India last year because the rate at the time was 60 rupees to 1 dollar; the only truly substantial cost I ended up having to cover out of pocket was my airfare.
  1. Take any language barriers into account. If you don’t know the language already, it will take quite a lot of time to pick it up; many study abroad students never move past introductory phrases, especially if they have never had exposure to the language before. Language immersion is most effective when students already have some knowledge of the language beforehand.
  1. Research the academic programs available in each country and each program you have access to. Singapore, for instance, runs plenty of great programs for science and engineering, but few for the humanities. Sticking to programs that offer you good academic opportunities in your field(s) of interest will make it easier for you to incorporate your time abroad into your overall course of study.
  1. Check whether your classes abroad will transfer back to your home university. The last thing you want is to return home after a great semester abroad only to realize too late that you’re a few credits short of graduation, or a class short of declaring your major. Ensure that your four-year academic plan can accommodate your time abroad, and check with your school and major advisors to make sure everything will line up academically.
  1. Opt for longer programs, if you have the time and resources to do so. The longer you stay, the better understanding you’ll gain of your host country—which is, after all, the point of studying abroad.
  1. Understand your own comfort zone. If you’ve never traveled outside of your home state before, it might not be the best idea to plan a 6-month home-stay in developing country where you don’t know the language and don’t understand the culture. Culture shock is real, and studying abroad can be lonely and scary if you have trouble adapting to your host country and community.
  1. Go somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. College is a great time to travel, and you’ll have an easier time settling in to new surroundings if you’re excited to be there.
  1. Just go. Don’t get too caught up in planning the perfect trip; no matter which study abroad program you choose, you’ll learn and grow in amazing ways you never could from your home campus. Have fun, and best of luck!

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Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.