5 Things That Separate GREAT Study Abroad Programs from Average Ones

by Julia Dunn

Anyone looking for a well-rounded romp in New Guinea or a fantastic frolic in France would probably want to be in the best study abroad program possible to compliment their travels. Given all the possible study abroad programs that exist, why wouldn’t you want your exciting trip around the world to be of the highest possible quality?

Woman runner stretching

Flexibility is an important part of great study abroad programs.

To make sure your study abroad program is the best one for your personal interests, needs, and academic goals, consider the following details that separate fantastic study abroad programs from mediocre ones.

1. Overall Flexibility

Studying abroad is a huge decision, and individuals who decide to do so want their program to really work for them (especially considering the time and energy commitment required to go abroad). Great study abroad programs offer lots of different configurations in terms of class credit equivalencies, start and end dates, housing, and financing. A high-quality study abroad program worth pursuing will ideally contain elements that can be modified or personalized for the person going abroad, especially academically. For instance, can you receive class credit in your major by taking classes abroad at another university?

Explore programs that allow you to make your trip your own in some form or fashion. If you find that the program you’re looking at seems more rigid and limiting than you’d like, you should probably look further before signing up immediately. It really helps to reach out to your university’s study abroad advisors, as they have experience helping students choose programs that are suited to their needs and interests.

Weighing budgets with money and a potato

Financial aid should be offered by the best programs.

2. Fair Pricing & Financial Aid Availability

Financing study abroad is the most common factor that blocks young people from snapping up this opportunity. Make sure you’re getting the most out of the money you pay for study abroad by taking a close look at what your money will actually be paying for. In some study abroad programs, tuition covers the cost of certain trips and extracurricular activities. If you can find one of these programs, you may be able to save some cash you’d otherwise spend independently on sightseeing.

Additionally, check out what types of financial aid are available for certain programs. Perhaps one program offers scholarships to students in financial need, while another just offers loans. The amount of work you put into researching various study abroad programs specifically with regards to price will definitely prove beneficial.

3. Size of the Program

The smaller a study abroad program you enroll in, the more intimate the experience will be! Small programs are typically great for forming friendships and connections while overseas.

Girl with a little boy in Russia

Co-curricular activities may include volunteering or internship components.

Another detail that makes a study abroad program stand out has to do with the level of engagement travelers have with faculty at their university abroad. A handful of study abroad programs connect students with faculty who also go abroad to serve as familiar resources for students. This means that, in addition to imparting their wisdom in relation to class topics, they can provide extra assistance, instruction about what to visit, or just a little more supervision to lessen the stress of being let loose in a different country.

Alternatively, you may be connected with a local faculty member from the school you’re going to, who will welcome you upon arrival with open arms. For more interaction with local events, people, and happenings, these on-location teachers are invaluable and may serve as a link to other connections, references, and friendships. Furthermore, these types of programs usually have smaller groups of study abroad students, so you’ll be able to connect with local students as well. It’s always a thrill to share such once-in-a-lifetime memories overseas with other students who could become your lifelong friends.

4. Co-curricular Opportunities

Studying abroad shouldn’t just be about academics and coursework; it should give travelers a strong, enriching sense of culture. Some unique programs take the initiative to prepare students to understand and communicate with people of other cultures. They achieve this objective by placing study abroad students in a homestay, which allows for a much more immersive experience.

Person about to slip on banana peel

Great study abroad programs offer safety measures that account for any unexpected accidents abroad.

Other programs provide study abroad participants opportunities to volunteer in the community while overseas, which is a definite program highlight for anyone looking to not only visit a foreign country,  but make a difference socially by helping others.

Some programs also require participants to complete an internship abroad. Depending on what type of commitment it is, you may gain insight about your field of study through taking on an internship in a country foreign to you, or you may simply find yourself more engaged with your experience as a whole. Study abroad programs that require an internship will allow you to build professional skills and adjust to a brand new culture at the same time (which is always exciting).

5. Safety Measures

A great study abroad program factors into its structure useful solutions for potential emergencies, such as becoming critically ill or injured, which seems to often happen when least expected. If students who go abroad are somehow unable to continue their stay for health reasons, the best study abroad program doesn’t make cutting a trip short, but instead offers medical assistance overseas.

If you have trouble deciding which study abroad program is the standout pick, find someone who's gone abroad before and talk to them about what their experience was like. Find out the highlights and flaws they noticed specific to their particular program (was it a nightmare trying to transfer course credit between universities? Was the price too high for the duration of the trip? What fell short with the program’s structure- or lack thereof?).

Two friends in nature

Staying with a host family can lead to new friends and siblings.

The greatest study abroad programs equally balance both structure and flexibility, important elements that allow participants to design a plan to their liking and enjoy a fulfilling experience.

The best way to choose a great study abroad program and leave average ones behind? Talk to people about your options and read reviews! Get multiple pairs of eyes to read a program description and the components associated with each program. While you may be able to get valuable input from those around you, make sure to weigh the positives and negatives of each program with your own priorities in mind; after all, you are the one going on the trip!

Don’t settle for any less than the absolute best. Good luck finding the study abroad program you’ve always wanted. You’ll be floating down beautiful canals in the Netherlands or expertly haggling at markets in Morocco in no time!

This heaping dose of travel inspiration was written and contributed by our partner Uloop