A Parent’s Guide to Choosing a Study Abroad Program

by Mariel Tavakoli

Your child has won you over with their arguments and enthusiasm to study abroad this upcoming semester, summer, or winter break. Now together, you may be looking at the thousands of destinations and program options with a trepidatious, giant question mark. So many acronyms, so many course names, and so many jazzy program offerings are competing for your attention, but where do you even begin to draw the distinctions? That’s where our parent guide to study abroad comes in.

Hand pointing at a map
Whether your student has a location in mind or not, these research tips will help you find the perfect program.

Although it may be an unofficial part of the study abroad process, especially for parents, to be overwhelmed at first, these five steps can help you navigate the exciting study abroad world and choose a study abroad program for your child’s abroad adventure:

1. Discuss Your Child’s Goals.

Your child’s semester abroad presents an exciting opportunity for them to enrich their college experience and gain invaluable skills and a global perspective as they launch into their adult lives. Studying abroad is a super popular thing to do, but take a minute (or thirty) to ask your child why exactly they want to embark on their journey.

Is it because they want to immerse in the local culture? Program providers, such as SIT Study Abroad, specialize in theme-centric programs that challenge students to tackle complex global issues through project-based and experiential learning models.

Is it because they want to gain career experience? Other providers, such as PINC International, organize programs that include internship placements, professional development, and cultural activities.

Is it because they want to master a foreign language? Maximo Nivel is just one of many companies that offer language intensive courses abroad.

While there are hundreds of programs out there to fit your child’s needs, the most important thing to consider is how they envision studying abroad in their personal story. With this first step, you and your child will align on the same page as you continue your search for the perfect study abroad program.

2. Look at a Map.

Another outcome of discussing your child’s goals is to narrow down a part of the world, country, and eventually, a city where they will gain the experience they desire. With respect to destination, considering a country’s language might be a clear answer of where to study and what type of program will allow them to master their language skills.

Meanwhile, if your child is not a linguaphile or they’re concerned about living in a non-English-speaking country, their best bets might be to check out study abroad programs in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, or Ireland.

While making sure your child’s study abroad destination will satisfy their language preferences and requirements is of utmost importance, the “abroad” portion of “study abroad” is just as crucial for parents to consider. A great place to start is the U.S. State Department Study Abroad website, which provides safety information about destinations around the world. Beyond language, other aspects of a country’s culture have the potential to heavily impact the experience your child has abroad, such as the traditional cuisine for students with dietary restrictions or inclusion for students who identify as LGBTQ.

Researching a country’s culture beforehand can help ensure that your child will be in a positive environment to focus on their studies and goals.
Magnifying glass sitting on an open book
Put your Sherlock Holmes hat on to find a program that meets your needs and your kid’s needs too.

3. Go to the Listings & Read Reviews!

Now that your child has identified their motivations and goals and chosen their destination for study abroad, it’s time to weed through the thousands of possible program options. Several websites, including yours truly, GoAbroad.com, will help narrow your search using handy filter tools for location, term, and subject.

But, what do all these program names/acronyms mean anyway? Although your child has the option to directly-enroll at an international university, third party providers (the acronyms!) are independent companies that coordinate programs abroad for students too. Yet, not all acronym-named providers are created equal.

When looking at study abroad programs offered by various companies, designate some time to investigate the companies themselves. Be sure to click to the program and company websites in order to get a better picture of your child’s experience in a larger context. Beyond the specifics of your child’s desired program, parents should consider the overall company’s size, history, and the larger alumni community that your child will eventually join.

On the company and program listing pages on GoAbroad’s Study Abroad Directory, you can read through alumni reviews that will provide direct insight into the experience your child will have and can be a great resource for candid information about the program. Most of all, continue referring back to your child’s study abroad goals to check whether a potential program will satisfy their personal requirements before you choose the best study abroad program for them.

4. Analyze the Options.

After selecting a few good program providers (and saving them in MyGoAbroad of course!), you and your child can begin to look at the different study abroad program options to determine if the offerings fit your child’s wishes, and your budget. It’s a good idea to start by looking at what is included in the price of the program to find the most affordable options; for example, how many courses and where, housing options, visa assistance, flights costs, cell phones etc. Next, you can look at the fun stuff, such as excursions, volunteer opportunities, special events, etc.

Every study abroad program is likely to be different; while this is part of what is overwhelming, it is also what will make your child’s experience unique and provide them with the platform to start their independent explorations.

There are several questions that you and your child can consider to help evaluate which program options are of most importance to them and to you. While they may be adamant about living in a homestay, you might be more concerned about what kind of in-country support they will receive. Discuss your answers together to clarify your priorities when narrowing down the study abroad programs in their dream destination.

View of the clouds out an airplane window
Soon enough your student will be ready for departure.

5. Create a Game Plan.

Finally, you’ve picked a study abroad program and now it’s time to make it happen! There are a few logistical things for parents to consider in order to confirm that the program of your child’s dreams can actually become a reality. First, most study abroad programs require an application, and sometimes recommendations or transcripts. It’s best for parents to research programs way ahead of time in order to make sure you can provide all required materials by the deadline in question. Next, your child will need to get in touch with their university’s study abroad office to confirm whether they will be able to receive academic credit for their courses abroad and the process to make sure these credits transfer.

If you and your child determine that additional funding will be necessary to afford their program abroad, there are plenty of scholarship options available. As your child applies for financial support, you can begin to formulate an agreeable budget for them to adhere to throughout their time abroad.

Not only will the final study abroad program you choose be a perfect fit for your child’s personal interests, but also it will be a financially and academically smart move for your child’s continued success.

With all the research involved in choosing a program, you may be doubting if the effort it takes for your child to study abroad is worth it. Are you thinking, is it really worth all this work? The answer is YES! Your child knows it, and they will appreciate that you get on board with their journey and award their ambition by joining in the search. While you may have to (sadly) say goodbye on departure day, the effort you put in alongside your child will allow you to send them off confident that you have selected a study abroad program that is beneficial for the whole family. 

Want more study abroad advice for parents? Have more questions about study abroad?

Download (and devour 😊 ) GoAbroad’s FAQs for Parents of Meaningful Travelers today!