For so many students all over the world, studying abroad is the defining moment in their education that changes their life forever. It’s true, once you’re immersed in another part of the world, nothing will be quite the same afterward. While some students enroll at institutions abroad to earn their entire degree, most students spend a summer, winter term, or a few weeks abroad through a short-term program as part of their college “must-do” list. Join this growing group of travel-loving, experience-seeking, international education-gaining students and start planning a study abroad trip! Here are all the inside tips on how to prepare to study abroad.
How to Prepare to Study Abroad
Preparing for study abroad requires a number of conversations, transactions, and planning. Lucky for you, there’s an army of folks ready and willing to help guide you through the process and help make your dreams a reality.
First and foremost, you’ll want to visit your campus international office to help you create a solid plan. This is an entire office dedicated to having the most up-to-date information on all of their available programs. In order to have a successful visit, here are a few people you need to consult with to make sure all your questions are answered and needs are met:
Your Study Abroad Advisor
When preparing for study abroad, your very first consultation should be with a coordinator at your campus. Some colleges may have a designated faculty or administrators who perform this function, and other colleges have full-blown study abroad offices with advisors specializing in regional destinations.
A study abroad advisor is the most experienced international education counselor for your travel needs. They can assess your desires and know the limitations or regulations of your college. Chances are that your university has the best programs available for you. By participating in a study abroad program developed at your school, you are more likely to be able to utilize your financial aid and also receive transferable credits for your experience.
A study abroad advisor can tell you how to prepare to study abroad and who you need to see to get it all done. Their job is to make sure you are prepared for your experience and that you will gain the most from your study abroad program. These administrators are often underpaid and overworked, but they remain in this field because of their love and commitment to international education. They probably won’t tell you exactly where to go because it’s up to you to do the research. Take charge of your trip and utilize your advisor for questions that need answering along the way.
Here’s an email template to get you started:
Dear <Study Abroad Advisor>,
Hi! My name is <name>, and I'm interested in studying abroad. When would be a good time to come and meet with you to chat about program opportunities in <destination 1>, <destination 2>, and <destination 3>?
Your Academic Advisor
Many universities provide an academic contract, which is your insurance regarding the credit you’ll receive upon return from overseas. Much like a regular semester at your college or university, when you’re preparing for a study abroad program, your Academic Advisor can tell you what type of credit you’re likely to receive and how it will fit into your overall degree plan when you return home.
Meeting with your academic advisor is crucial when preparing for study abroad, so it won’t result in the elongation of your college career (unless you want it to, of course!). By meeting with this advisor ahead of time, you will save yourself a lot of grief after going abroad because you will have been proactive about your transfer credits and will have created an academic schedule abroad that satisfies requirements needed at home.
Here is an email template to get you started:
Dear <Academic Advisor>,
Hope you're doing well. I've recently taken interest in studying abroad for a <semester> <year> <summer>, and I'd like to talk to you about which classes I should be taking so I can earn credits and stay on track to graduate. Do you have time this week for me to stop by for 30 minutes or so and discuss?
Your Financial Aid Advisor
You will need to work closely with a college financial aid advisor when preparing for study abroad (unless your parents are generously footing the entire bill). Most study abroad participants utilize some form of financial aid for their experience because, let’s be honest, studying abroad can come with a hefty price tag, depending on where you study and how long you stay!
The most common aid used for study abroad is student loans. Some college financial aid advisors and their offices require an incredible amount of hoop-jumping to ensure that you will actually be receiving credits for your experience. Nevertheless, exhaust all of the resources available to you — that’s what they’re there for, after all!
Here is an email template to get you started:
Dear < college financial aid advisor>,
My name is <name>, and I am looking into studying abroad next <semester> <year>. I will be needing some financial assistance to help cover program costs, and I am wondering what my options are regarding loans or other aid. Can we set up an appointment to discuss all loan and scholarship opportunities?
And Lastly…Your Guardians & Parents.
They may or may not be financing your study abroad adventure, but it’s still key to keep them in the loop regardless of their financial involvement. You may want to explain to them how this experience is integral to your degree program, how study abroad will enhance your resume, and how it could provide great job potential upon graduation. Understand that it’s important to keep the fam happy and well-informed, as they’ll most likely be taking care of logistical concerns while you are out of the country.
Lastly, it’s a guardian’s job to worry about their baby, and on the other hand, to be ecstatic when you are succeeding at something you love! Let them in on the in’s and out’s of your study abroad adventure, and prepare to have them share in the excitement with you!
Psst! Here are more template letters for breaking the news to your parents about your big trip.
Here are some foolproof conversation points to get you started:
I know I’ve talked a lot about everything that goes into planning a study abroad trip in <semester, year>, and I just wanted to fill you in on all of my research. I am talking with a study abroad advisor, an academic advisor, and a financial aid advisor to make sure all of our questions about the program are met.
Here is what I know so far (provide brochures, papers, charts, or whatever else you obtain in the study abroad office or online regarding your program). This trip is extremely important to me, and I want you both to be involved and updated during this planning process!
Love you lots!
We’re All in This Together
Not to sound TOO High School Musical, but your experience abroad is not a lone venture. With this all star line up, your passport will be glittered with stamps (and your Instagram feed littered with snaps of your amazing adventures) before you know it. Don’t get bogged down when figuring out how to prepare to study abroad – you don’t have to do it on your own (in fact, if anything, this article should have convinced you that you SHOULDN’T!).
If you can’t find the right program on your campus or if your school allows you to participate in external programs, then the best place to start planning a study abroad trip is GoAbroad.com’s Directory of Study Abroad Programs. You can search for programs by country, field of study, term, and more. Crucial information like cost, description, and program highlights are included in every search as well as contact information for all programs listed so you can reach out directly.
Studying abroad in college is an amazing way to see and understand parts of the world at such a pivotal time in your educational career. Don’t sit back (like so many students mistakenly do) and miss out on an opportunity that can change and mold your life into something you never could have imagined.