Community College Students: Can I Study Abroad?

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The answer is absolutely. Study abroad isn’t just a game for four-year-degree-seeking-junior-year-kids anymore.

In fact, more community college students are studying abroad today than ever before. During the 2012-2013 school year, 5,907 community college students elected to study abroad, a 12 percent increase from the year prior. Even so, community college students represent only three percent of the total number of American students seeking programs abroad.

Community college students are encouraged to study abroad regardless of major, class standing, socioeconomic background, or foreign language experience. The most important thing is to start planning now!

young man looking up at architecture along a canal

The length of your degree program shouldn’t prevent you from studying abroad.

The Benefits of Studying Abroad

No matter if you choose to pursue a career at Starbucks, a mortgage firm in San Francisco, a bank in Hong Kong, or a non-profit in Peru, you can expect to interact with people from other countries and cultures. Studying abroad is an important first step in understanding this reality.

Through studying abroad, you will learn valuable lessons about the world and its people, as well as gain a better sense of yourself. You will develop new perspectives on your own life in relation to foreign communities, and tap into your inner resiliency as you navigate a completely unfamiliar way of life. Not to mention today’s workplace demands employees with global knowledge, an easy sell for more career-focused students.

For first-generation college students or immigrant students, studying abroad can provide an opportunity to re-learn your own cultures and histories, reconnect with distant relatives, or witness the contemporary societies of your ancestors. Studying abroad is a truly life-altering experience for students who have not traveled very far beyond their own neighborhoods or counties.

Is studying abroad right for you?

Many community college students are juggling work and family obligations (on top of their dedication to getting a degree!), which poses complex hurdles for attending a program abroad. Despite your personal responsibilities, there are still a number of ways to maintain your commitments and also participate in a tailor-made study abroad program.

You might be sitting there in disbelief thinking: “Really? Balancing my part-time/full-time job, supporting my family, AND taking one to four weeks off to traipse around a foreign country?” But it’s TRUE. Many programs exist specifically to serve your unique predicaments and accommodate your needs.

Truly, study abroad is right for everyone. That’s not to say it comes easily, turning your reveries of life abroad into actuality takes planning, savings, and timing (hint: the time is now).

passenger on a plane looking out the window

Broaden your horizons and expand your worldview.

What types of study abroad programs exist for community college students?

Generally speaking, community college students seeking study abroad programs sign up for shorter-term programs (eight weeks or less). This duration is tailored to community college students, as it allows them to flourish while they still rock their many hats.

In recent years, community colleges have made a more concerted effort to offer short-term study abroad programs to their students. Your community college likely offers a variety of short-term faculty-led programs that will take you to the far reaches of the globe and allow you to fully immerse in a new culture; this type of program dominates community college education abroad. These courses typically focus on a single-specific subject, such as history, sociology, or an introduction to the study abroad destination, allowing participants to earn college credits in days rather than in months (how’s that for efficiency?!).

Additionally, some community colleges in the United States belong to higher education consortiums. Those are just a bunch of fancy words meaning that groups of colleges (usually regionally) work together to offer students a wider variety of study abroad programs. Check with your academic advisor on campus to learn if this type of relationship exists, and what program options you have to consider!

If you are less concerned about doing a program specifically offered through your university, you can sign up for a language school abroad or a program offered through a third party provider. Use online resources, such as GoAbroad, to research vetted program options.

Popular short-term summer program providers include the American Institute for Foreign Study, CISabroad, and Adelante International Internships & Study Abroad.

Rocky mountains offset with lush greenery with a small asian temple in the distance

Spend 6-8 weeks seeing corners of the world you’d only dreamed of. 

Where can I go for my study abroad program?

Community colleges offer study abroad programs throughout the world, but boast a particularly strong presence in Western Europe, East Asia, and Latin America. Destinations such as England, New Zealand, and Australia rarely top the list for community college student destinations, though programs can likewise be found there.

Ultimately, the location of your study abroad program will depend on your personal interests and the available program options. With the right frame of mind, just about anywhere on the planet would provide a culturally rich, interesting, and satisfying learning experience for a newbie traveler like yourself. Take advantage of every opportunity out there!

How can I finance my study abroad program?

The average cost of a short-term study abroad program is $1800 to $2200. Before you go berserk at the price tag, keep in mind that these programs blend accredited academic coursework with co-curricular travel. This affords you not only the experience of a brand new destination but also allows you to stay on top of (or get ahead in) your studies.

Many scholarships exist to help students go abroad, especially for students from traditionally underrepresented student populations in study abroad. This is where you get the edge! Since 97 percent of students abroad attend four year institutions, your interest as a community college student automatically poses you for greater eligibility for many academic awards.

There are likewise scholarships specifically geared towards minority students or for students with demonstrated financial need. You can approach the front line of the financial battle from multiple angles, and those students proactive in applying for a multitude of scholarships will reap the rewards (make it rain, etc).

Professor lecturing in front of a chalkboard

Most programs will be faculty led, but take you outside of the lecture hall.

Talk with your academic advisor to learn of any additional funding opportunities, including campus scholarships or payment plans that will allow the financial burdens of the overseas experience to feel less heavy.

ALL community college students, including minority students, those with high financial need, and first-generation college students, can (and should!) enjoy the profound growth in interpersonal skills, academic performance, cultural proficiency, and personal growth while studying abroad. This type of experience is an investment, but not one that should be quickly passed up without being thoughtfully considered. Do it for you, do it for your kids, or do it for your community!

Topics:  Diversity, Parents