11 Things to Look for When Comparing Study Abroad Programs
by - Published July 9
So you want to study abroad but can’t seem to put your thoughts into action? No problem, we're about to set you up with all the tools and aspects worth thinking about that will narrow your options from a million to one. Comparing study abroad programs can actually be... fun?
Enjoy the process of making an empowered, well-informed decision—by the time that you’re finished reading this, your study abroad program search will be a cinch!
Why you should shop around while comparing study abroad programs
If you’re going to seize the opportunity to see the world, you might as well do it on your own terms. Doing your research and comparing study abroad programs beforehand make big difference on the experience you’ll have in your program. As an investment of your time and money, it’s important to do your due diligence and weigh all the options available to you. Besides nobody wants to take a trip that wasn’t worth their time because when it comes to travel we’re all about having #noregrets.
An experience that enhances your worldview, boosts your skills, and adds some international flavor to your transcript deserves to be a decision that’s well thought out. Read student reviews, see if they offer scholarships, read up on aspects of a program that are important to you. We know you want to study abroad right way (us too!) but it’s super important to shop around and choose the program that’s perfect for you. There’s no need to rush this process and miss out on something great. In the long haul, doing your research is fun and an amazing experience abroad tops one that was just “meh” any day of the week.
Helpful resources for your study abroad program search
You wouldn’t do a book report without reading the book would you —don’t answer that. The point is, knowing your stuff is important and doing a study abroad program search can help you find everything you really want in a program. While we are always down for some spontaneity in your study abroad experience, choosing a program without research can leave you blindsided. To prepare for this huge investment and leap into the world of global exploration, its best to navigate your study abroad program search with the best tools out there!
- Google. The world’s most popular search engine has A LOT of information and it’s at your disposal in less than a second. Choose to compare study abroad programs all over the world or see reviews of a study abroad program that you’ve been eyeing for a while, Google is a good place to start when you’re at the beginning of your study abroad program search.
- High school or college advisor. These are the people who know you best and can give you more personalized advice on how to evaluate study abroad programs. Your advisor can even suggest scholarships available at your school or online to fund your trip. They’ve got the inside track and got your back as you start comparing study abroad programs best for you, and your schedule.
- MyGoAbroad. Not to toot our own horn—but this is our thing. We’ve got a whole database of programs that you can narrow down by country, region, and the time you want to go and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. MyGoAbroad is like the super organized digital binder you never thought you could put together. Get matched for recommended abroad program and start comparing study abroad programs side by side until you find your perfect fit. Best part of having this study abroad program search tool at your fingertips? It’s free!
How to evaluate study abroad programs
Hope you’re sitting down, comparing study abroad programs can be a doozy and send your head spinning. When it comes to making the decision to study abroad, the destination is only a piece of the puzzle. Financial aid, program costs, academic fit, and program support are just a few more things you’ve got to consider. But there’s no need to feel overwhelmed, while it may seem like the laundry list of things to add on your already big to-do list, the evaluation of study abroad programs are key to getting the experience you want. Trust us, you’ll be a better traveler because of it.
1. Do they offer the TYPE of study abroad program you're after?
Study abroad comes in all shapes and sizes. You can choose a traditional study abroad program for a semester or year abroad, or consider summer study abroad programs. You might prefer to improve your language skills and instead sign up for language schools abroad. A short term program not enough? Consider getting a FULL DEGREE internationally.
Or maybe you're a teen—well, there are lots of different high school study abroad programs out there specifically for you.
Before you bark up any one organization's or institution's tree, make sure they offer the type of study abroad program you are most interested in.
2. Consider the available financial aid and scholarships in light of the cost
Study abroad is an investment, so don’t enter the shopping phase without a clear understanding that this will probably cost you multiple hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. You can still find low cost study abroad opportunities, but be willing to sacrifice certain services and inclusions such as arranged housing, 24/7 support, visa guidance, or airport transfers, for instance.
The trick is to find a program whose value overlaps with the price. If you’re happy with the experience on offer, take it. If you think you can find a similar value or experience with a cheaper company, keep researching til you find it!
While there are plenty of programs that won’t make you go broke, looking into opportunities to travel using free money is always worth it. Sources like FundMyTravel and our scholarships can help you minimize your costs if funds are a concern. By the time you get through with these resources you’ll have enough financial savvy to go on your dream study abroad adventure and to go again.
3. Make sure their programs are exactly WHERE you want to be
Location, Location, Location!—It’s a word you’ll hear often when it comes to studying abroad because it matters. When it comes to the evaluation of study abroad programs location is all about where you stay, the culture you’ll be exposed to, and the overall logistics of your travel experience. For instance, how long does it take your chosen country to process a visa? Is your country the best place for your choice of study? Are the credits at this foreign institution transferable to your school back home? These are all hugely important questions to think about and know the answers to as you conduct your study abroad program search.
Comparing study abroad programs based on the questions above are essential to you making the choice, especially when it comes to what you’re studying and transferable credits. Although the lessons that travel provides are bountiful and useful in your post academic life, not getting the credit for everything you studied won’t be worth it when it’s time to graduate. You are studying abroad to learn after all. In terms of subjects and topics to learn, the intensity of your courses and academic support are major steps when it comes to how to evaluate study abroad programs. As you compare study abroad programs and narrow them down, it’s important to consider program that challenges you and supports the type learner you are.
4. Do they include weekend excursions, field trips, etc? Or do those cost extra?
Your life as a study abroad student isn’t that different from your student life at home, everything has a schedule. However, your daily schedule abroad is flexible and depends on the program you choose. Some study abroad programs have you scheduled back to back, filled with either coursework, cohort excursions, and daily activities that help you acclimate to your country and bond with other students in your program. Other study abroad programs can be more fluid, allowing you enough free time during the week or the weekends to discover things independently. There’s a happy medium for both but it all depends on your personal criteria and your evaluation of study abroad programs available to you.
5. Size up their accommodation options—live in the housing YOU want
Believe it or not, not all study abroad programs require you to live in a dormitory. For most language programs, it’s common to live with a host family in order to immerse yourself even more into the language. Or other programs that place you to live with other program participants in their program provided housing, or in scattered apartments in your city. Wherever you stay knowing and preparing for your study abroad accommodations are important.
Will your program even provide housing? If not, does your program have a support system in place to help you arrange for a place to stay? Regardless of the answers your program has to these questions, choosing the best living arrangement for you is what matters. When it comes to housing, there are no cons to living in one accommodation type versus another. Each living situation offers the experience to live independently and have a hub for all the fun, and exciting moments to come as a student abroad.
6. Do they offer programs when you want to be abroad? And for the right length of time?
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end; but fortunately for you it’s up to you to decide when that happens. Program lengths can vary program to program. You can sign up for a program as short as three weeks to as long as a year. Whichever length in between that you choose, make sure you compare and read reviews study abroad programs have available to see if a longer experience or shorter experience is your cup of tea.
7. Are you of age?
Are you a senior or a freshman and are you eligible for program participation? Are you a 17 year old prodigy already in college? Wherever you are on the age spectrum there are different programs available to you. Even though options are a slightly restricted for high school students versus college students the opportunities to study abroad are still vast and diverse.
Check out our study abroad programs for each group below:
8. What type of support do they offer while you’re abroad?
Behind every worthwhile study abroad program is an amazing support system and faculty. Support while studying abroad can mean a lot of things. It can mean support with the visa process and flight confirmation before you leave, support when arrive at the airport and your program base, or support from alumni after your program is over. The amount of support you receive usually shows up in your program fees. So if you are looking to get a better idea of what kind of support you are going to get in a program, make sure to read into your program to see all that’s included. Overall, the level of support varies in every study abroad program, so during your study abroad program search choose the one you’re the most comfortable with.
9. Does the company ethos support cultural immersion? How engaged are they with the local community?
Besides coloring our passports with beautiful stamps and racking up flyer miles, one of the main reasons you study abroad is to learn about a culture outside your own. The best study abroad programs integrate culture inside and outside the classroom to provide a meaningful study abroad experience that will stay with you. Cultural immersion isn’t just about the foods you try either; it’s about exploring different cities during weekend excursions, learning the local language, and possibility having time to give back and volunteer to the community that hosts you. The programs you’ll come to love make an effort to do all three while giving you the amazing courses you came for. Studying abroad is not just about being book smart, it’s about having experiences that make you a well-rounded global citizen.
10. What’s their track record for health & safety—and what systems do they have in place for emergencies?
Your health and safety while abroad is the most important component there is to having a successful trip. When it comes to international student safety, some risks will be outside your control, but most of the time, the matter of safety and staying healthy while attending university abroad is in your hands.
Most health and safety measures are built into your program while the remainder is you exercising common sense. Also known as, not walking alone late at night, flashing expensive things, and a few other no-no’s that can keep you from being safe. Overall, the priority of many programs is the safety of their travelers. Vetting homestay families, providing the safest accommodations, and providing round the clock support in case of emergency. Your program cares and got you covered 100%.
What happens when an emergency strikes, like a natural disaster or a mass shooting? Do you feel like you’ll be in safe hands?
11. Do they hook you up post program too?
Your study abroad program doesn’t have to be over when your plane lands. Some programs have post-program support in place so you can keep in touch, network with alumni from the program, and even use career resources as your leverage your new international experiences. A couple of programs that offer such support include ISA, CIEE, and API just to name a few. These programs also have programs in place to help alumni become program ambassadors to promote the study abroad experience on your campus. Last time we checked, having professional and leadership development experience is definitely a resume builder!
You’re now ready to shop for study abroad
When you’re beginning your study abroad program search, preparation is everything. You don’t want to miss out on your dream program just because you didn’t take out the time to weigh all of your options. This process of comparing study abroad programs may seem overwhelming and time consuming, but in comparison to the awesome experience that you’ll get in return all the time you put in will feel minor. Besides the process of scrolling through our articles and checking out our list of programs is actually fun— because we make it so easy! Get the point? Good, let’s get ready to study abroad