One day you’re standing in the doorway of your first college dorm room, the next, you’re seeing how precariously you can pile trash in your trashcan and looking at your final year as a university student. You’ve accomplished so much over these past years (you’re basically an Olympic trash-stacker), but there was just one item on your bucket list that you never quite got to: studying abroad.
They say it can’t be done. They say it’s too difficult, too far from home, or too close to that moment you’ll be walking across the stage to pick up your diploma…but guess what? They’re wrong; you can study abroad your senior year! And we’re here to tell you how.
Talk to your academic advisor.
First things first: make an appointment with your academic advisor. Before you step foot into your study abroad office, you have to make absolutely sure that you can fit it into your academic schedule. Making a physical, written-out checklist of all your required courses for your major(s) and/or minor(s) always helps!
Oftentimes, credits that you take while abroad can apply to your major. If they do not, but you’ve completed almost all of your required courses, you can simply take a semester of electives and just enjoy learning for the fun of it!
If you are going to put your classes abroad towards required courses that you have not yet completed, be sure to check not only with your academic advisor, but also with your department heads to make sure that all your credits will transfer. You still want to be able to walk across that stage and snag your diploma!
Timing is everything.
Many universities insist that their students are present on campus during their last semester at school, so most students who study abroad their senior year go during the fall semester or even on a post-graduation, summer program.
Again with classes, make sure that the courses you need to complete prior to graduation will be available during that last semester you’re on campus. However, if you choose to do a summer program, all pressure is gone! Congrats, you’ve already graduated, now you can have one more enriching, educational experience before heading into the World After College!
Visit your study abroad office.
So you’ve now determined that your schedule will allow you to study abroad during your senior year, but then comes the daunting realization that you have to actually get there. Good news! There’s an entire office on your campus dedicated to helping you get to that city you’ve been dreaming of studying in since you were twelve, and your study abroad advisor is going to be your new best friend for the next couple of weeks.
Your university’s study abroad office will be able to turn your dreams into a plan. Come prepared with your requirements, whether that includes the classes you absolutely have to take, the subjects you are dying to study, or even the city or country that you’ve had your heart set on since you first decided to study abroad.
Also be ready to show the study abroad office the research you’ve done with your academic advisor, so that you can prove that this experience will not disrupt your graduation plans, and that you’re cleared for takeoff.
Pick a program.
With all of the information you’ve collected in tow, sit down and sift through your program options. Be sure to do some thorough research before you choose the one that makes you the most excited; consider factors such as alumni satisfaction, opportunities for cultural immersion, and response plans for when emergencies happen. Is the on-the-ground staff awesome? Is housing included? These are all questions you should be asking as you read reviews of programs, such as ISA Abroad or CISabroad.
Don’t break the bank.
A major concern for would-be study abroad students is the cost of going abroad. However, studying abroad can be affordable! In fact, the cost of studying abroad is often comparable to one semester’s tuition - especially if you decide to go through a partner program organized by your university.
If finances are still a concern, there are a number of study abroad scholarships and grants available to students. Some of these can be provided from your home university, from outside organizations like nonprofits, or even from the university you’ll be attending abroad. The important thing is to do your research and maybe check out GoAbroad’s guide to efficiently apply to as many scholarships as you can.
Still in need of spending money for your grand adventures in the foothills of the Himalayas? Budget beforehand (do you really need that second pair of shoes?) and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Crowdfunding websites like FundMyTravel.com are a great way for family, friends, and even strangers to help get you where you want to go. Oh and guess what? Graduation is right around the corner; ask your friends and family to give you the gift of travel!
Prepare for waterworks.
A big reason why studying abroad senior year isn’t always the most popular option is because many students are very nostalgic and sad about their last year at college. Choosing to go to another country can be difficult for both you and your friends (and probably mom, too), but that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong decision.
Before going abroad, be sure to talk to your friends about why you’ve chosen to do this, but also remind them that now it’s easier than ever to stay in touch hundreds of miles away. Skype, messaging apps, social media, and even snail mail will still keep you connected to your loved ones and to what’s happening on campus. So don’t let #FOMO hold you back.
Get ready to let go.
That being said, although it will certainly be difficult to leave your friends and your college during your senior year, that shouldn’t stop you from fully embracing your study abroad experience.
It’s okay to let go of home while you’re abroad, to “be in the moment,” focusing on the people and places around you. In other words, it’s okay to be happy away from home! Studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and you should enjoy it; home will be right where you left it when it’s time to go back.
Worried about completing that senior thesis? What better way to complete your studies on Latin American politics than to spend a semester living in Buenos Aires, studying and living what your thesis topic is based on?
Studying abroad offers students the amazing chance to take their senior theses to the next level with firsthand accounts, primary resources, and the invaluable advantage of having experienced what they are writing about.
Before leaving, talk to your academic advisor or professor about how how they can work with you to make this possible. Having a unique, well-crafted thesis is never a bad thing when applying for grad schools- especially if you’re looking at graduate studies abroad!
Many students use their senior year to gain professional experience in the workplace through internships or apprenticeships, but studying abroad doesn’t have to stop you from doing the same thing!
Many study abroad programs also offer students the option to include an internship abroad in their semester’s curriculum. If you have enough credits, you can also just dedicate your entire semester to interning full-time abroad. By interning abroad, you’ll set yourself apart from others when applying for jobs and grad schools after graduation. Studies show that over 95 percent of study abroad alumni are employed within one year of graduation, nearly just as many get into their graduate school of choice too. Clearly international education matters in the world beyond college.
Taking on the challenges of the workplace in another country will show future employers or admissions officers that you are able to work in a diverse setting, as well as rise to the challenge of the unfamiliar. You’ll also be able to take advantage of the relationships you build while interning, so that you can network your way into jobs in the future (hopefully abroad)! Internships can also help you decide what you want to do with your life after graduation.
Check your paperwork… then double check it.
Before jumping on that plane/train/boat/TARDIS to your chosen destination, make sure that you absolutely have all of your paperwork in order. There is nothing worse than returning from a semester abroad only to find out that your “History of European Migration” will not transfer as a credit to your university.
Although your college may already have an approval form system in place, it’s a good idea to get signed confirmation from your advisor, relevant professors, and all department heads that your courses will be approved to transfer when you return home. It’s also really important to save everything while you’re abroad. From syllabi and notes to textbooks and worksheets, all of these documents can help when you return home, ensuring that your advisors and university administrators make sure that your credits transfer properly.
While the experience of going abroad is alone worthwhile, you want to make sure you get credit for all of your hard work! The credit transfer process can take a while, it may even carry on past graduation, but don’t panic! If you have all the right documents, you’ll get those credits eventually.
Studying abroad senior year might seem challenging, especially when not as many students choose this option. The idea of leaving home and all that is familiar to you during your very last year at school can be a scary thought, and there’s no doubt that you’ll experience a dose of homesickness and culture shock when you get there.
Find your place in the world post-graduation by going out and exploring it! Why not take that senior year existential crisis abroad? These days, a passport is the new diploma; there’s no better way to celebrate your last year of learning, than to learn to the fullest experiencing new cultures, new languages, new people, and new places.