When Should I Study Abroad?

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Studying abroad can be potentially disastrous to the four-year plan if you do not carefully integrate it into your credit requirements and four-year schedule. Whether you are just beginning school and have not declared your major, or are far along and hoping to squeeze in a semester overseas, hopefully this guide will provide you with guidance on when you should study abroad in your college career.

If you are new to college or have not yet declared your major...

It is possible to study abroad for elective or core class credit within the first two years of college. Statistically, most students study abroad junior year of college, allowing the foreign study to advantageously enhance their degree.

Studying abroad early, however, has many advantages:

  • You will have plenty of time at your home campus to complete required credits when you choose a major.
  • Going abroad sophomore or even freshman year will grant you the greatest flexibility on location options.
  • Elective or core classes are offered virtually everywhere, while classes required of your major may only be offered at certain locations.
  • It is an excellent time to go if your potential major does not offer classes abroad (most frequently occurring in the sciences and engineering, though studying engineering abroad is possible!).

One unique but great option is to go abroad during your first semester of freshman year. This is becoming increasingly popular at some universities. You avoid future scheduling issues and it is a unique way to meet and bond with other new students.

On the other hand, many people would suggest a summer study abroad if you are unsure of your direction of study. A summer abroad is a great way to explore new passions while not missing valuable class time.

Study abroad is often most valuable to future employers when it relates to your major and truly enhances your degree.

If you have declared a major or are within your last two years of the four-year plan...

You have two options: study abroad as early as possible for elective or core class credit or credits required of your major or a combination of the two. Be sure to carefully review with your department head which courses you still have left to complete in order to graduate, as many courses are only offered Spring or Fall semester. As much as it is possible, build your schedule for each semester you have left at college, filling in classes you must complete. Also, be sure these required classes are offered every year to avoid unpleasant schedule surprises.

The second option for declared majors or upperclassmen is to study abroad within the last two years of study and focus solely on major requirements. Your location options will be slimmer because a sufficient number of your required or upper-level classes will need to be offered. These locations, however, are often well suited toward your field of study and provide endless enrichment to your academic interests.

Note that many colleges limit how many credits earned away from the home campus will be accepted toward a major or minor. This limit includes credits from a previous institution such as a community college or transfer school. This figure may be a department-specific and must be discussed with your school’s dean, your major’s department head, and your minor’s department head. Occasionally, a department head will not know the ins and outs of the school’s requirements, and the dean of a school will most likely not know the requirements of a specific department. It is very important to speak to each administration level in order to graduate on time.

If you are at any point in your college career...

Another option for almost any student is the summer or winter break study abroad. This is a great way to squeeze in a quick experience abroad and earn a couple of credits. It is not ideal for those seeking a language immersion, due to the short time period, however.

No matter what study abroad option you choose...

Study abroad is normally integrated into most academic programs; yet speak with the dean of your college about receiving full credit if you are doing a program not affiliated with your college. Often times, the dean will evaluate the class curriculum, expect a minimum grade, and approve or disapprove the credits before you confirm entrance into the program.

Important factors to consider:

  • The requirements and limitations of your college are and should be your Number One determinant of if and when you can study abroad.
  • Summer study abroad does not allow for summer work.
  • Spring semester study abroad poses challenges to applying and interviewing for summer internships.
  • Studying abroad during senior year poses challenges to applying and interviewing for jobs.
  • You may miss out on numerous senior-year activities and privileges when studying abroad your final year.
  • You may want to take sports commitments into consideration when deciding between Spring or Fall semesters.
  • For those with a foreign language goal in mind, you may want to take a certain number of language classes before you depart.
  • You may want to take Sorority or Fraternity rush into consideration if you plan to be involved in Greek Life.
  • Ask yourself, “Am I personally mature enough to get the most out of a freshman or sophomore year abroad?”
  • Make sure a semester abroad will enhance your degree. Study abroad is most often more expensive than staying on your home campus. Get your money’s worth!
  • Last, but not least, always, always, study abroad with a serious purpose!