Student’s Guide to Studying Abroad Resources, Scholarships, Tips and Tricks for Your Learning Adventure
Studying abroad is an exciting opportunity, but choosing a program can be overwhelming. There are so many locations to visit and subjects to study that you may not know where to begin. This guide gives you a starting point, providing all the information you need to pick the right study abroad program –and figure out the best way to finance it.
15 Most Popular Countries for Study Abroad
English-speaking countries are some of the most popular places to study abroad. Most Europeans speak English, making the U.K., Italy, Spain, France, and Germany a few of the leading destinations. Use this interactive map to explore the top countries for studying abroad based on rank and percentage of U.S. students studying there.
Ashley Houston, outreach coordinator at IES Abroad Speaks About Study Abroad
Where have you studied?
I studied abroad several times throughout high school and college—some short-term programming during the summer and January terms, and one semester exchange program. I studied in Japan twice, South Africa, Costa Rica, Thailand, and New Zealand.
How can a student narrow down their options?
I always recommend students consult with their individual institution’s study abroad office. Many institutions partner with study abroad program providers and have certain approved programs that make credit and financial aid transfer a more streamlined process. Institutions may offer their own exchanges and programs as well.
Students should establish what their goals are for study abroad, such as whether they need to fulfill major or minor requirements and whether they are looking to build proficiency in a language. I encourage students to meet with a study abroad advisor at their institution to see what programs are available that fit their goals and timeline.
Students should investigate what is included in the program costs. Some scholarships and aid are not transferrable if a student chooses to study abroad, so if this is the case, a student may want to look into programs or providers that offer need-based financial aid, scholarships, grants, or travel stipends. IES Abroad, for example, awards over $2.5 million in aid each year.
How did you narrow down your options when studying abroad?
I narrowed my options online and through the Office of International Education at my alma mater, Gustavus Adolphus College. In high school, I went through Concordia Language Village, a language immersion program that also offered study abroad to certain locations—in my case Japan because I was studying Japanese for many years. In between high school and college, I knew I wanted to study abroad in Africa. I did some online research, and based on reviews, program content/theme, and cost, I decided to go with the SIT’s Experiment in International Living to South Africa.
College was a different story as my major, Japanese studies, required a semester abroad. This was one of the many reasons I chose the institution. I used the Study Abroad Advisors as a resource in reviewing the options. I knew specifically that I wanted to study in the Kansai region of Japan after visiting in high school, so that limited me in programs approved by the college. My next step was considering the specific course offerings of each, and the cost. I ended up going on an exchange to Kansai Gaidai University. My three other study abroad experiences were short-term faculty-led programs through the UMAIE consortium and Gustavus. I chose them based on course content, location, and the quest to study abroad with students from outside my institution.
What tips can you share with students considering studying abroad programs?
I highly encourage as much immersion as possible. This includes living with a local family, using the host language as much as possible, and getting involved in activities and events on a local scale. Immersion can also help motivated students make greater progress in language development, build a strong community abroad, and experience an average day in the life of that culture more often.
Why Study Abroad?
Source: IES Abroad Recent Graduate Survey, March 2012
Steps to Selecting a Study Abroad Program
Studying abroad can be the highlight of any college experience, but before selecting a program there are some important questions to consider. Following the steps below will help students and their families to make an informed decision about which overseas experience is right for them.
Step 1: Choose a locationLanguage
Do you want an English-speaking experience or do you want to learn a new language?Environment
Whether you prefer a city environment with arts and culture or a rural environment with hiking or beaches, there are plenty of options.Culture
Europe and Latin America offer many cultural attractions such as museums, art houses, and areas of interest.Proximity to activities
Would you like to live in a central location so you can travel on weekends or find a place right in the hub? It depends on your comfort zone for traveling and living alone.Academic goals
Choose a destination that supports your main area of study. For instance, if you are a business major, the financial hubs of Beijing or Tokyo are hot spots. Art history majors will thrive in Paris or Rome.
Step 2: Choose a subject area
There are numerous options when it comes to choosing a subject area. In fact, students can find an experience to enhance any major area of study. Here are five of the top subjects that students study abroad.Art History
Students with a passion for art history will get a unique grasp of history no matter where they choose to study abroad. Whether visiting the Mona Lisa in Paris, the Sistine Chapel in Rome, or Tutankhamun’s Golden Death Mask in Egypt, students will not be disappointed. Classes may include anthropology, history, and sociology or an internship at a museum.Business & Management
Getting an up close and personal look at international business will help students stand out among the competition when searching for jobs after graduation. Classes in economics, marketing, and finance will show students how to adapt their business model to any culture.Environmental Science & Sustainability
With the rise in awareness of environmental conservation and climate change, environmental science & sustainability is a growing field. Budding scientists can choose from a wide variety of environments, such as The Netherlands for water management or Australia for sustainability. Popular coursework may include international environmental engineering design, global environmental law, or landscape climatology.Pre-Med & Nursing
Global medical experiences abound in underdeveloped countries as well as countries with advanced medical technologies. Regardless of the setting, students with aspirations for working in the field of healthcare can receive valuable hands-on training. Global medical experiences help professionals compete for jobs more effectively after graduation. Classes may include public health policy, rural health, biochemistry, and physiology.Engineering
Mechanical, electrical and computer engineering students can learn from professionals in prestigious academic institutions in Madrid, Spain, or research laboratories in the manufacturing center of Shanghai, China, or another bustling location. Science and technology courses may include data structures and algorithms in engineering, electromagnetics, automotive engineering, and signals & systems.
Step 3: Choose a program type
Studying abroad can take different forms, depending on the amount of time a student wants to invest. Here are some studying abroad program models, from simple to more intensive.Intersession
Students concerned about keeping on track academically while studying abroad may prefer to enroll in an intersession program. These short stints last one to eight weeks during short college breaks and expose students to new cultures and provide a glimpse of what to expect in a longer program.
Credit hours: 3-6Summer
The shorter duration of a summer term may appeal to students looking for less of a financial commitment. Spending several weeks to three months abroad is also easier for students who don’t want to miss a semester at their home university.
Credit hours: up to 8Academic Year/Semester
For students who have the time and financial resources, studying abroad for an academic year or semester is a great option. The longer experience allows for more travel, a part-time job or internship, and increased opportunities to build friendships.
Credit hours: up to 15 per semesterInternship
Students can gain invaluable professional experience in a foreign country in an internship program abroad. Whether students spend a few weeks or an entire academic year in the internship, they will strengthen their credentials and build a stronger network.
Credit hours: up to 17Volunteer
Volunteering abroad is perfect for students who want to serve developing countries while gaining academic credit. There are many different options available, depending on the area of service. Some examples of volunteering abroad include caring for orphans, building schools, and wildlife surveying. Opportunities are available for commitments of one week to over one year.
Credit hours: variesOnline Study Abroad
Some colleges allow students to take distance learning classes from a foreign university without ever leaving the U.S. These affordable e-learning programs complement students’ current studies by allowing them to learn about other cultures from their home university.
Credit hours: varies
Dr. Luz Claudio, professor of preventive medicine and chief of the Division of International Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai discusses study abroad
What have you learned through your experiences with international education?
There are many types of study abroad programs that have different criteria for application. More and more U.S. colleges and universities have alliances with international institutions at which their students can have easier access to study abroad programs. For example, some U.S. universities have sister institutions in other countries that have been aligned for different courses and programs that meet certain academic criteria. It is a good idea to explore those opportunities first before applying to programs outside of the University where you are already a student.
Beyond that, some of the more competitive and prestigious programs are funded through federal institutions or foundations. For example, the Fulbright programs are especially high regarded and have opportunities for study or work abroad in many different countries. Their application requirements can be more competitive but their programs are very prestigious and can help advance students’ careers.
There are also volunteer programs that accept students to do work internationally. However, those typically require that the student pay their own travel to the sites and don’t always provide academic credit for the experience.
What can students do to ensure they have a successful experience?
One key to success when doing a study abroad program is to have a very involved international mentor. Students planning to do study abroad programs should know in advance who will mentor them in the host country, what projects to be involved in, who will teach them, and any additional information they could find about the institution they will be visiting. They should be in touch with the faculty who will be mentoring them in the host country in advance of travel in order to ensure that there will be a mentoring plan for their study abroad program.
Financing Study Abroad
One of the primary factors associated with choosing a study abroad program is cost. The cost of financing a study abroad program can vary widely depending on the program and chosen country. From housing to travel costs and more, here are some of the other factors that impact a student’s budget:
The right atmosphere can make all the difference in a student’s overall study abroad experience. Students should consider their personal preferences when selecting student housing—whether they prefer to live alone, with a family, or among a group of like-minded peers in a dormitory. Here are three of the most common types of housing available in study abroad programs. Because options vary depending on the program, it’s important for students to inquire as to what is available in their chosen location.
Just like dorms in the U.S., the environment encourages students to meet new people as they participate in group activities with the other residents. Many students find they can learn the language more quickly when practicing with other students, and dorms are typically located close to campus where students can have access to the cafeteria, social events, and more.
Host families can range from single-parent homes to retired couples. Just like in a traditional family, students participate in meals and chores and must follow the rules of the house. Living with a host family helps students learn the language faster while building social connections. Plus, host families make a great resource for help and advice. This option is best for students participating in short-term overseas programs who want to immerse themselves in the local culture.
For the most independence, students can live in apartments. However, with the independence comes more work—and a higher cost of living. Students must pay rent and bills in the language of their chosen country and are responsible for cleaning, buying groceries and cooking. Although an apartment is more isolated than a dorm, students get more privacy and can usually follow their own schedule. It’s possible to share an apartment with local citizens and native speakers.
The actual documents students need will vary depending on the program, but the most common documents include:
A passport is required for travel in most foreign countries. Students can get information about applying and renewing passports at www.travel.state.gov.Visa
A visa is an international permit allowing visitors to enter and leave the country’s borders within a specific range of dates. Students who plan to travel independently will need to obtain a visa prior to departure. Information about visa applications is available at www.travel.state.gov.Vaccinations
Students can find a list of required vaccinations from the study abroad department of the hosting university. Travel to developing countries usually requires vaccinations for typhoid fever, hepatitis A and B, cholera, and yellow fever.
The fees for some study abroad programs include air and land transportation, but that is not always the case. If airfare is not included, it may be possible for students to purchase tickets together for a group discount. Regardless, it is important to make flight arrangements well in advance.
Tuition for study abroad programs varies depending on the type of program. For instance, universities usually charge the same amount of tuition for exchange programs as they do for students living on campus. On the other hand, third-party study abroad programs charge a predetermined tuition which may be $10,000 or more, depending on what is included.
There are numerous living expenses associated with study abroad programs depending on the student’s needs. Typical items include personal care, phone/postage, clothing, snacks and household items. It’s a good idea to keep an emergency reserve on hand as well.
Spending expenses may include:
Excursions: transportation there and back, meals, entrance fees
Nights out: random events
Souvenirs: for student, friends, and family
Although some health plans cover illnesses or injuries outside the U.S., many do not. For students who need to see a doctor, fill a prescription, or receive hospital care, travel insurance can be a financial lifesaver. After all, the approximate cost of medical evacuation can be as much as $25,000. Travel insurance is available in most states.
- Program Costs$10,500
- Program Deposit $250
- Passport and/or visa fees $300
- Roundtrip Airfare$1500 (estimate)
- Travel insurance*—-
- Meals and Housing*—-
- Local commuting$2000
- Personal expenses**$3300
- Local travel expenses***—-
*Usually included with study abroad organization’s fees
**Personal expenses may include clothing, snacks, personal care, medication, household items, phone/postage, souvenirs
***Local travel expenses may include transportation, accommodations, meals, snack, and entertainment for trips taken during studying abroad experience.
10 Tips to Reduce Cost
- Take advantage of all funding opportunities.
Students have access to hundreds of scholarships and grants for studying abroad. Additionally, the U.S. Government offers funding options such as the Fulbright Scholarship and Boren Awards for International Study. Students who qualify for assistance through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) may be eligible for additional funding.
- Be flexible with the location.
The most popular study abroad programs are located in Western Europe, and are often the most expensive. Students concerned about staying within a budget may choose to consider other locations, such as South American and Asian countries.
- Beware of impulse spending.
Souvenirs are tempting—and they are all over the place. Steer clear of gift shops that sell souvenirs at high prices. Instead, be creative and thrifty by collecting museum stubs, tour brochures, maps, coasters, and postcards.
- Research local travel.
Traveling around surrounding cities and countries is a fun part of studying abroad, but watch out for costs. Look for local, low-cost airlines and hostels to save money on your excursions. Read reviews online before booking.
- Avoid unnecessary credit card fees.
Many credit cards charge fees of 1-3% for overseas charges. These fees can add up during an entire semester. Check out offers for credit cards without exchange fees before you leave to study abroad.
- Get a SID card.
Student identification cards save money on museum fees, transportation, and dining. Full-time students over the age of 12 can purchase the International Student Identity Card from over 130 countries. It costs up to $20 depending on the country and is good for 16 months.
- Don’t overuse ATM cards.
Every time you use an international ATM, you must pay a transaction fee—and it can cost as much as $5.00! Avoid these fees by taking out as much as possible at a time. Also inquire with your bank to see if they have a partnership with a bank in your host country to avoid fees altogether.
- Use Internet phones.
With international calling rates as much as 25 to 60 cents per minute, it’s smart to avoid these types of calls as often as possible. Instead, when students are homesick, they can use Skype’s phone service for as little as 2.6 cents per minute. Simply purchase credit ahead of time and then sign in to make calls.
- Ride the subway.
Sure, a taxi is comfortable, but it can also break the bank. Subways are convenient, fast, and best of all, cheap. Cities like Amsterdam also offer bike rentals to save money and burn calories at the same time.
- Exchange money with care.
Pay attention to the exchange rate, and take advantage when it is low. Those are the times to run to the ATM and take out what you need.
Financial Aid & Scholarships
Sponsoring organization: AMIDEAST Education Abroad
Funding is available to U.S. citizens participating in AMIDEAST Education Abroad Programs in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, and Tunisia. Preference will be given to students who demonstrate financial need.
Sponsoring organization: US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
Amount: Up to $5,000
Application deadline: Oct. 6
Open to U.S. citizens and undergraduates receiving Federal Pell Grant funding at a two-year or four-year college or university to participate in study abroad programs worldwide.
Sponsoring organization: EESA
Amount: up to $7,000
Application deadline: March 1 (Fall), Oct. 15 (Spring), April 1 (Summer)
Open to undergraduate students with a minimum GPA who show financial need. Applications should include 1-2 page essay that answers scholarship question.
Sponsoring organization: CIEE International Study Programs
Amount: Up to $2,000
Application deadline: Ongoing
The Robert B. Bailey Scholarship promotes participation in CIEE’s International Study Programs for individuals traditionally underrepresented in study abroad programs. Applicants must submit a Personal Statement and recommendations.
Sponsoring organization: School for International Training
Application deadline: April 1st (Summer), May 15th (Fall), November 1 (Spring)
SIT offers need-based awards to ensure representation from all regions of the U.S. Candidates must add SIT’s school code to FAFSA® application to apply.
Sponsoring organization: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
Amount: Up to $2,000
Application deadline: November 23
U.S. government interagency effort to increase number of Americans studying and mastering critical need foreign languages. Scholarships are available to undergraduate and graduate students.
Sponsoring organization: School of Russian and Asian Studies (SRAS)
Application deadline: March 15 (summer), May 15 (Fall), Oct. 15 (Spring)
Open to students enrolled in an SRAS program to offset costs of eating out, attending cultural events and art exhibitions, and seeking out local experiences. This grant is dedicated in memory of Charles Braver, an educator who promoted cross-cultural teaching and learning.
Sponsoring organization: Confucius Institute
Application deadline: May 10
The Confucius Institute sponsors foreign students, scholars, and Chinese language teachers to study Chinese at Chinese universities. Applicants should be non-Chinese citizens in good health, between the ages of 16 and 35.
Sponsoring organization: U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
Application deadline: Oct. 29
Merit-based scholarships are available to eligible high school students and recent high school graduates interested in learning “less commonly taught languages” in summer and academic-year overseas immersion programs.
Sponsoring organization: Phi Kappa Phi
Application deadline: Session A (travel May 1- Nov. 30): Feb. 15 Session B (travel Dec. 1- May 31): Sept. 15
Open to foreign language undergraduate students who are members of Phi Kappa Phi and have a minimum 3.75 GPA. Applicants must have applied to or been accepted into an accredited study abroad program.
Sponsoring organization: API Study Abroad
Amount: $250 to $800
Application deadline: June 10 (Fall), Dec. 15 (Spring semester/Winter Quarter), April 1 (Summer)
The API Regional Scholarship is open to students with a minimum GPA of 3.0. Decisions will be based on an academic record review, essay, and financial need. API students are placed in Asia/Middle East, Europe, and Latin America.
Sponsoring organization: National Security Education Program
Application deadline: February 9
The NSEP Boren Scholarship is open to undergraduate students who are U.S. citizens. The purpose of the scholarship program is to encourage the study of languages currently underrepresented in areas critical to U.S. interests.
Sponsoring organization: Rotary International
Scholarships awarded to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing 3-6 months of language study and cultural immersion. Applicants must have completed at least 2 years of college-level coursework or equivalent professional experience.
Sponsoring organization: Winston Churchill Foundation
Application deadline: Nov. 10
Sir Winston Churchill started this scholarship in 1963 to encourage US-UK exchange in science and technology. There are currently 14 awards available each year to students in master’s programs.
Sponsoring organization: German Academic Exchange Service
Application deadline: Oct. 31
Undergraduate students in their senior year or those who have received an undergraduate degree may apply for the DAAD Study Scholarship. The award will finance a full master’s degree program at a German university.
Sponsoring organization: Delta Phi Alpha
Application deadline: Nov. 15 (Spring/Summer), March 15 (Fall/Winter)
Delta Phi Alpha, the National honor society for German, awards scholarships to undergraduates to further their German studies by performing research or studying abroad in a German-speaking country. Scholarships are open to Delta Phi Alpha members.
Sponsoring organization: Fulbright
Amount: Varies by need
Application deadline: Oct. 13
Grants pay for round-trip travel expenses to Germany, Hungary, or Italy, for study at the graduate level. Applicants must be U.S. students with a bachelor’s degree in good physical health who speak the host country’s language.
Sponsoring organization: Phi Beta Kappa
Application deadline: Jan. 15
This fellowship funds 6 months of study in France for U.S. citizens under the age of 40 with a BA in French Language and Literature. Applicants must demonstrate how their career will involve the use of the French language.
Sponsoring organization: Academy of International Business-Southeast/Asia Institute
Application deadline: Oct 10
This scholarship program supports global competencies and international experience for undergraduate, graduate, and PhD IB students to attend an Asia-based study abroad program.
Sponsoring organization: Asia Exchange
Amount: up to $500
Application deadline: April 30
Applicants to the Asia Exchange Scholarship Program must submit a statement of purpose. In addition, they must commit to writing a blog during the study abroad semester and submit a study abroad report after the experience.
Sponsoring organization: American Association of Teachers of Japanese (AATJ)
Application deadline: April 8 (Fall), Oct. 8 (Spring)
Scholarships are open to American undergraduate students participating in study abroad programs in Japan. Funds are available to pay for travel and living expenses.
Sponsoring organization: Freeman-ASIA
Application deadline: Oct. 10 (Spring), mid-February (Summer), early April (Fall)
Applicants must have a minimum GPA of 2.8 and be pursuing their first associate’s or bachelor’s degree in the U.S. To qualify, applicants must also receive need-based financial aid or demonstrate a verifiable need for financial assistance to participate in the proposed study abroad program.
Sponsoring organization: Morgan Stanley/AATJ
Application deadline: April 8 (Fall), Oct. 8 (Spring)
Economics and international finance undergraduate students may apply for the Morgan Stanley Scholarships. Applications must include a. 3-5 page essay.
Safe and Smart Travel Abroad for Students
Top 10 Travel and Safety Tips
- Enroll in STEP
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free way for students to protect themselves in a case of an emergency, offered by the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. By enrolling with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate, students will automatically receive important information about safety conditions in that country. In addition, the U.S. Embassy will contact students in case of a family emergency, natural disaster, or civil unrest.
- Photocopy documents.
Make copies of travel documents such as passports, airline tickets, driver’s license, credit card and insurance information and leave them at home. Keep originals safely hidden when traveling.
- Pack light.
Keep valuables home where they will be safe. Don’t weigh yourself down with large bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and hair products. Pack travel-size bottles of shampoo and personal care items for the plane but buy larger versions when you arrive.
- Label luggage.
Before you leave, label all luggage with your name, address, and telephone numbers inside AND outside. Pick up covered luggage tags to keep your information private and locks to keep thieves out.
- Bring adapters.
Although U.S. appliances use 110-volt electricity, it’s not the case in most other countries where 220-volt electricity is the norm. Buy a converter to use your laptop hairdryer without short circuiting the building. Also pack a few plug adapters because plug prongs may be different.
- Pack medication wisely.
For prescriptions you must have on hand, bring a back-up to keep on your person at all times in case you get separate from your luggage. The law states that medication must be in its original containers and clearly labeled. Ask your doctor for a letter explaining the medication’s purpose in case there’s a problem.
- Driving? Plan ahead.
An International Driving Permit (IDP) is required to drive in most countries and is honored in more than 150 countries outside the U.S. You have to be 18 to apply for an IDP at an American Automobile Association (AAA) or American Automobile Touring Alliance location.
- Don’t forget auto insurance.
Most likely, your auto insurance policy won’t be valid in another country. Most car rental companies provide auto insurance but the coverage may not be high enough. Purchase coverage equal to what you carry at home just to be safe.
- Stay healthy.
What about health emergencies? Before your trip, make sure you have adequate health insurance. You may need supplemental insurance in case of an emergency. Stay healthy by avoiding raw foods, using bottled water only, and washing your hands regularly. There are U.S. consular officers located at over 260 Foreign Service posts abroad. If you need assistance, these are the people to turn to.
- Visit Travel.State.Gov.
The Department of State’s official website offers country-specific Information for every country of the world. Other helpful information includes visa requirements, crime and security conditions and local laws.
Dr. Jodi Tommerdahl, faculty member at the University of Texas at Arlington in the College of Education and CEO of Visiosound, offers tips for studying abroad safely
Where did you study?
I studied abroad at a high school of Crawley, England and later in Trondheim, Norway and then taught at universities in Aix-en-Provence and Poitiers in France and in Birmingham, England.
How did you go about narrowing down your options?
The best program is one that pays for you to go! I was very fortunate to be awarded a full scholarship by a local Minneapolis cultural group to study at the master’s level in Norway. If you are paying though, make sure you choose a university that is highly regarded, especially if you are planning an academic career. Almost just as important is to find a place that you can imagine yourself eagerly exploring, where you would have a great time. Whether or not you’re willing to struggle in a foreign language is an important consideration too.
Do you have any travel tips?
Go early and stay late to make the most of your time abroad. You never know when you’ll get another chance. Before I moved to Norway after college, I spent the summer in Paris and loved it so much that I ended up moving back there again later and stayed for three years. Also, meet people and exchange contact information as you go. Someone you spend a few hours with on a train may well end up being the best man at your wedding! Traveling outside of your comfort zone opens you up and fills your life with adventure.
What types of health and security risks should students be concerned about and how can they prepare for them?
As part of any program, you will be informed about any health requirement needed such as immunizations. Make sure you know what health insurance will be provided in the host country and if in doubt, consider buying insurance that would include repatriation during your time away. Unfortunately, security risks are real and most people who have travelled abroad have had the occasional scare. Use common sense and stay connected to others both in the physical sense and virtually. Also remember that in some parts of the world, men and women face very different security risks. Talk to local people that you trust before venturing off alone. If in doubt, trust your gut and don’t be afraid to offend people by doing whatever you need to do to stay safe.
Safety Resources for Studying Abroad
This guide by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention covers issues to consider when traveling abroad such as immunizations and travel insurance.
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs provides tips for female students traveling overseas.
Purdue University offers helpful advice for parents concerned about student safety abroad.
CEA Study Abroad publishes this list of safety tips for students.
Helpful tips for parents with children who will be traveling abroad by StudyAbroad.com
Advice for female students traveling abroad by StudyAbroad.com