Lately, it seems like studying abroad is a right of passage for many students. Chances are, you know at least one person who went abroad for a semester––but there’s a huge difference between studying abroad for a semester and making it your entire college experience.
We talked to Keara Dekay, senior study abroad advisor at the University of South Carolina, to figure out what you should consider before deciding to pursue your college career abroad. So before jumping the pond, or going down under—or pretty much anywhere, make sure you read these tips!
Most people who consider studying abroad have a place in mind, and that’s the first step in the process, but location might be determined by more than just your favorite country. For those who will have strict major requirements, you probably want to choose the schools that work best for your major. In most instances, you’ll probably be okay with majors like business, mass communication or humanities. However, some students interested in STEM fields or who are pre-med might need to be a little more picky. So if you’re studying in Scotland but want to go to a U.S. medical school, make sure that you’ll still meet all the requirements.
Either way, Dekay says you’ll enjoy your experience no matter where you go. “Anywhere you end up is going to be both challenging and incredible, and you will come back to the U.S. with a completely different point of view,” she says. No matter where you go, you’ll be getting an experience that is completely different and worthwhile.
2. Courses, cost and immersion
Every college in the world is different, so sifting through every aspect of a school can be a little difficult. Add in the fact that you’re choosing an international college and it might seem even more challenging to narrow down the necessities. Dekay says the top three things to consider are courses, cost and level of immersion.
Ensuring that the program will keep you up-to-date with your studies, while also keeping you from breaking the bank are key in making the decision, but immersion might not be the first concern that comes to mind. When choosing a country, it’s important to consider how much of a language barrier you want, cost of living, what the surrounding countries are, any cultural differences, and even its political standing. Many international universities are cheaper than private American universities--but the cost of living could make a big difference. You’ll be living in that country for four years, so those more detailed considerations have more weight than if you were only abroad for a semester.
Keep in mind that one of the great things about being abroad is getting the chance to explore while you’re there. So, even if you don’t end up in the country that you were originally set on, that doesn’t mean you can’t travel there! Plus, since you will be living abroad, you’ll probably end up becoming an expert. You’ll have the opportunity to explore more than just the touristy experiences, so that once-foreign country won’t actually be so foreign anymore.
There are also more minute factors to think about in regards to academics, like grading, credits and difficulty. “Understanding that international universities look very different from American universities [is important], especially when it comes to the level of student services provided,” Dekay says. “Students who attend international universities are expected to be very independent and do not necessarily have access to services that students have come to expect from American institutions (writing centers, tutoring, access to professors, etc.).” Because of this, you need to be willing to be more independent in your studies —although deciding to go to college abroad is a pretty big indicator that you are independent.
Plus, the grading system that you might be used to won’t necessarily be the same. For example, although U.S. schools use a 0-100 scale represented by letter grades, in France, a 20-point grading scale is used. So make sure that you’re ready for a change in what you’re used to.
Related: The 12 Best Places to Study Abroad
5. The application process
Then comes the actual application. When you’re applying abroad, a killer application is key.
“Academic success, independence and adaptability are probably the three most important traits to display in an application to an international university,” Dekay says. “They want to be sure that you’ll be successful in that type of learning environment, so proving that you understand the challenges presented by enrolling in an international institution is very important.”
However, she also tells us that one of the benefits to an application for a foreign university is that it is generally less detailed. “In many countries, higher education is both guaranteed and low-cost or no-cost to their residents, so there may be fewer requirements in the actual application,” So, although you might want to tailor your application more towards the fact that you’re self-sufficient enough to thrive in a foreign environment, you might not need as much fluff as U.S. schools. However, there are also some schools, mostly American schools located in foreign countries, that use the Common Application, so that’s also important to look into.
6. Distance from home
Remember that studying abroad means you are way more than a few hours away from home. Coming home due to homesickness isn’t an option, and you might have to sacrifice a few holidays too. Although it seems like college in itself is a big step towards being independent, chances are there will be some days that you wish you could just go home and snug up in your own bed. Plus, anytime you come down with a cold, you’ll be on your own.
Additionally, don’t forget that being abroad can also mean time differences. If you're studying in Australia, for example, you’ll be on the complete opposite time schedule of the U.S., which can make it difficult to talk to family and friends. Plus, you’ll probably have to figure out a different cell phone contract too, because international calling and texting isn’t typically covered. So yes, although distance does make the heart grow fonder, it can also grow lonely if you aren’t prepared.
There are plenty of details to ponder when deciding to study abroad, but taking the leap and going for a different college experience can pay off big-time. With these pointers in mind, you’ll be sure to make an educated decision.