Freshman year is a good time to begin thinking about this opportunity.
I’m a strong believer in college students taking advantage of study abroad programs. The chance to travel, soak up another culture and experience life in a different part of the world is invaluable. That being said, study abroad isn’t cheap and can impact degree completion if not timed properly. Since most students study abroad in their junior or senior year, your family has a couple of years to get ready.
What to do now If your child even thinks they might want to study abroad, they should talk with their academic advisor now to plan their course schedules and know whether any summer classes will be necessary. Their advisor can also steer them toward the best programs and countries for their major.
The next step is to visit the campus Study Abroad office and attend an information session to learn about the different programs available. They might be able to talk with students who’ve been abroad and get a sense of what their own experience might be like.
Focus on GPA Colleges generally require students who want to study abroad to have at least a 2.5 GPA. You might want that to be higher, but now there’s a goal and a reason to get help when falling behind in calculus or chemistry.
Types of study abroad programs The variety is overwhelming. Programs run anywhere from one week to one year; are offered practically year round—fall, spring or summer semester, as well as during school breaks; and are available almost anywhere in the world.
Students can take classes and/or intern. Some kids fulfill an internship requirement for their major while abroad.
Many colleges have their own programs, but some work with other schools, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Most majors can fit in study abroad Students in many majors are advised to wait to take the bulk of their core/general education or minor requirements until they study abroad. Language, art, literature and history courses take on a whole new dimension when taught in a foreign country and incorporate the native culture.
A summer or school break abroad will probably work better for anyone with a major that requires a lot of on-campus courses.
The cost This varies by school. Some programs are completely covered by the college’s regular tuition and room and board charges. Others include an additional program fee. Keep in mind, students living in non-campus housing will have that rent to pay during their semester abroad, unless they can find someone to sublet to.
Out-of-pocket expenses will include airfare, textbooks and other school supplies, food if living in an apartment and not a dorm setting, and the usual costs for entertainment, personal items, etc.
Particularly for students studying in Europe, weekend jaunts to other countries are common. Unless already covered by their program, they’ll need money for these excursions. Student airfare and rail rates are available, and hostiles are more affordable than hotels. But these costs need to be factored in.
Paying for study abroad Your student’s current financial aid should apply toward the cost of their study abroad program. They can also check out scholarships, grants and loans available specifically for studying in another country.
Many countries do not allow foreign students to work while abroad. For that reason, your child should start saving for whatever expenses will be their responsibility.
Paperwork At a minimum, your child will need a valid passport. If they already have one, check the expiration date. Some programs won’t take a student whose passport will expire within a month or two of the program’s end date.
Depending upon the country and the length of the program, a visa might be required. This can be obtained within a few weeks or months of the trip. Some countries require a student to show a minimum balance in their bank account, an assurance they won’t take advantage of a foreign country’s public assistance program. The Study Abroad office should be able to assist in finding more information for a particular country.
Final thoughts Study abroad isn’t right for every college student. Some kids will see it as a chance to party for a semester. Others will find it an amazing opportunity to be immersed in a different culture. And for parents, it’s another chance to let go a little more, as scary as that is.
Please share your thoughts and experiences on study abroad programs in the comments section below.