5 questions to ask yourself when searching for a study abroad program

By Annie Rose States, Edited by Valeri Boyle
Published February 12, 2014

There are many important things to consider when searching for the best study abroad programs. Ultimately, however, the key to finding your perfect study abroad program is landing in a place that best fits your goals, dreams, and personality. Discuss your options and feelings about different study abroad programs with people who know you well. Talking to people who know you well and have a sense of what is most important to you in life and academia can help you sort out where to study and for how long. Also, consider the following:

How long do you want to study abroad?

Students can study abroad for different durations of time. Some choose to do so for a semester (3 to 5 months), a quarter (2 to 3 months), a summer (2 to 3 months), a year (9 to 12 months), or an entire program (1 to 4 years). How long you want to study abroad depends on what you are studying, how long you want to live away from the United States and your friends and family, whether or not you want to earn your entire degree or just a portion of it in another country, and how prepared you are emotionally, mentally, and financially to spend time in another country. It also depends on the type of program you choose based on your career field and desired experience.

Where do you want to study abroad?

There are two important questions to ask in conjunction with this one: first, where do you want to live? Second, where can you enjoy the types of experiences—professional, personal, and academic—you want to enjoy through your study abroad program? It is important to establish answers to both of these questions. Remember that you will not only be attending classes in another country, you will actually be living in another country. Therefore, it is important to determine what countries will support your lifestyle. In what countries, for example, will you feel comfortable walking around, taking public transportation, paying bills, living off campus (potentially), grocery shopping, and doing other day-to-day activities that have nothing to do with education? Also, do the countries you are considering have the recreational, social, political, religious, and other opportunities you desire and depend upon? Finally, do the countries you are considering offer you the professional and academic opportunities you desire to enhance your education, your career, and ultimately your life? It is important to consider all of this while determining where to study.

How do you know that you are participating in a legitimate and trustworthy program?

  1. There are many programs that claim to be the one of the “best study abroad programs”, so first and foremost, look for programs that are accredited. Accredited schools and programs have gone through a process of review that helps ensure their quality, transferability, dependability. Different countries have different accreditation processes, so contact the government entity responsible for education in that country and ask how to confirm a school’s accreditation status.
  2. Second, discuss your program options with your school in the United States. Ask your school if they recognize the program, have any recommendations based on other students’ experiences, and will accept credits from the program.
  3. Third, look for programs that already have a relationship with your school in the United States. Such programs have a history with your school and continue to have a relationship for good reasons.
  4. Fourth, keep in mind that the perceived “quality” of programs differs throughout the world. Even the private sectors in the economies of different countries have different amounts of money to invest in study abroad programs. Therefore, the perceived quality of study abroad programs differs throughout the world. When you’re looking for a study abroad program, explore a program’s reputation, accreditation status, and quality, rather than judging its campus, amenities, and material wealth and beauty (unless those things are most important to you); remember that some of the best study abroad programs lack funding for material components, but offer a great education by way of sound curriculum, talented professors, and meaningful opportunities.

Will your credits transfer to your school in the United States?

Work with your study abroad program and your school in the United States to confirm that your credits fulfill the requirements of your major or minor and will indeed transfer. Do this work with your major advisor or the director of your major program and, if possible, sign a contract that ensures that your school in the United States will accept the credits from your study abroad program. Do not make any assumptions about the transferability of your credits and if you change your plans in any way, discuss the changes with your advisor. Do all of this prior to enrolling in a study abroad program.

Are you ready to study abroad?

This is perhaps the most important question. Studying abroad, whether for three months or multiple years, comes with a variety of challenges. It requires mental and emotional strength, flexibility and wellness, and commands students to deal with their selves and their lives in ways they may not have had to before. It requires maturity, responsibility, and a sense of adventure; and it forces students out of their comfort zones. You certainly don’t need to be a perfect version of a human to study abroad, nor do you need to be without nervousness, anxiety, or hesitation; you simply need to be aware that you will likely deal with emotional, mental, and physical upheaval and challenges.

Ready to find a program? Browse our directory of study abroad opportunites.

Annie Rose Stathes is a Colorado-based writer, teacher and political scientist. Her background is in international affairs and she holds a Master of Arts degree in Political Science.