School-sponsored, provider-based, and third-party study abroad programs

By Annie Rose Stathes
Published October 3, 2013

Students typically study abroad through one of three types of programs: school-sponsored programs, provider-based programs, and third-party programs. Following is a description of each:  

  • School-sponsored study abroad programs are typically directly connected to a college or university and organized and operated by a study abroad office on campus.
  • Provider-based programs are offered through private companies that primarily sell study abroad programs and exchanges. Such programs typically have a limited or non-existent relationship with colleges and universities in the United States, or have an indirect relationship with colleges and universities in the United States through students.  
  • Third-party programs, which are also private companies that primarily sell study abroad programs and exchanges, typically have established academic relationships with colleges and universities in the United States.

School-sponsored programs differ from provider-based programs in that the majority of their study abroad programs connect to the intentions and values of the school. Therefore, school-sponsored programs might offer less of a variety of curricula and programming than do provider-based programs. Also, school-sponsored programs are commonly more intimately and directly connected to students’ overall curricula and degree programs.  

Provider-based programs differ from school-sponsored programs in that they typically offer a wider breadth of program types, designs, and options. Provider-based programs are more market and demand oriented, and therefore tend to offer programs that consumers desire most.

Third-party programs differ from school-sponsored and provider-based programs in that they offer a breadth of programs and connect directly to colleges and universities. They offer a nice blend of school-sponsored and provider-based programs.

All three types of programs may offer students opportunities to enjoy adventures, participate in different societies and cultures, and earn college credits while living and studying abroad. All three programs also typically offer students options in program type, duration, and focus of travel and study. In this way, all three types of programs offer students similar opportunities.

Also, all three types of programs typically contract with colleges and universities throughout the world so that students can earn college credits while studying abroad. However, school-sponsored, provider-based, and third-party programs all differ in the degree to which they will readily accept credit transfers. School-sponsored and third-party programs tend to have existing agreements with colleges and universities for transferring credits, while provider-based programs tend to put the onus on students to ensure that their credits will transfer. In this way, all three program types are slightly different.  

Following are a few more key differences between school-sponsored programs, provider-based programs, and third-party programs:

  • School-sponsored programs are often times connected to schools’ values, goals, missions, and academic interests
  • Provider-based programs are often times connected to market demand
  • Third-party programs are often times connected both to the demands of a school and the demands of the market
  • School-sponsored and third-party programs typically have ready-made arrangements for transferring credits  

If you go to school at a small college or university, you might not have access to a school-sponsored study abroad program. In that case, you might consider studying abroad through a provider-based or third-party program. Provider-based and third-party programs can be just as well-organized, affordable, and connected to your field of study as school-sponsored ones—you simply have to conduct a search to find one that’s a perfect fit for you.

Ready to find a program? Get started now!

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.

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