How To Study Abroad: A Full Guide for Students

Students snorkeling in Darwin’s Cove. / Photo: Ella Perry

Last updated July 10, 2024

College itself is a transformative experience that builds character and allows for self-discovery. Add in the opportunity to study abroad, and you’ll get a whole new perspective of global and cultural awareness, appreciation and self-confidence. The experience has allowed countless students to travel to Europe, Asia, South America and Australia to further their studies and interests immersed in other cultures.

From 2020-2021, however, the Pandemic reshaped the U.S. study abroad experience, canceling many overseas programs due to travel restrictions and health concerns. U.S. students applying for study abroad programs declined by 91% during this period. However, students are excited to return to their travel study programs.

If you find yourself in this group, excited to take on the educational and personal challenge of studying in another location, keep reading to learn how to study abroad while in college.

What is study abroad?

Study abroad is an educational program allowing students to pursue part of their education in a foreign country or location away from their home college or university. In study abroad programs, students will attend college courses and participate in cultural experiences as they immerse themselves in new cultures abroad. Study abroad programs may be hosted by their home university, a foreign university, or a third-party study program.

Studying abroad provides more than just course credit toward a degree. Through your travels and immersion in a foreign location, you’ll benefit from learning different cultural norms and facilitating personal relationships with new friends of different perspectives. You’ll also benefit from the opportunity to learn academically from experts in the field unavailable at your home school. Learning in a different environment will help you retain information and better understand the subject matter – and yourself, too.

Why study abroad?

Besides earning course credit towards your degree, studying abroad offers immense opportunities for personal growth and cultural understanding, which can help you see life more broadly and open your mind to new experiences, values and opinions.

Explore new cultures

Students are exposed to new ideas, languages, and social perspectives by immersing themselves in a new culture. Friendships and mentorships that are impossible to make at home are formed from time spent in study abroad programs. While education comes from study abroad professors and courses, students also retain new knowledge and perspectives from activities outside of the classroom.

Cultivate personal growth

These new perspectives lead to a transformative experience in personal growth. Students build independence by traveling without family abroad, and they learn resilience while learning the ropes of another country alone. (With advisor and professor assistance, of course!) For many students, their study abroad experience is the first time they find themselves problem-solving through travel and leisure time in another country without the help of close family or friends. The confidence, resilience and independence this provides is priceless to many students.

How much does it cost to study abroad?

The cost to study abroad varies between institutions, however most programs have an upfront cost not included in your standard tuition rate. The costs involved cover many different travel items, including lodging and airfare. Within the cost of your study abroad program, you will likely pay for expenses such as:

  • Tuition for the duration of the program
  • Accommodations, such as lodging in a college dormitory, hotels or with host families
  • Travel by airplane, bus or train for classroom-sponsored activities
  • Daily living expenses such as housing and food

Financial aid and scholarships

Many students don’t consider participating in studying abroad because they don’t know how much it costs to study abroad. However, many study abroad programs offer financial assistance. Along with the help of scholarships, many of which can be used toward study abroad programs, studying abroad can be more affordable than it sounds. Some schools also encourage students to find jobs or crowdfund to raise money for the additional funds needed.

How do I choose a study abroad program?

With so many different types of study abroad programs (university-led, through government programs or an independent group), you may need help narrowing down the right program for you.

Define your goals

First, define your goals for studying abroad. Personally, have you always dreamed of visiting Japan? Academically, would learning conversational Spanish give you an advantage over other applicants when applying for jobs? Are you comfortable spending your summer away but can’t imagine an entire year? Evaluate what you want to get out of studying abroad, and you will be able to identify programs that meet these goals.

You’ll find various locations, academic offerings (such as class courses and activities) and durations as you research different study abroad programs. These options can be overwhelming at first – that’s where defining your goals and desires comes in handy.

Consider compatibility with your major

Understanding how course credits earned while studying abroad will transfer toward your degree is essential. Many programs, especially those through your specific degree program, offer direct transfers; however, some programs may provide credit toward your electives. Be sure to clarify with your advisor and study abroad program director to ensure course credits are compatible and transferable.

Consider language barriers

Similarly, to ensure you get the best experience from your study abroad education, consider the program’s language of instruction and how it may impact your learning. Some foreign study programs hosted by international colleges may teach in their native language.

How to start a study abroad program: Practical steps

Research and Information Gathering

You’ll find many opportunities within and outside your college or university as you research study abroad programs. These are some of our top choices for finding study abroad programs for students nationwide.

Application Process

The application process for study abroad is similar to applying to college, though much less intense. While many programs are highly competitive, it pays to work ahead. Gather information required for the applications, such as:

  • College or high school transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statements and essays
  • Financial information for aid

Just like college applications, it’s imperative to follow deadlines for study abroad applications. As some programs only occur once per calendar year, application deadlines are tight, and if you’re particularly set on a specific program, missing the deadlines may prevent you from studying abroad.

Know before you go: Preparing for departure

Now, how do you study abroad legally and safely?

Visa and legal considerations

Before you book travel, understand the requirements of work or student visas. At your final destination, is a visa required to study or work for your stay? These rules vary by country, so it’s essential to research thoroughly and follow all the steps to obtain your visa before committing to your trip.

Understanding your host country’s local cultural and legal norms is also important. Things like everyday attire, tipping at restaurants and language and legal parameters are essential to understand to remain confident and safe in another destination.

Health and safety

Additionally, comprehensive health insurance coverage is critical, especially if traveling for extended periods. Some programs will cover you for part-time travel excursions, such as study abroad.

Outside of the legal and insurance precautions, it’s essential that you understand traveling in a foreign country comes with additional safety precautions. Always travel with a group when visiting unfamiliar destinations and be aware of your surroundings. Read local safety alerts and be sure to stay up-to-date on local news.

Study Away at Furman

At Furman, our Study Away programs provide endless opportunities for academic, professional and personal experience in new destinations worldwide – including in the United States! (Hence, we call it Study Away rather than solely Study Abroad.)

The Rinker Center for Study Away and International Education offers invaluable resources for all Furman’s Study Away programs, including semester away, summer away and MayX, a three-week May Experience.

Courses taught by the Furman faculty member in residence count as if the student were taking a class on campus.  Classes taught by instructors from other institutions can be transferred as credit to Furman University after the program ends. Students should obtain transfer credit authorization prior to studying away to guarantee their transfer courses will be accepted.

Each university approaches study abroad differently, though one thing remains consistent: Students will gain meaningful engagement and reflection with new cultures and ideas while developing academic and professional skills that make them stand out among other job candidates.

To review Furman’s policies regarding academic regulations, transfer credits and course descriptions, view the academic catalog.

Final thoughts

As you consider study abroad programs, start by defining your goals and aspirations for the program. This will allow you to research programs that fit your interests. Next, gather all the essential application documents and evaluate the financial aid and scholarship options available. Prepare for your time away by studying cultural norms and acquiring the required visas and health insurance. You’ll be prepared for the best experience while you gain invaluable personal and academic experience.

As many alumni will tell you, studying abroad was the most incredible and rewarding aspect of their college experience. The global cultural perspective gained, among the personal independence and resilience developed, is an incredible way to begin adulthood.

If you are interested in Study Away at Furman, connect with The Rinker Center for Study Away and International Education. You won’t regret the experience!

The perspectives and thoughts shared in the Furman Blog belong solely to the author and may not align with the official stance or policies of Furman University. All referenced sources were accurate as of the date of publication.

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