How to Choose a Study Abroad Program

Your parents, professors, and friends probably all have opinions about where you should study abroad. Don't listen to them! (At least not too much.) What is important is that YOU decide what's right for you. Ask yourself, "What are my goals for studying abroad? What do I hope to get out of it?" These are questions that only you can answer. You may want to take out a sheet of paper and make a list of your academic, professional and personal goals for study abroad, as well as other factors that you consider important to you. Here are some hints:

Set Priorities.You will have to decide what aspects of study abroad are most important. Is it the classes you will take? The location? The opportunities to travel? Do you want to learn a language? Do you hope to get a job someday at a company that has offices in that region? Do you want to do community service or an internship? Can you do field work or independent research as well as coursework?

There's a reason it's called STUDY abroad: academic goals. While you will learn a lot outside of the study abroad classroom by being immersed in a foreign culture, the academic component of study abroad is still the main reason for your trip. Do you want to focus on requirements for your major? Study a new language or fulfill language requirements? Take classes on the history and culture of the foreign country? Make sure the program you choose offers the courses you want or need.

Parlez-vous français, or would you like to? Decide whether you want to learn another language, perfect a language you already have a basic knowledge of, or study in English. Studying abroad can be the best way to gain proficiency in another language. Learning and using a language where it is spoken is very different from classroom instruction. That language becomes a real, live breathing thing you have to interact with 24 hours a day -- and you move toward or reach that stage where you speak, understand, and think in that language without hesitation.

If you don’t speak a foreign language, there are many programs that offer study in English -- and not only in English-speaking countries! Many non-English speaking countries offer course work in English to attract international students and to prepare their own students for the wider world. Although you will be studying in English on these programs, you can often take courses in the host country’s language as well and may be able to begin to learn a new language.

Building that resume: professional goals. Consider how study abroad fits into your professional goals. Would learning or perfecting a language look good on your resume and be useful in your career? Would you like to combine study abroad with an internship? What location of study will be most useful in your future career, or most impressive to an employer? If you would like to develop significant knowledge about another country and culture for your career, and would like to demonstrate this to a potential employer, are you going on a program that is long enough? A year-long or semester-long program in Italy may convince an employer that you are very knowledgeable about the country; a three-week program may not.

Money matters: How much money can you spend? Costs of living are highly variable from program to program, depending on duration and location. Also exchange rates vary—right now the Euro and Pound are really high! While studying on a Hartwick affiliate program, you will pay the same tuition and fees as if you were on campus, keep in mind that some programs do not include all of your expenses. Room and board, international travel and personal expenses can be extra. However, remember that all financial aid and scholarships, except work-study, will apply to your experience abroad.

Other things matter too! Who Are You?

Cultural attraction
Is there a country or culture you’ve always been drawn to and fascinated by? The ABROAD part of study abroad is important, too.

What do you like to do?
Do you love sports, or would you rather spend a Saturday afternoon at an art museum? Your interests and hobbies can play a factor in helping you choose a location. If you like outdoor activities, you may want to choose a location with great hiking. If you love art shows and theater, a big city may be your ideal location.

Know yourself
How independent are you? How comfortable are you traveling or living by yourself? How well do you adjust to new situations? What type of person are you – are you outgoing, adventurous, or shy? What previous overseas experiences have you had? What are your dietary needs? These are some of the many questions you need to ask yourself in order to choose the right program. Some locations are more challenging than others. How far out of your comfort zone do you want to step?

Our advice for choosing the most rewarding study abroad program:

Length matters! Consider a longer program. While students gain a great deal from programs of any length, and not all students are able to fit longer programs into their schedules, we encourage you to consider a semester or year-long program. Understanding a different culture takes time, and longer programs will allow you to immerse yourself to a much greater degree.

Avoid too many Americans. On a some study abroad programs, you will spend most of your time with Americans. Consider this when choosing a program. Will you be living in a dorm with local students, or only with Americans? Will all your classmates be Americans? While programs in which you live and study with Americans may have a lot to offer academically or have other advantages, you may not immerse yourself in the foreign culture or learn a foreign language on these programs. We recommend that you try to choose a program that gives you the opportunity to spend time with local people. Find out whether the program you are considering has components that enable you to interact with the locals, and whether you will have an opportunity to build friendships and feel part of the community in which you are living. If you want to truly experience a foreign culture, find a program that encourages homestays, where you live with a family.

Consider someplace new and different! Everyone has heard of Paris or London, but there are many wonderful study abroad locations in lesser-known places, like Strasbourg, France or Swansea, England. Thousands of Americans study in England, France and Italy, but you may want to consider a more unusual location, such as Cyprus or Finland or Thailand!