What to consider when your college student wants to study abroad

by Diane Schwemm

Is your college student considering a semester abroad? What might this experience be like, for him and for you as a college parent? How do families make this decision, and prepare?

Most colleges and universities offer programs for students to study abroad for a semester or full year; summer programs may be an option as well. The Study Abroad (or Global Education/Affairs) Office and website at your student’s school should have many of the resources your student — and you — require to begin the process of considering a study abroad term.

Here are answers to a few of the questions you may have.

What are the advantages of international study? 

A benefit of college life in general is learning about and connecting with people from diverse backgrounds, and students who study abroad take this opportunity one big step further. Time away from the home campus may immerse them in a new language; enrich a current course of study or enable new explorations; deepen their appreciation of the world and its many cultures; and allow them to develop valuable competency as global citizens.

Is study abroad the right choice for every student? 

To be eligible, students must be in good academic standing. A level of maturity and self-determination is necessary to manage the extra organizational, academic, and personal responsibilities. By owning the process from the beginning, your student can demonstrate that he is ready for the challenge of study abroad.

How and when does my student choose a program? 

The process usually begins in the fall of sophomore year (for a planned junior year abroad experience). However, starting to consider options and work study abroad into the plan sooner can help your student choose a program more thoughtfully.  Also, for some students sophomore year may be a more convenient time to travel due to class schedules. To start, your student should:

  • Take an interest survey and research potential programs at the college’s Study Abroad Office and on the website
  • Attend a Study Abroad Fair if one is held on campus
  • Talk to fellow students about their experiences
  • Make an appointment with a Study Abroad advisor
  • Confirm eligibility for participation

After your student has applied to and been accepted by a program, he will begin his orientation, sign a contract, and pay a deposit.

Consider domestic exchange

If your student is eager for some new horizons but doesn’t want to study abroad, a domestic exchange program may be just the ticket. National Student Exchange (NSE) is a not-for-profit consortium of 200 colleges and universities in the U.S., Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands — click here to learn more and find out if your student’s school participates.
Many colleges are part of their own smaller exchanges. Look for this information on the school website under Academics — there should be a Study Abroad/Domestic Exchange/Off-Campus Opportunities section.

Will study abroad make it harder for my student to graduate on time? 

Your student is responsible for working with his study abroad and academic advisors to make sure that study abroad courses will apply to his degree and major requirements. If he participates in a program approved by the school, this is usually straightforward. In other cases, he may need to petition to have a program/course of study approved.

Is international study more expensive? 

Not necessarily. With programs operated or approved by the college, tuition and financial aid often transfer directly. Tuition at international universities is sometimes less than at American ones. Airfare, travel documents, and other travel expenses will be your student’s responsibility. The program should outline the various financial obligations for your student. If you cannot find that information talk to the program coordinator.

What travel documents are needed? 

Your student should apply for (or renew) a passport and apply for a visa (if required by the host country) as soon as he is accepted to a program. His passport must be valid for at least six months after the date of his planned return to the U.S.

What kinds of immunizations will my student need? 

Different countries have different requirements — this information will be found in the program handbook. Your student should schedule a check-up and get required and recommended shots well in advance (most college health centers offer these services), and also take care of other medication and prescription needs (glasses, contact lenses, etc.). Contact your health insurance provider or the college health plan to confirm your student’s coverage while abroad.

How will I communicate with my overseas student? 

Students and parents should investigate and discuss communication options in advance. International calling cards are sold in the U.S. at phone companies and retail stores like Target. Pay-as-you-go cell phones can be purchased abroad. Many students find the internet — email, Skype, Facebook — to be the most convenient way to stay in touch. Parents should be aware that students often can’t call home immediately upon arrival in their host country, and in some locations may have infrequent or unreliable internet access.

More study abroad tips for parents:

  • Wait until your student is accepted to a program and confirm start/end dates (which may not be available until a few months before the program begins) before purchasing a plane ticket.
  • Along with your student, learn as much as possible ahead of time about the host country’s laws and culture.
  • Plan how to handle any family emergencies that might arise. One parent should have a valid passport in case of an emergency for the student that requires the parent to travel abroad to provide support.
  • Your student should pick next semester’s courses before he leaves to be ready to register online.
  • Your student should also have a plan for housing, whether he intends to live off campus or re-enter the college residence system.
  • Some study abroad programs start before financial aid for that semester is available. If your student receives financial aid, he must arrange for the disbursement of those funds plus have money available to cover costs in the meantime.
  • Call the Study Abroad office with any and all questions and concerns!