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What to Know About Studying Abroad

Last updated May 28, 2024

Studying abroad in college can be a special and transformative experience that has personal, academic, and professional benefits! If this opportunity seems out of reach or difficult to navigate, especially if you’re a first-generation or low-income student, we want to show you that it is possible with some planning and coordination! Here’s what to know about studying abroad.

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You can study abroad!

Before diving into the important steps of researching and committing to a study abroad program, we want to reiterate that it is possible for low-income and first-generation students! While these programs can be expensive or require navigating complex systems and processes, they are attainable for students of all backgrounds. Financial aid, as well as support from your college’s study abroad office, academic advisor, and community can make your dream a reality. All college students deserve to have personally and culturally enriching experiences, regardless of their income or background!

Benefits of studying abroad 

Here are just a few benefits of studying abroad:

Enhance your academics and immerse yourself in a new culture

Depending on your major or the program you choose, studying abroad can contextualize what you’ve learned and help you apply it to real life situations. For example, if you’re a Japanese major studying in Tokyo, you will likely gain a deeper understanding of the language and culture that you’ve been learning about in your studies, and will be able to form your own impressions, insights, and memories about them. This can positively impact your studies during the rest of your time in college!

Make new personal connections

One of the biggest benefits of studying abroad is the opportunity to meet new people from all over the world. No matter your program or where you’re studying, it’s highly likely that you’ll make new connections and friends to explore the city you’re in. Having new friends to share experiences with can make your time even more memorable! 

Develop professionally

Studying abroad is an opportunity to gain skills that can be added to your resume or discussed in a job interview. You can highlight skills such as problem solving, navigating complex systems (such as the visa application process), communicating across cultural and language differences, and gaining confidence and independence. You can then reflect on how all of these have contributed to your personal and professional growth. 

Important things to consider before studying abroad 

Before making a decision, there are a few important things to consider. Being aware of each and the logistics that come with them can better prepare you to set off on your journey! Here’s a few things to consider:

Academic considerations

  • Will studying abroad help you advance in your major or toward your degree? Meet with your academic advisor to look over the courses offered through your potential study abroad program to make sure they will count toward your degree requirements. 

Financial considerations

  • How will you pay for it? This is one of the most significant factors in deciding whether or where to study abroad. Most forms of the federal, state, and institutional financial aid you already receive can be used to study abroad. For example, the Pell Grant, most scholarships, and federal student loans can be used to pay for your studies. It’s also worth noting that there are many scholarships out there specifically for studying abroad, so if you have unmet financial need, do your research and apply for as many as possible. Check out the U.S. Department of State’s list of scholarships for students studying abroad to start your search.
  • Will the credits you take be enough to keep your financial aid and maintain your visa status? The amount of credits you’re taking while abroad is significant because it can impact your ability to receive financial aid and to maintain your student visa status. Some of your financial aid (especially scholarships) may have credit requirements that you must meet to keep. For example, if a scholarship was awarded to you under the condition that you are enrolled in full-time credits, and you plan to only take part-time credits abroad, you would lose that scholarship and be left with unmet financial need. Additionally, in order to maintain your student visa status, you may be required to be enrolled in full-time credits as well. It’s important to talk this through with your college’s study abroad office to ensure that both your aid and your visa will be secure.
  • How much will you need to budget? It can be helpful to start budgeting and saving early so that you’re prepared to pay for your living expenses and any unexpected costs that may arise while abroad. 

Personal considerations

  • How will studying abroad impact your life back at school? Consider the impact of being away from campus and your routine for an extended period of time. Will it be harder to connect with your friends or peers from far away? Will you have to quit or pause your involvement with clubs? Do you have a job or internship that you’d have to take a leave of absence from or quit? Make sure you take all of this into consideration before making a decision.
  • How will you talk to your family about studying abroad? It’s important to acknowledge the potential impacts of studying abroad on low-income and first-generation students. If you are close to your family or if they rely on you for support, making the choice to study abroad can be difficult. This is especially true if you are the first person in your family to study abroad or even attend college. While it may not always be easy to talk to your family about decisions you make in college, it’s worth it. Doing so can help you come to a mutual understanding about your desire to study abroad, what your family dynamic might be like when you’re gone, or how often you will check in. It’s a big decision to make, and having a strong support system in place can make all the difference!

How to study abroad

Here are some steps to take if you’re interested in studying abroad:

Start at your study abroad office 

If you’re interested in studying abroad but aren’t sure whether it’s academically or financially possible, head to your college’s study abroad office anyway. Don’t count yourself out before exploring what’s possible! 

Advisors can help you explore your options, navigate any potential barriers, and support you through researching and applying to programs. They can also connect you to peers on campus who have studied abroad and are willing to share their experiences with you.

It’s important to start this process early (we recommend at least a year in advance) since there may be logistical factors at play, such as applying for or renewing your passport, securing your visa, or finding a place to live. Giving yourself as much time as possible to understand what’s expected of you and what you’ll need to set in motion over the next year can make studying abroad significantly less stressful when the time comes. 

Meet with your academic advisor

It can’t be stressed enough that your study abroad credits should help you advance in your degree. Once you have an idea of the programs that interest you, set up a meeting with your academic advisor to talk through your major and credit requirements and discuss any obstacles that could potentially prevent you from studying abroad. They can also help you determine which year or term of school is the right time. For example, it may be ideal for students studying humanities to go abroad during their junior year, while STEM majors may find it easier to go as a sophomore.

Getting everything squared away with your academic advisor will likely take more than one meeting, so be sure to initiate this process early as well.

Meet with your financial aid office

If you have any questions about the types of financial aid that can be used toward studying abroad, talk to someone in your college’s financial aid office. 

Take care of important action items

Once you register for your program, you may need to start taking care of important action items, such as:

  • Completing your college’s requirements, such as submitting paperwork and signing waivers for approval to study abroad and transfer your credits at the end of your program.
  • Getting your passport.
  • Applying for a student visa.
  • Finding a place to live (if student housing isn’t provided).
  • Making sure you’re up-to-date on your vaccinations (or getting vaccinations if required).
  • Beginning to budget and save money. 

Allow yourself plenty of time to take care of these items, since some of them (especially those relating to passports and visas) could take weeks or months.

Prepare yourself 

In the midst of all your academic, logistic, and financial preparation, don’t forget to allow yourself to be excited and hopeful about this opportunity! Take some time to watch YouTube videos or TikToks about the study abroad experience. You can watch Q&A videos about studying abroad generally, or check out creators who specifically studied in your program, country, or city. It can also be helpful to research generally about the country you’ll be studying in to learn more about things like its traditions, cultures, or social norms.

Additionally, if you’re a first-generation or low-income student, it may be helpful to search for videos from creators who also identify with those backgrounds and can share their perspectives and experiences from studying abroad. You can also look for study abroad resources specifically for first-generation and low-income students, such as this article from Diversity Abroad or GoAbroad’s free ebook: The First Generation Students Study Abroad Guide. Having a general idea of what to expect can ease your nerves and help you feel more confident in your journey! 

Have any questions about studying abroad in college? Text #College to 33-55-77 to chat with one of our advisors. If you're using a mobile device, click here to have the text message set up for you!

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