Study Abroad Decision-Making Checklist

By The Team, Edited by Valeri Boyle
Published September 5, 2012

So, you’re interested in studying abroad right? Of course you are. You wouldn’t be here otherwise.

It takes a very decisive person to study abroad. Out of the thousands of abroad programs in hundreds of countries all over the world, how can you possibly decide where to study and what to study? How do you know what country will be the right fit? Which universities have your major or a program you can receive transferrable credits?

The number of students worldwide who choose to study abroad increases about 4% each year as studying abroad has become the new normal for American students (according to the 2011 IIE Open Doors Report). There are heaps of lists out there ranking universities with the “best study abroad programs.” This may not have been the ultimate deciding factor of where you chose to go to school, but having a great study abroad program couldn’t hurt, right?

Recall back to high school during your college search and remember the amount of information you had to gather before even going on a tour of a university. Well…welcome back to those glory days! The amount of research it takes to study abroad for only five months is a hefty amount, but rewarding in itself. Before you choose the destination of your semester abroad you must follow a few key steps.

The earlier you start planning the better. Talk to your university advisor to see if it is feasible to fit a study abroad program into your schedule. This conversation should happen pretty early on – maybe even in your first year! Sophia Ben-Achour started planning a year in advance of her departure of her semester abroad in Melbourne, Australia.

“I had a lot of paperwork to fill out like getting classes preapproved and filling out housing applications” but “I knew I would have enough time to get all of my information together.” Sophia attended a small university, so she knew every staff member who needed to sign off on approval. If you attend a larger university, you may need to set aside a little extra time.

  • Talk to your parents/guardian – are they going to be funding this trip? Are they okay sending you off for half a year? Don’t worry, there are enough benefits to persuade them…
  • Gather information from your home university about programs they offer abroad. Most schools have a website specifically for study abroad students!
  • Pick your reasons for studying abroad. Are you looking for an adventure? New language? New culture? Getting far away from home? These ideas can help narrow down your search. Not sure where to start? Find out what some other students have said.
  • Pick a region of the world you are most interested in studying in. I know it’s hard, but try to narrow down a continent if you can. If you only speak English, you may not want to head to China. However, if China is your dream destination, start thinking about taking a foreign language course.

You’re off to a great start! What’s next? How to make the decision of which program to enroll in…There’s a lot to take into account when deciding which country to spend your time studying in, so ask yourself these questions to get the ball rolling:

  • Are you prepared to speak a foreign language?
  • Are you interested in being immersed in a new way of life or do you want a global perspective on international business?
  • Do you have strong family ties to a foreign country?
  • Do you want to be close to a very populated city? Or are you okay living in a hut somewhere?
  • Do you want to be surrounded by a lot of students all the time? Make sure this university offers on-campus housing or another communal living situation.
  • Is the country safe for students?
  • How far out of your comfort zone is comfortable?

Hopefully by now you’ve chosen a country you’re itching to visit, or at least have a better idea of what to look for while researching. Now you can get down to the specifics. Check that the location you’re most interested in has universities which offer your major or area of study. You may not be able to study Geology at every university in Spain, but check out the search bar to sort programs by country/region, subject, and program type. This’ll make your search way easier! Find out which universities in Belize offer an Education program or where in the world you can go to Graduate School for a Graphic Design program.

Remember that everyone has something different that they are looking for in a study abroad experience. Keep your expectations and goals organized to help you choose a program. And always remain as flexible as possible; your study abroad program is what you make of it.

Looking for more information? Check out the top 5 must's before you study abroad.