In the past few weeks, at least five students have asked me about colleges that offer study abroad programs. It’s not surprising, since interest in study abroad has grown in recent years. The opportunity to live and study in a foreign country is seen by students and parents as not just a fun part of college, but necessary preparation for working in a global economy.
In fact, study abroad is considered so valuable that Goucher College actually requires students to go abroad before graduating. Students can also do internships abroad to meet the requirement. In addition to semester or year-long programs, students can choose a three week intensive program abroad.
Other colleges are also offering more study abroad options as students demand experiences that go beyond the traditional year in Europe. In the past, students would spend junior year abroad, often studying the language of the country they were visiting. The trend is for shorter stays, with courses offered in English. Semester and summer programs have become very popular. At colleges that have a one month January term, professors may take a group of students to study theater in London or to study the rainforest in Latin America. One advantage of the short-term programs is that students can go on several study abroad trips while in college. Students who are studying engineering or preparing for medical school also may find the short-term programs easier to incorporate into their curriculum. The disadvantage of a brief study abroad program is you miss out on the total immersion in a culture that is only possible when you live in a country for an extended time.
Britain has long been a popular choice for study abroad as there is no language barrier. Australia also attracts many American students who want to spend a semester abroad for this reason, as well as the fact that the seasons are reversed, so students can enjoy beach weather in January.
Study abroad programs are often designed so students will have time to explore their host countries, with classes only four days a week.
Study abroad is now available as early as freshman year. Florida State University’s First Year Abroad Program sends students to London, Florence, Valencia or Panama City for twelve months. The FYA program offers some nice benefits. If students complete a minimum of 36 FSU credit hours during the year abroad with a 3.0 GPA, they pay in-state tuition while they complete their bachelor’s degree at FSU’s Tallahassee campus. Classes in the First Year Abroad Program are smaller than classes at the Tallahassee campus, and students have more interaction with professors. An academic adviser helps students plan coursework that will prepare them for their anticipated major. Interested students must apply to the First Year Abroad Program after being admitted to Florida State University.
Freshmen entering The College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University who are interested in the arts, humanities, international studies and social sciences can begin their studies in Italy. In the Discovery Florence program, students live with host families and take courses that satisfy the same requirements as those taken on Syracuse’s main campus.
Freshmen in NYU’s Liberal Studies program can complete their first-year degree requirements in London, Paris or Florence. A special orientation program helps them acclimate when they arrive at NYU’s Washington Square campus for sophomore year.
The freshmen study abroad programs can provide smaller classes, closer relationships with faculty and a stronger sense of community than students find on the large home campus of these schools. But there are some potential drawbacks. While students who start their college career abroad become more independent and bring a broader perspective to their studies when they move on to their U.S. school, they do miss out on some of the traditional first year campus experiences, and may feel a little out of place when they arrive on campus as sophomores. Students who have never spent time away from home may find it challenging not to be able to come home for a weekend or for Thanksgiving. They need to be mature enough to handle the lack of supervision and availability of alcohol.
Whether students go as freshmen or later in their college career, studying abroad can be a valuable part of the college experience.