General Education

A Guide to Picking the Right Study Abroad Program

A Guide to Picking the Right Study Abroad Program
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Kelley Walker August 1, 2014

Which study abroad program is right for you? Here's a comprehensive guide to finding which one is best for you. Read on for the three most important things to consider.

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How do you pick your study abroad program once you decide to leave campus for overseas?

A whole wide world of opportunities is open to you. Even if you have figured out where you want to study abroad, whether it's Amsterdam, Bejing, or Capetown, you still need to figure out which program will coordinate your study (if you decide on such structure).

Program choice is a key consideration when studying abroad because it will shape your experience just as much as the location will. So how do you find the right one for you?

This article brings together the latest reports and studies to guide you in your decision-making process.

The Price Is Right

The cost of a study abroad program is often the most daunting step of the process. According to “Study Abroad: What Motivates or Deters Students," students often report “cost was the greatest barrier to studying abroad."

A university should “provide proactive assistance to students and families concerning the provision of internal and/or external financial aid" said The Forum on Education Abroad.

Review the financial aid options and think about whether any could work for you. If you need more assistance, apply for grants and scholarships from other outlets, found through the internet or advice from a professor. To spend even less, make sure that your program fits into your curriculum and schedule. As Salisbury describes in “Weighing the Benefits of Studying Abroad," “You don’t want to…have to pay a whole another year’s worth of tuition just to study abroad."

Setting Great Goals

Next assess your goals for the program, academic and/or professional. If studying abroad is a high priority for your college experience, choose an institution that has a variety of study abroad programs. An ideal college will “encourage study abroad [and] offer a portfolio of programs…They also provide a degree of flexibility [for] students to individualize their…experience," says Williamson in “7 Signs of a Successful Study Abroad Program."

The university should have a clearly defined and easily accessible mission statement and outline of program objectives and desired outcomes as well as student and program assessments to ensure the program is reviewed and revised for the most beneficial program, according to The Forum on Education Abroad. Programs should allow students to earn academic credit, and academic goals should be consistent between home institution and host institution. Moreover, academic credit should transfer between institutions.

As illustrated in “Student Satisfaction, Teacher Internships, and the Case for a Critical Approach to International Education," Matthews and Lawley explain professional goals include “work integrated learning," such as “placements, internships, practicum, and work experience." For some students, choosing a work-based program to learn skill sets and earn experience in a specific career is the target objective. No matter your goal, align it with the program before deciding.

In addition, your university should offer ample support to you at home and abroad. Programs must be created cautiously with “application processes that involve judicial affairs, health services, disability services, the counseling center...they also have appropriate health insurance, contingency plans, crisis-management protocols, policies, procedures, training, and orientations designed to promote health and safety throughout the international experience" says Williamson. Make sure to appraise the support offered to you.

When Do You Want to Come Back?

Finally, decide on the length of your program. “Conventional wisdom…has been that ‘more is better’—the longer students study abroad, the more significant the academic and cultural development…[which] holds true. However, [studies] also suggest that programs of at least six weeks in duration can also be enormously successful in…development outcomes," say Dwyer and Peters in “The Benefits of Study Abroad."

Moreover, “well designed short-term programs can have a profound impact on participants…with an initial experience that encourages them to consider future study or work overseas," as described in The Forum on Education Abroad. If you have less time, summer programs are also an option. “Summer programs give students opportunities to experience another culture without interfering with specific requirements that may be needed for a specific major…[and] allow students to return to the United States and work, if necessary," writes Fennell in “The Impact of an International Health Study Abroad Program on University Students from the United States." The length of the program is a notable decision, but what is most important is how the experience will fit into your schedule and your budget.

Begin the process with Noodle's study abroad program search, where you can narrow down by language, location, undergraduate credit, and subject area. Then, call or email the school or program itself to follow up on more information.

Continued Reading:

How to Choose the Right Study Abroad Program

How to Study Abroad for Less

The Best Study Abroad Places Aren't Where You Think


Dwyer, M. M., & Peters, C. K. (2014). The benefits of study abroad. IES Abroad. Retrieved from

Fennell, R. (2009). The impact of an international health study abroad program on university students from the united states. Global Health Promotion, 16(3), 17-23. Retrieved from

The Forum on Education Abroad. (2009). The standards of good practice for short-term education abroad programs. Retrieved from

The Forum on Education Abroad. (2011). The standards of good practice for education abroad. Retrieved from

Matthews, J. & Lawley, M. (2011). Student satisfaction, teacher internships, and the case for a critical approach to international education. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 32(5), 687-98.

Salisbury, M. (2012). Weighing the benefits of studying abroad/Interviewer: Tom Gjelten. Talk of the Nation, National Public Radio, Washington, D.C.

Study abroad: what motivates or deters students. (2013). International Educator 22(3), 14.

Williamson, W. (2010). 7 signs of successful study-abroad programs. The Chronicle of Higher Education.


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