Have you been dreaming about hiking Machu Piccu? Having a coffee under the Eiffel Tower? Visiting the Great Wall of China? Or just want to go somewhere new? Sounds like you’ve been bitten by the study abroad bug. But deciding whether to study abroad is a big choice; after all, we’re talking about packing up and leaving everything familiar for a few months or even a year. If you’re asking yourself, should I study abroad? we’ve created this quiz to help you decide! Once you’ve taken the quiz, read on to learn more about studying abroad and if it’s the right choice for you.
Table of Contents
- Are You Ready to Study Abroad?
- Have You Researched Study Abroad Programs?
- Can You Afford to Study Abroad?
- Do You Have Time to Study Abroad?
- How Long Do People Study Abroad?
- When Should I Study Abroad?
- Studying Abroad: A Cost-Benefit Analysis
- A Final Word
Are You Ready to Study Abroad?
The most basic question to ask yourself when it comes to studying abroad is if you want to do it. For a lot of people, the answer is yes, but…. Evaluate what’s keeping you from feeling 100% great about studying abroad. Sometimes these will be small issues (how to do laundry in Taiwan); sometimes they’ll be bigger ones (how to avoid feeling lonely and homesick). Weigh these carefully, but don’t forget to consider them in the context of the question, what do you gain from studying abroad?
But there are academic things you’ll need to think about, too, in terms of readiness. Are your language skills strong enough? Make sure you’ve met any requirements for the study-abroad program you’re considering; talk with the program administrator and former students if you’re still unsure. What kind of classes does the program you’re considering offer? Have you met the prerequisites for those?
Finally, there’s self-knowledge: does studying abroad make you feel really excited, or give you a kind of queasy feeling? If you’re not feeling great about it, consider other options: different programs, different countries, or even not studying abroad.
Have You Researched Study Abroad Programs?
Maybe you’re thinking about studying abroad, but everything still feels abstract to you. That’s totally normal! The best way to decide if studying abroad is right for you is to get a sense of what it actually feels like to go on a program. And to do that, research is key!
A great place to start is by reviewing top programs. If you already know where you’d like to study, take a look at programs in specific countries. Beyond imagining yourself Instagraming the beautiful locations that they show, what should you think about when looking at these programs? Evaluate their academic value; find out their costs; compare their admissions requirements to your background; read student testimonials (and don’t hesitate to contact the program coordinator for student information–sometimes emailing or chatting with an actual student is the best way to determine if a program would suit you).
It’s helpful to make a long list of 5-10 programs that you’re interested in finding out more about, then narrowing that down to 2-3 to which you’ll apply.
Can You Afford to Study Abroad?
Traveling can be expensive and studying abroad is no different. However, just as there are ways to travel cheaply, there are also ways to study abroad cheaply. If you have a financial aid package or scholarship, check to see if it will cover a study-abroad program; some will. There are scholarships for specific study-abroad programs, so check to see if yours offers one. Studying abroad doesn’t have to be more expensive than attending your current college, but it definitely can be—so make sure you do your homework! Don’t forget about things like airfare and passport/visa fees; they can add up.
How much do study abroad programs themselves cost? It depends entirely on the program. If your school has an exchange program, it might not cost you any more than a semester (or year) normally would. That said, the average figure per semester is around $18,000—but can be much lower (or much higher).
However, it’s important to be really specific when you’re calculating these costs. There are great study-abroad cost calculators (including spreadsheets!) out there to help you understand really specifically what your budget should be.
One big caveat: don’t plan on working while you’re abroad. Not only is it illegal in many countries to work while on a student visa, but it will also add a lot of pressure on you to find a job once you arrive in the country. Be prepared financially for the amount of time you’re planning to spend abroad before you go.
Do You Have Time to Study Abroad?
Do you have (academic) time to study abroad? In other words, will you graduate on time if you spend a semester or a year overseas? Most colleges will accept study-abroad credits, but they may not count towards your major or pre-professional track (like pre-med). Taking an extra semester to finish college may not be a problem for you—or it might be a nightmare in terms of finances or your schedule.
Picking the right semester to study abroad can help you solve this problem. Considering alternate options, like studying abroad during summer or even winter break, is another possible solution (and usually cheaper than full-semester programs). There are other ways to get around academic challenges, as well, like taking online courses with your home institution, or applying to get particular kinds of credits from study abroad (check with your college’s heads of departments before you go just to be sure–and get it in writing!). There are ways to make this work; they just take a some careful planning!
How Long Do People Study Abroad?
Usually, students study abroad for a semester or an academic year. However, if this isn’t feasible some reason, and you’re dreaming of spending time in foreign parts, consider spending a summer abroad instead—there are lots of great programs that offer six-to-eight-week programs.
If you want to go abroad but aren’t sure for how long, there are lots of ways to decide. What they all boil down to, though, is weighing the value of the experience against practical considerations. Completing our cost-benefit analysis below can also help you do this! Keep in mind that there are some advantages to being abroad for both short and long periods of time, and you’ll definitely reap some benefits of the experience no matter which you choose.
When Should I Study Abroad?
Traditionally, students take a “junior year abroad.” Why? Because by your third year in college, you’ve most likely taken a lot of your core courses and met prerequisites. Chances are, you’ve declared a major, too. You’ve done a lot of work and made a lot of important decisions. Furthermore, you’re not yet in senior year, when you’ll be prepping for the job market and/or graduate school, so you have some time to spare.
With that said, sophomore year or first-semester senior year may also be a good choice for you, depending on your educational path. In fact, there are benefits and drawbacks to studying abroad during each semester of college. How important each one will vary by person, but definitely think through things like meeting prerequisites, how easy it is to get into courses you want or need to take before graduation, and whether the programs you like accept students at that stage in their studies.
Studying Abroad: A Cost-Benefit Analysis
How can you analyze if it is worth studying abroad? A simple pros-and-cons list is a great way to start. After you’ve written out the great (and not-so-great) aspects of studying abroad for you, give each factor a weight from 1 to 10, 1 being least important and 10 being a make-or-break factor. For example, if you have always wanted to study archaeology in Sicily as an important step in your career, that might be a 9. However, if the program you’re looking at costs $10,000 and you only have $8,000, that might be a 10. Don’t forget all of the longer-term benefits, too: studying abroad can be a great portfolio piece for high schoolers looking to get into top schools along with good grades and test scores (Magoosh can help you here), or for college students as they apply to their first jobs or graduate school (taking the GRE? Magoosh can also help you with that!).
Once you have the values for each column, compare them. What decision are they driving you towards? How do you feel about that? If there are heavy-weighted cons on your list, like not graduating on time or not being able to pay the costs, see if you can find ways to make them less strenuous. Can you talk to your advisor or department head about counting some of your credits? Can you enroll in a summer program or volunteer abroad instead? Keep thinking through the factors until you have the answer to the question “Should I study abroad?” that you’re most comfortable with.
A Final Word
Should I study abroad? In the end, you’re the only person who can decide if studying abroad is the right choice for you—but by taking the above factors (and quiz!) into consideration ahead of time, you can make sure that it really is the best possible experience!
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About Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Rachel is a High School and Graduate Exams blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over eight years. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London. Follow Rachel on Twitter, or learn more about her writing here!
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