Which Study Abroad Program is Right for You?

Posted July 30, 2014 by
Glass globe on a book with study abroad in the background

Glass globe on a book with study abroad in the background. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

For many people, college just wouldn’t be complete without a study abroad experience. But as exciting as it is to live in a foreign country, a well-chosen program will offer much more than the thrill of traveling and learning a new language — it’s an opportunity to develop skills that will translate well to your career and add real value to your degree.

When searching for the right program, your first stop should be the Study Abroad office at your school. The staff members are trained to guide you toward the programs that fit your college and career goals. In your discussions with the staff members, be flexible regarding location and length of program. Perhaps you had planned to spend a semester in France, but the best program for you is a summer in Eastern Europe. Studying abroad is about adventure, not vacation. Let yourself go where you need to go.

If the Study Abroad office doesn’t offer an opportunity that feels like a good fit, you may want to ask around in the department of your major. While not technically “study abroad” programs, your department may know of opportunities that combine travel, study, and practical experience. Also, you may be able to find a grant to help with the costs, especially if you will write a paper or give a presentation about your experience.

What can you do if there’s simply no study abroad program that makes any direct connections to your degree or career path? First and foremost, you should still study abroad. There’s more to life than just your career, and you’ll have the experience of a lifetime. Even so, there are things that you can do to make your time abroad more meaningful for your career.

Remember that your study abroad program is a program and not a prison. Ask the instructors in your program to connect you with instructors and professionals in your field. If you are planning on a career in biology, sit in on biology classes at the school, speak to the professors, and make friends with the biology students there. They’ll be fascinated to hear your perspective, and you can learn about how the field operates in a different country.

Studying abroad is a chance to meet new people, learn a different way of life, and become a better global citizen. It can also be an opportunity to gain real skills that will be meaningful in your future career. Because these programs can be expensive and the classes you take do not always apply to your degree, explore your options thoroughly before making your decision. Any opportunity to travel and broaden your mindset is valuable to your growth as a person. However, choosing a program that will also help you when it is time to enter the workforce can enhance the overall value of the program.

Has your career benefitted from a study abroad program? Share your experiences in the comments!

Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson’s & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.

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