Studying abroad is a great experience, but the application process can be tedious. Here’s a basic guide to wading through the paperwork.
The first objective is to choose a program. Most colleges offer programs-many even have “sister” schools in other countries. You should get in touch with your schools office of international education, if it has one. Going through a program with your own school will probably be easiest. However, if your school doesn’t have a program that fits your desires and studies, many colleges offer programs for students from other schools to attend. The international education office at your school should be able to tell you about programs at other schools. Searching the internet is another way to find a program. Also, ask your professors. Many times, they receive offers for programs that they don’t pass on to students, thinking no one is interested. You should start looking at programs at least two semesters ahead because the process of application can be long.
It’s best to choose a program that fits in with what you are studying. For one, it will help you earn credit while you are away. For another, it will help you be accepted to the program as well as obtaining financial aid. If you’re nervous about spending a long time in another country, maybe a shorter (such as a two-week) program would be better than a semester- or year-long program.
Second, check on application dates. If your going with a program from your own school, you will probably only have one set of application dates. However, with other programs, you will have to apply through your school and through the other school as well. Set up a timeline with the dates and stick to it-otherwise, deadlines will creep up on you when you’re busy with schoolwork and such. It’s best to fill out the application early, if possible, because space is often limited.
Third, start applying for financial aid. If you have scholarships, you need to make sure they will count for your time away. For instance, tuition waivers might not count for another school’s program. However, many schools offer a plan to defer your scholarships to another semester (so you can stay an extra semester at your home school if studying abroad puts you behind). Also, schools will often offer special study abroad scholarships that you can apply for. Your best option, though, might be to take out a loan, depending on the cost of the program. Your financial aid office and international education office should be able to help you with this process.
One aspect of studying abroad you should keep in mind is how the credit will count. For instance, if you are doing a program through another US institution, your credit might count as transfer credit. If your program is through a sister school, it might count as enrolling at your own school. Many schools have limits on the number of hours you can transfer. It is unlikely that studying abroad alone will put you over the number of hours; however, if you have community college hours or if you transferred schools, you should look into the limit before you apply. Your registrar’s office and international education office should be able to help you with this part.
Also, the way your credit counts will affect how you do financial aid. If your program is through another school, you will probably have to make a financial contract between your home school and the other school. If the program is through your home school, this will not be a problem.
Studying abroad can be the experience of a lifetime. This past fall, I spent a semester in Europe in Sweden, Poland, Czech, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK on a women’s studies program. The experience and confidence I gained while in Europe will stay with me for the rest of my life. Believe me, making it through the arduous application process will be well worth your time.