You’ve decided that you want to study abroad. But what’s next? Use Abroad101’s 10 Step Guide to help you select a program and get ready for your abroad experience.
1. Why do you want to study abroad?
It’s time for a thorough self-evaluation. Ask yourself, what you do want to get out of studying abroad? Do you want to improve your foreign language skills? Do you want to see a new part of the world, or maybe become more confident, creative and independent? Whatever your reasons, aim to shape a study abroad experience around your goals.
2. Narrow it down by making a list of requirements and restrictions
What must your program offer? Do you want to study in a specific country or region? Or do you want to learn a foreign language? Do you want to study abroad on a short-term program, for a semester, or for a full year? Does your school only accept credits from certain programs? Do you have any dietary restrictions or disabilities? Use this list to further narrow down your program choices; don’t waste your time by looking at programs that don’t fit your needs. Be sure to consult your study abroad advisor to ensure you’re best navigating the process!
3. Begin to research programs based on your list of preferences
Visit Abroad101 and start taking advantage of Abroad101’s search filters and program rankings to find programs that meet your requirements. If you’re a foodie who wants to learn Swedish, for instance, you’re able to rank programs in Sweden by overall food satisfaction. Then, read student reviews of programs that meet your criteria. Check out quantitative, anecdotal, and qualitative evaluations at Abroad101, submitted by real students from across the U.S. As you read reviews, create a list of your favorites by adding a program to your planning folder. To get more information on your top programs, click “Request Info” or “Request Application” on the program page. You’ll receive more info directly from the program provider.
4. Apply for a program
Once you’ve decided on your top programs, you’re ready to being the application process. Treat study abroad applications like you would your investments: diversify. It’s wise to apply to 1 or 2 programs to ensure that you’re accepted to one of your top choices. The last thing you want is to get geared up to go abroad and then end up stuck at home—but if this does actually occur, Abroad101 recommends hiding out in your parents’ basement and sending postcards detailing your outrageous exploits abroad.
5. Apply for financial aid
Figure out exactly how much your study abroad experience will cost. Be sure to factor in program tuition and housing, as well as a budget for food and books and an allowance for entertainment and travel costs. Check if your home institution charges an administrative fee for credit transfer or for a semester’s absence. Also, find out if your financial aid at your home institution can be applied towards your study abroad program or carried over to the next semester you spend back at school. Research and apply for one or more study abroad scholarships to cover your costs; there are plenty of scholarships and grants out there and you’re likely to find one that fits your needs. Check out Abroad101’s financial aid report to get you started.
6. Apply for Visa and Passport IMMEDIATELY!
You’ll need a passport that’s valid through the duration of your program. If you don’t have a passport, or if yours will expire before your program ends, apply for one today, as passports can take much longer than expected…and you’d better apply today, because Abroad101 is watching you. Find out if your destination requires a visa and if your program provider will obtain it for you. If not, consult your study abroad advisor to figure out the best way to apply for a visa depending on your destination, as you’ll likely encounter unexpected delays and red tape. Consider using a visa expediting service to avoid long waits and dealing with your local embassy; keep in mind that you’ll have to send your passport to an expediting service.
7. Tie up loose ends with your home institution
Before you ship out, make sure that all of your affairs are in order. First notify your school, advisor, or department that you’ll be gone for the semester by taking a leave of absence or complying with your school’s study abroad procedures. Meet with your academic advisor and be aware of which graduation requirements still remain. Mark your calendar with important dates like registration for the following semester and find out if you can register online. Also, this would be an ideal time to tell your freshman year roommate how you really felt about his impressive collection of bellybutton lint; if he doesn’t take criticism well, he’ll have a few months to cool off while you’re gone.
8. Absorb as much information as you can about your destination
Visit the library or the bookstore to grab a phrasebook, guidebook, and any other relevant information. The more you know before you go, the easier your transition will be upon arrival.
9. Finalize your travel plans
Purchase your plane tickets and be sure that you’ll arrive before classes or orientation activities begin in your host country. Find out if others from your program live in your area or will be on any of your flights. Connect with them to share rides and cut down on transportation costs.
10. Keep in touch with friends and family at home
Consider how you will keep in touch with the people you care about. This will depend on your internet access and whether or not you’ll have a cell phone abroad. Email is, of course, the cheapest and most direct method of communicating internationally, but you might also consider starting a travel blog or writing updates via twitter; you’ll save time and keep in touch with more people by not writing everyone individually. If you intend to use your American cell phone abroad, be sure that you’re aware of the fees and charges for international calls. Check out these international communication tips for iPhone users.