Global Student Experiences: Dispelling the Myths About Studying Abroad

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Studying abroad is an amazing experience that benefits university students in many ways such as enriching their view of the world, expanding their cultural horizons, and providing them with a valuable resume builder. Yet, despite the numerous benefits of studying abroad, only a small proportion of US undergraduates study abroad. Many students are dissuaded from participating in programs because of several myths about the requirements, costs, and difficulties of studying abroad. The following is a list of the most common myths about study abroad followed by the real facts.

Studying abroad is an amazing experience that benefits university students in many ways such as enriching their view of the world, expanding their cultural horizons, and providing them with a valuable resume builder. Yet, despite the numerous benefits of studying abroad, only a small proportion of US undergraduates study abroad. Many students are dissuaded from participating in programs because of several myths about the requirements, costs, and difficulties of studying abroad. The following is a list of the most common myths about study abroad followed by the real facts.

1.    Myth: My GPA is not high enough to study abroad.

Fact: Many programs available have GPA requirements as low as 2.5. While some programs and universities may have higher GPA requirements than others, your GPA should in no way keep you from studying abroad.

2.    Myth: I have to be a junior to study abroad.

Fact: As long as your home institution has no requirements against it, you can study abroad at any time. There are study abroad programs available for students at all stages in their undergraduate career, from freshman to senior. Class level may be a determinant for certain programs and host universities, but there is a wide range of programs that you can attend as early as your freshman year. Many college students choose to study abroad as early as summer of their freshman year.

3.    Myth: Studying Abroad is only for language majors.

Fact: Whatever your major, there is a program out there that is right for you. From architecture to zoology, there are many programs out there designed specifically for your major. Additionally, all majors have general education requirements that can usually be fulfilled while studying abroad. While at first chance it may seem that all programs are for language studies, an increasing number of programs offer students the opportunity to study a wide array of subjects.

4.    Myth: I have to know a foreign language to study abroad.

Fact: Even if you have no foreign language experience, you are still eligible for a number of programs in a variety of locations. For starters, there are many English speaking destinations such as England, Australia, and Ireland where you can take courses in your major. Additionally there are many programs in non-English speaking countries where you can take classes in English.

5.    Myth: I can’t take classes in my major while studying abroad.

Fact: There are study abroad programs available for nearly every field, though not every destination may offer all fields. Many students take courses for their general education requirements while abroad and take a course in their major at their home university. However, there is an increasing number of courses for a wide spectrum of majors available. Ultimately, it is up to your advisors at your host university how courses will transfer and whether you will receive credit for your major from credits earned while abroad.

6.    Myth: I will fall behind if I study abroad.

Fact: If you make the necessary arrangements with your advisors at your home university, you should still be able to graduate on time after studying abroad. Make sure to get all your courses pre-approved for credit transfer towards your degree. To do this you will need to obtain the syllabi or course descriptions for the courses you plan to take while abroad, get them approved by your advisor at your home university, and get the pre-approval confirmed in writing. Must universities have a formal agreement called a credit transfer pre-approval contract that you will need to get filled out. If you still can not attend your desired program during the regular school year, they are countless opportunities to study abroad on short term or summer programs. Often times a summer program can speed up your study of a foreign language through offering intensive language study programs.

7.    Myth: I have to go for a full year if I want to study abroad.

Fact: It is up to your discretion how long of a program you attend. There are many different short term program options available ranging from intersession programs to summer programs of varying lengths. Many students attend summer programs when they can not get away from their studies during the regular school year. Not wanting to go on a program during the year should never be an obstacle for studying abroad.

8.    Myth: It is much more costly to study abroad than to stay at my current university.

Fact:    Attending a study abroad program is not necessarily anymore expensive than staying at your current university, and in some cases (such as if you attend a private university or are paying out-of-state tuition) you may actually save money by studying abroad. In other cases, students pay the same tuition as their home university while studying abroad at their host university.

9.    Myth: I can’t afford to study abroad.

Fact: By planning around your budget in advance you can find a program within your financial means. In addition there are many forms of aid available to help pay for the costs of studying abroad. If you are not eligible for FAFSA student aid there are still numerous options to help finance the costs of your program. These include Federal loans, private student loans, grantsc and scholarships (such as the Gilman International Scholarship). You can find more information about financing your study abroad program at the following websites:

http://www.fastweb.com - Free scholarship search engine offering over $1 billion through over 600,000 scholarships.

http://www.collegenet.com - Search a $1.6 billion database for scholarships.

http://www.scholarships.com –Search college scholarships and financial aid information including Federal Stafford loans, Federal PLUS loans, and Federal Consolidation loans.

http://www.iefa.org - Resource for financial aid, college scholarships, and grants.

http://www.studentaid.ed.gov – U.S. Department of Education information about federal student aid.    

10.    Myth: I can not use my financial aid to pay for the costs of studying abroad.

Fact: According to the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1992, you can use financial aid you are currently receiving to help pay for the costs of your study abroad program as long as the credits you plan on taking abroad are approved by your home institution. Upon applying to a study abroad program you should contact your home university’s study abroad and financial aid offices for more information about your school’s particular policies and procedures on transferring your financial aid. If you are not currently receiving financial aid or have never applied for financial aid through a FAFSA then you should apply for a FAFSA as soon as possible. For more complete information on how to complete a FAFSA visit http://www.fafsa.ed.gov . An important note to keep in mind is that each state has a separate deadline date to have your FAFSA complete for the next academic year. Contact your financial aid office to see if you are close to a deadline date for your FAFSA application. Bring all information that you received after completing the FAFSA to your financial aid office. Your FAFSA information will help your home institution guide you through the possible financial aid options. Depending on your particular financial needs, you may be able to use federal aid, loans, grants, and scholarships to fully finance your study abroad program.

For more information, please visit http://www.gseabroad.com

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David Diamond
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