What to Ask about Study Abroad on a Campus Visit
By Patricia Alden, associate dean for international and intercultural
studies, coordinator of the cultural encounters academic program, and
professor of English
Many colleges and universities offer students exciting opportunities
for studying in off-campus settings. There are many varieties
of "study abroad programs"; some innovative programs involve
study in the United States or combine international study with domestic
programs. How can a prospective student or interested parent assess
the quality of such opportunities?
Here are some useful questions to ask during a campus visit:
- How well does the college support study abroad? One indicator is
whether there an international study office, how visible it is, and
whether it is adequately staffed. As you tour the campus, do you
see items (flags, posters, maps) that draw attention to international
studies? Ask an admissions officer why the college offers study abroad.
- What percent of the graduating class has studied abroad? (At St.
Lawrence, more than 50 % have studied off campus, about 44% for a
semester or longer abroad.)
- Are the abroad programs semester or year-long, or do short-term
formats (summer, January) predominate?
- Does the college maintain its own programs (and do faculty members
serve as directors)? Does it have a list of approved programs? Who
guides the student in choosing a program?
- In what ways do the programs promote cultural immersion? Is language
proficiency required? Is language study in the host country required?
Are there home stays (and of what length)? Are there internships
or volunteer service opportunities?
- Do the programs involve the direct enrollment of the student in
a foreign university? Or are they self-contained programs of American
students? Are the programs open to students from other universities?
What is the average number of participants in an abroad program?
- What are the prerequisites for study abroad? How competitive is
the selection process?
- Is study abroad understood as part of the academic program? Do
all credits transfer and are grades earned abroad calculated into
the student’s average? Are faculty members supportive of abroad
programs? Once students return, are there ways in which the study
abroad experience can be integrated into their academic work?
- Are there particular programs for particular majors?
- Does the college run an orientation program? What is done to address
security concerns associated with study abroad?
- Can students receive the college’s financial aid for an abroad
program? Are there other sources of financial support for study abroad?
For some of these questions, we think there are “right” answers.
For instance, smaller is better; “island” programs of American
students that take 50 or more will inevitably encourage less cultural
immersion; home stays are always valuable, and the longer the better.
Some responses will reflect a particular institutional commitment, and
some will elicit a student’s individual preferences. As we hope
we have suggested, study abroad comes in a variety of packages, so the
more questions you ask, the better decision you will make.