Studying abroad as part of the college experience is becoming more common but the quality of the programs offered differ dramatically from college to college. Understanding how study abroad programs work at the colleges in which a student is interested can help alleviate many concerns of parents while ensuring that the student has a good experience in studying abroad.
The first issue to examine is who runs the study abroad programs offered by the college. Many colleges offer programs run by the college itself while other colleges offer programs put together by third party companies that handle the study abroad experience. Many of the colleges who have the most experience in these types of programs offer their students various options include programs coordinated by the college as well as third party programs. Neither type of program is necessarily better than the other. The critical factor for the student is the experience of the group coordinating the program whether that is the college or an outside organization. Experience in handling such experiences is critical for the student’s safety and to ensure a solid academic experience. One such third party group with experience in study abroad programs is Global Student Experience that offers programs in Europe, Australia and South America.
The second issue for the student to examine is the actual experience they will receive on the study abroad program. Some programs send students to another country as basically tourists while other programs actually try to give the students some cultural background of the countries being visited. The safe approach, and one taken by most students, is to go to a European country, stay with the other American’s in your group and visit the major tourist attractions. Yes this is travel abroad from which you might gain some insight into other cultures. However, to truly experience another culture the better programs will focus more on cultural integration of the students to really understand people different from ourselves.
A third factor for students to consider is how is financial aid handled for study abroad programs. Most colleges will allow a student to use their financial aid package to cover the cost of a study abroad program but not all colleges will allow all financial aid to be used for such a program. If there are restrictions that a college places on what financial aid can be used for study abroad programs, that is something that you need to know before committing to that college.
It has recently been revealed that some colleges have been accepting benefits from third party study abroad programs without revealing to their students that this arrangement exists. It may be legitimate for a college to accept such benefits but the students should be aware of this before committing to use such a study abroad program. If you are considering doing a study abroad program in college, make sure that you inquire of the study abroad program of the college in question to see if they accept any perks from outside study abroad programs.
College is about learning about things but also about ourselves and others. In this global society that we are living in, understanding those with different backgrounds is becoming more important and it appears that study abroad programs will continue to thrive. Just make sure that you understand the issues related to the study abroad programs.