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International Study Programs

Many colleges and universities offer extensive international study abroad programs to their students, usually from their sophomore year on. These programs give students the opportunity to travel to another country, and live and attend college there. The length of the student's stay varies -- some programs are for a year. Other programs last a semester or several weeks during a specific time of year.

Generally, the credits earned in a college's study abroad program are transferable. However, if you plan to switch to another college after a study abroad program, it's important to check with the admissions office or academic advisor of that other college to find out if they will grant you study abroad credits.

There are criteria that you must meet to be considered for a study abroad program. Your cumulative grade point average (GPA) is important. Each college has its own requirements, but a 2.5 GPA is often acceptable.

According to Brad Knotts, dean of students at Rockford College (RC) in Illinois, "A sophomore, junior or senior who has demonstrated the maturity level and emotional development to study in another country [may apply for the study abroad program]. For Regent's American College in London, there is a selection process, and not every student is selected to travel."

Among the first questions you may have is the cost of a study abroad program. This will vary with your institution and may involve loans, grants and scholarships. Rockford College's website for global education indicates that, "United States citizens or permanent residents may be eligible for state or federal funding." It is important to check with the financial aid office at your college to obtain information specific to your institution.

"Rockford College works with students who plan to study abroad," says Knotts. "Most students are eligible for additional loans when studying in another country. Since RC has an agreement with Regent's College and we send students to London every semester, students are able to apply their RC aid to Regent's College. This makes the cost to attend Regent's College for a semester more attainable."

Once you have decided to study abroad and have been accepted in to the program, there are questions about what will be expected of you once you arrive at your new college. Most of these questions may be answered by the study abroad advisor of your college.

Know ahead of time if the classes will be conducted in a language in which you have fluency. Generally, prior to your departure, many colleges host mandatory information sessions to acquaint you with things you need to know. This includes information about visas and passports, personal safety, medical issues, etc. If you have classmates who are from your host country, you could ask them questions about their country to increase your knowledge.

It is important to understand that you will be a guest in a foreign country. Behaviors that are acceptable in the U.S. may be regarded as rude or insulting in your host country. To avoid problems, learn as much as you can about the customs and traditions of that country before departure.

It is widely accepted that studying abroad offers students beneficial experiences not found by staying in their native country. The Illinois international website at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign states, "Studying abroad opens a treasure chest of experiences and unforeseen benefits that augment the college experience, and University of Illinois students find nearly inexhaustible options when they decide to see a new part of the world. Many programs send students to live with host families while they study. Others allow them to live on their own, in apartments with other local university students, or with a group of fellow University of Illinois students."

Knotts adds, "Having the opportunity to study abroad is usually a life-changing experience for our students. [They] usually return from their experience more educated, more independent and much more mature. In some studies, students are forced to speak a different language -- so applying what they have learned can be an amazing experience. Another benefit is the opportunity to travel and see the world. Depending on the student's career plans, they may not have the opportunity to travel much outside the States. This gives them an opportunity of a lifetime they may not otherwise get."

Tara Steinberg, a student of international studies at Rockford College says, "My experience at Regent's College, London, was amazing. I am always thinking about the world on a global level and have always dreamt of one day traversing the planet and exploring everything it had to offer ... While there, I was able to better understand how exposure to diversity helps us to realize simultaneously our differences and our universal similarities with our fellow human beings ... When I returned to the States, I had a greater clarity that allowed me a greater ability to focus on my academic studies in a way that I was not able to do before."

Brande N. Martin works as a continuing medical education editor for the New York-based website Medscape, and is a former study abroad student. Based on personal study abroad experience, Martin says, "I had the opportunity to explore a different culture. And at Regent's College in London where I attended, I met many students from all over the world and developed a better understanding as to how other cultures functioned and perceived life overall. Further, I had the opportunity to view my country [the U.S.] from a different perspective, through the international media and social perceptions of European, African, Middle Eastern and Asian students. The friends that I made there enriched my life immensely, and I have maintained friendships with many of them after more than 10 years since my study abroad experience."

Martin continues, "After my study abroad at Regent's in London, I returned to London through a work abroad program and worked as an editorial assistant at a medical publishing company. When I returned to the States after graduation, I began job hunting for an editorial position. I received my first position as a medical copy editor at the American Medical Association.

"My boss said that along with my qualifications, she was impressed that I had worked overseas for a medical publishing company . . . my experience showed that I had the courage to try something new and would probably be more adaptable to working with people from different backgrounds and working in a variety of situations.

"Studying abroad can be an experience that enriches one's life, broadens one's tolerance of others, and can be a positive life-changing time. It definitely has been all of those things for me. Studying and working abroad has been, by far, the most pivotal experience I've had in my life. "


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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.