A growing number of colleges are offering outreach through study-abroad programs, normally taken sometime during the junior year. You can expand your understanding of other societies and cultures by spending several weeks, a semester, or even an academic year studying overseas for credit. Although this type of study is an additional expense, scholarships are often available to help you with the costs.
An overseas study or work experience can help you
Master a foreign language.
Enhance your marketability in the workforce and expand your personal experience.
Gain a fresh perspective on future goals.
Develop a global perspective that can help you better understand the big world around you.
Gain comfort and confidence in problem-solving and interacting well with others.
Deciding to spend a semester or year abroad or not is a personal choice, driven by your own wants and needs and your feelings about the experience you're having on your college campus.
If you're interested in going abroad, you'll need to do a lot of work and planning to ensure that your time overseas is both successful and recognized by your home college or university. To that end, there are a few important things to consider.
First, you should be aware that most study abroad programs that award course credit for your work will require you to have taken two years of college-level instruction in the foreign language in which your curriculum will be delivered overseas — or to otherwise be able to demonstrate proficiency in that language. Thus, if a year abroad is in your college plans, you must think ahead and ensure that you attain proficiency in the language of your host country no later than the end of your sophomore year in college.
You should realize that most colleges and universities have a Junior Year Abroad (JYA) Committee that oversees students' applications to various overseas programs, coordinates arrangements, and makes determinations about the portability of course credit from those programs back to your original school. If you're interested in going abroad during your junior year, attend the information sessions provided by your college's JYA Committee and apprise yourself of the deadlines governing your application to foreign study programs.
At most schools, interested students must actually apply to the JYA Committee for permission to go abroad, in addition to applying separately to the overseas program(s) they intend to attend. This application package will typically require the following: a generic application form and a personal statement outlining your proposed course of study, an authorization from the department head or director of undergraduate study in your major, a certification that you're carrying at least the designated minimum GPA to go overseas, proof of your proficiency in the language of your host country, and proof of acceptance into a program recognized by your college or university.
Don't dismiss the idea of going because of money. Financial aid is available from a variety of sources including your college, local organizations, and special scholarships for overseas study. Even some federal and state financial aid may be applied to the costs of these programs because you'll be earning course credit for the experience. Before you make any commitments, check with your financial aid office or have your JYA Committee work with your financial aid office to assist you.
Passport and immunizations
Before you will be allowed to go abroad, you'll need to have an up-to-date passport and, for many countries, a schedule of your inoculations. If you're seriously considering time abroad, don't wait until the last minute to gather these required documents — as it can take six to eight weeks to get your passport back if it needs renewal.
Where and when to apply
For those of you looking to go abroad in the fall term of your junior year, your applications to these programs are typically due in March of your sophomore spring. For those of you looking to go abroad in the spring term of your junior year, the application deadline is usually in mid-October of your junior year. This of course presupposes that you have already conducted your own independent research and identified and applied to the program(s) overseas that you would like to attend.
If you're wondering, how you're supposed to identify such programs . . . don't panic. Your college or university probably has a study abroad office (or something similar) that gathers reams of data on all the programs that your college will recognize for course credit. Approved study abroad programs typically fall into two categories: (1) programs sponsored by colleges and universities in the United States and (2) programs that involve your direct enrollment as a "visiting student" in a foreign university.
Other resources include
The Internet: Do some research online to find a program that suits your needs. Many colleges offer their own programs or work through organizations such as the College Consortium for International Studies.
Upperclassmen. Ask your dean or JYA Committee for the names of upperclassmen who studied abroad — preferably in the programs or at least in the country you're considering. Obviously, firsthand feedback is the best preparation for what to expect.