How to Decide When to Study Abroad

College brings endless days of meeting new friends, exercising new responsibilities, and most importantly, having new experiences. One of the easiest ways to embrace these new experiences is to study abroad. Whether your dream is to explore South America, travel through Europe, or surround yourself in an Asian culture, you will undeniably have the experience of a lifetime.

While selecting a study abroad destination might be easy, choosing when to study abroad can prove to be difficult. Do you want to study abroad for a semester or a full year? If you want to go abroad for a semester, should you choose spring or fall? What about a summer study abroad program? All of these questions will cross the minds of collegiettes during the study abroad preparation process. We’ve broken it down for you, highlighting the pros and cons of fall and spring semester programs, summer programs, and full-year experiences.

Fall vs. spring semester

You’ve finally made the decision: You want to study abroad for a semester in Spain. The question is, which semester? Do you want to head over to Europe during the fall semester or spring semester? There are definitely a variety of factors to consider when deciding on which semester to study abroad. However, as Nick Gozik, director of the Office of International Programs at Boston College, reminds us, “None of these factors translate into hard and fast rules. Students should select the semester that works the best for them.” The bottom line is to do what feels right for you, but if you need some help in figuring that out, here are some factors to consider.

Timing and Holidays

Gozik points out that timing might be a factor that you want to consider when making your decision. He explains, “For programs in Europe, the fall semester tends to be shorter, with fewer breaks. The spring semester, on the other hand, is often longer and includes holidays during which students can travel.” Taking a look at your program’s academic calendar can help you figure out which semester will work the best for you. If you have plans to travel and explore nearby cities and countries, then consider choosing a semester with more holidays and breaks.

Also, it doesn’t hurt to think about the holidays happening at home in the U.S. If it is really important to you to be home with your family during important holidays, then going abroad fall semester may not be the best option. Jamie Blynn, a senior at George Washington University, went abroad to Tel Aviv her spring semester for a variety of reasons. She explains, “I just felt like going abroad fall semester meant you miss a lot more holidays, like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas, where you spend time with your family.”

Campus Traditions

Doing some research about the campus traditions at your prospective abroad university and city is another great way to figure out which semester might be the best option. If you plan on spending a semester abroad in Germany, maybe you would want to be there in the fall to celebrate Oktoberfest.

It also helps to consider the traditions taking place at your own university. Would you be willing to miss the winter formal or the spring concert? Gozik recalls, “At Duke, where I used to work, students tended to go abroad in the fall because they wanted to be on campus for basketball in the spring. “

Finding a Summer Internship

One of the biggest concerns that collegiettes have about studying abroad during the spring semester is whether or not they will be able to land a summer internship while they are abroad. Kelsey Mulvey, a junior at Boston University, shares, “Even though I’m so excited to study abroad next semester, I am concerned about landing a stellar summer internship while I’m living a fabulous European life. This shouldn’t be a major deterrent, but it is definitely something to plan out before getting on that plane.”

Gozik’s words of advice? “Start early.” He goes on to say, “Recruiters frequently tell students that it is important for them to go abroad, and that they should not miss study abroad for fear that they might not get an internship.” It is all about the planning, so if you really are set on going abroad during the spring semester, then go! Just make sure you have done the proper preparation, so that you will be all set for the summer upon your return to the States.

The best way to make sure that you are properly prepared to land a great summer internship is to connect with your school’s career center as soon as possible. Gozik explains, “Some internship recruiters have two sets of deadlines, one for students who will be going abroad, and the other for students who remain on campus. Recruiters know that many of the best students go abroad, and so they have designed this system to make sure that they do not miss out on good candidates.” The career center can fill you in on any important deadlines and point you in the right direction, so that you won’t have to stress about finding an internship while you should be enjoying your time abroad.

Another option is to look for abroad programs that allow students to intern while abroad. This takes the pressure away from finding a summer internship and lets you have an even more unique experience abroad. Gozik explains, “An increasing number of programs have internship, service learning, and research opportunities, all of which can help students gain an edge in the future job market.” If this sounds like something you would be interested in, reach out to your study abroad office and ask them for some internship guidance.

Future Travel Plans

It is important to think about what you will want to do after your study abroad program has ended. Will you want to come back to the States for the summer? Or do you want to stay abroad a few weeks longer to travel? This can have a role in determining when you study abroad. Jamie Blynn shares, “One of the biggest selling points for me was that spring abroad flows into summer so I was able to extend my trip if I wanted to, knowing that I didn’t have to be back for classes.”