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. The question is, which semester? Do you want to travel 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 is a factor that you'll 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

Research the campus traditions at your prospective abroad university and city to figure out which semester might be the best option. If you plan on spending a semester abroad in Germany, consider studying abroad in fall for the chance 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

A concern among collegiettes is the fear of missing out on landing a summer internship. 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. Most Career Centers 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.

Related: How to Find an Internship Abroad

Another option is to look for 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. 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.”

 

Spending a Summer Abroad

Some students may not be willing to give up an entire semester of their college experience to go abroad. Others may not be ready to travel on their own for a full four months. Collegiettes with crazy academic course schedules might not be able to finish their majors and minors if they go abroad. Instead, these students can choose to spend a summer abroad. There are a variety of positives as well as negatives when it comes to jet-setting over the summer.

Benefits of a summer abroad

Jenna Fanduzzi, a junior at Marquette University who spent her study abroad experience in London as well as Barcelona, really enjoyed spending a summer abroad. She shares, “The program was only three weeks long, so I was away from home for a shorter amount of time. It was a fun way to get school credit while giving me an opportunity to see other countries. Because it was summer, I only had to take a few classes, which gave me more time to sightsee.”

Summer programs can also give students a chance to explore a new discipline or a topic that they wouldn’t normally get a chance to learn about at their own university. Gozik explains, “Students can use summer programs as a time to explore subjects that do not fit into their regular curriculum, thus helping them broaden their scope of study.” Forget about major and minor requirements and choose a summer program that explores something totally new!

Things to think about

While summer abroad programs can be an amazing experience, there are some things to think about before diving head first into the application process. Keep in mind that you will be taking a class and not just exploring a new country while on summer break. Gozik warns, “Spending four weeks on course material which would normally be covered over a full semester can be challenging.”

Make sure to look into the cost of any summer program that you might be interested in. Jenna Fanduzzi warns, “Even though a summer program is shorter than a semester abroad, it can still be very expensive. I had to pay for credits, the trip itself, and my own flight.” 

Full-Year Experience

Immerse Yourself in the Cultural Experience

For some students, spending an entire year abroad is the best option. If their course load allows it, they are ready to fully embrace a new experience and become completely surrounded by a new and unfamiliar culture.

Danica Ramsey-Brimberg, a senior at Boston College, chose to study abroad for a year at Trinity College in Dublin and does not regret the decision. She explains, “Although most of my friends had planned to go abroad for a semester, I made the decision to study abroad for the entire year. It was one of the best decisions that I made. I was just beginning to realize where things were located and where to go in December. If I studied for a semester, I would have only just felt comfortable finding my way at the very end of my adventure.” Studying in Dublin for a year allowed Ramsey-Brimberg to live like the locals.

Perfect your language skills

If you want to work on your foreign language skills, a full-year abroad might be the way to go, as you will be forced to fully immerse yourself in the culture, language, and local customs. While a semester abroad in Paris will enhance your French language ability, you probably won’t become a true French speaker unless you immerse yourself in the culture for an entire year. 

Enjoy Your Time Abroad!

Going abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and collegiettes should not forget that. Some students worry about missing out while they are abroad, but the truth is that once you step off that airplane, you will forget all of your FOMO (fear of missing out) worries. Upon arriving back to campus, it will feel as if nothing has changed. And the best part is that you will have a whole new set of experiences and knowledge to apply to your collegiette life at home, no matter when or how you decide to go abroad.