Semester Exchange vs Full Year Exchange: Which is Better?

Planning an exchange can be a long process, and to start, it can feel like there is an endless amount of decisions to make. From which country to go to and which institution to study at, to how long you want to go for. Deciding the duration of your exchange is probably one of the biggest debates potential exchange students have. Do you go for a year? Or maybe just a semester? How do you make a decision between one option that seems too long and another that seems a bit too short?

Semester Exchange

Going on exchange for a semester is definitely the more popular option; it’s far more cost efficient, is often more suited to keeping you on track with graduation requirements, and it’s a good way to get a taste of living abroad without having to fully jump into a year away from home. Also, you’re a lot more likely to take full advantage of your travel options and not procrastinate when you only have a few months, rather than a full year, ahead of you. It’s very important to remember that the time will go by quickly, so you have to make sure that you are on top of immersing yourself into the country and institution you’ve chosen. It’s also vital to keep in mind how easy or difficult it will be for you to find accommodation as you’re going to be splitting your year between two places. This means you need to find a place that has a flexible lease, or be on top of finding a sub-letter for the time you’ll be away.

Full Year Exchange

While studying abroad for a full year is a much bigger commitment concerning your time and money, it is without a doubt a great option and can give you a much fuller cultural, and academic, experience. Whilst being away for the full academic year can seem daunting at first, the extra time gives you a real chance to settle in and become more involved in both your host institution and the local scene. For many students who are spending just a semester abroad, they have to cram their travelling into their weekends. On the other hand, if you have a full year, you have more time to spend around your host school and experience what the weekend life is like in that city. It also gives you more time with your new friends. In the first few weeks of school you’re undoubtedly going to meet a ton of new people, especially if you decide to live in halls, and having the full year gives you plenty of time to truly develop those friendships.

So which option is better?

It’s hard to give a definitive answer to this because, truthfully, it varies from person to person and you are truly the only person who can say which is best for you, but a good basis is to start with asking yourself:

  • How easily do you get homesick?
  • What does your financial situation look like? Can you afford to be away for 9-10 months or are 3-4 months more realistic?
  • How strict are the program requirements for your course? Can you take classes abroad that are going to meet those requirements?
  • How much do you want to immerse yourself in the culture?
  • While there is a lot that goes into making a decision about the duration of your exchange asking yourself these questions and making a pro/con list based on your personal circumstances is a great start. Just remember that no matter how long you decide to go on exchange for it’s going to be a hugely rewarding and memorable experience!

Edited by: Amy Hawthorne