Our best study abroad advice to put you on the right path from the very beginning—your advisor meeting! ☆ Ok, you’re pretty sure you want to study abroad. You’ve been scrolling through Instagram search results for #studyabroad and #wanderlust for weeks.
You’ve made mental notes of all the wardrobe changes you’re going to need and of all the destinations for your epic weekend getaway bucket list. It’s been super fun, but when it comes to actually committing to a plan for studying abroad, you’re feeling the stress. Choosing a study abroad program is hard. This is a big commitment!
Lucky for you, there’s someone on your campus who can help you out. Schedule yourself a study abroad advising appointment with the study abroad office at your school and get ready! Choosing a study abroad program that’s right for you is just a few steps away.
A study abroad advisor meeting can be the single most useful, informative, reassuring step you take towards your epic summer, semester, or year abroad. After all, this is a person who spends the better part of their day doling out study abroad advice to students from across your campus. They know all about the program options available to you and have a pretty good idea about how to help you find a program that will fit into your budget, your major, and your dreams. However, remember that you’re not the only student they’re helping and they aren’t mind readers.
Our study abroad advice? Figure out these eleven things before going to your study abroad advisor meeting and you’ll be choosing a study abroad program in no time:
11 things to ask yourself before a study abroad advisor meeting
1. Why do you want to study abroad?
Having a great study abroad experience has a lot to do with setting strong goals for yourself and managing your expectations. Study abroad will change your life. You will grow. You will have fun. You will learn. You will probably take some great photos. But study abroad is not just the parts people show in their snaps. You will also, at times, feel tired, stressed, and out of place. You will probably miss your home or your friends or your pets.
To get through the hard parts and back to the good stuff, get serious with yourself and your study abroad advisor from the beginning about what your motivations are. Do you want to improve your language skills? Learn how to live and work alongside people who are different from you? Test your resiliency and ability to handle a challenge? All of the above? The best study abroad advice you can give yourself is to be prepared for the good and the bad, and to use goal-setting to keep you on track when things get tough and to measure your growth along the way.
2. Where do you want to go?
There is plenty of time to be practical, but it’s good to be excited about finding the right study abroad program. So spend a little bit of time dreaming big, too! Where in the world do you wish you could go? Not just specific destinations, but what kind of place do you see yourself in? A big city or a smaller one? What kind of climate and geography? Which country or region? Do you see yourself at a large, top-rated program with destinations around the world like API? Or would you rather be at a smaller, more focused program like FU-BEST in Berlin?
Make a list of a few options you’re interested in and then ask yourself what it is about each destination that draws you to it. Are you thinking about Barcelona because it’s close to the sea? Maybe a program in Málaga could satisfy the same urge. Knowing why you want to go somewhere will help you be flexible later in case your school doesn’t offer a program in that specific destination. Plus, choosing the less obvious choice can be budget-friendly and pay big dividends in the immersion department.
3. When do you want to go abroad?
Summer? Fall semester? Spring break? An entire academic year? The sooner your set your first study abroad advisor meeting the better, because it gives you plenty of time to explore your options, save up the cash you’ll need to bankroll this expedition, and master your most cosmopolitan duckface for all the selfies you’ll be snapping. Take these factors into account when you start thinking about when you’d like to go abroad, when (realistically) you can be ready, and how long you’d like this experience to last.
How long will it take you to get the money together? Do you play a sport? Do you have any co-ops, practica, theses, or other required experiences coming up that will keep you tethered to campus during particular terms? Trace a rough outline of your next couple of years that you can share with your advisor to help you figure out when the time is right—or more importantly—when the time is most definitely wrong.
4. What’s your budget?
Check out your own finances and have a serious conversation with your family or anyone else who might be helping you pay for your university education. What do your current loans and out-of-pocket expenses look like in a given semester and how much wiggle room do you have there? Studying abroad absolutely does not have to break the bank, but finding the right study abroad program also means finding a program that won’t have you feeling so broke you can’t enjoy yourself.
You’ll want to try to have a cushion available for those days you need a little extra comfort because you’re missing home. And you won’t want to have to say no to every great adventure that presents itself. You should also want to talk to someone in the financial aid office at your school to find out more about study abroad fees on your campus and which of your current scholarships, loans, and financial aid can be applied to your study abroad experience and whether there are limitations on the term or length of programs that those transfers can be applied to. While you’re there, ask them whether there are other financing options available specifically for study abroad and how you can go about accessing them.
5. What kind of credit are you trying to earn?
Plan a meeting with your academic advisor to talk about your major, minor, and general education requirements. Take your advising sheet and check off what you’ve already taken. Explain to your advisor what your goals are for studying abroad and ask them to help you identify which of your remaining requirements are best suited for completion abroad and for your particular goals. This is also a good time to start the conversation about credit and course approvals.
Ask whether courses you plan to take abroad need to be pre-approved in order to transfer back home towards your degree. Find our what documentation will be needed in order to process the transfer/approval. Make sure you take note of any deadlines for this process. Be prepared! You may need to visit your academic advisor more than once about your study abroad plans, but paying them one visit before your study abroad advising appointment will empower you to have a specific, productive first conversation with your study abroad advisor so that you can begin to identify the best program options for you.
7. What kind of experience are you looking for?
Traditional study abroad programs focus primarily on coursework. That coursework could be with other international students like yourself, or it might be direct enrollment in courses designed for students at a local university. Study abroad can also include internships or service-learning/volunteering options, either as their focus or as an add-on to coursework. Do a little research about these options and go to your study abroad advisor meeting knowing whether any of these experiences are non-negotiables.
8. Who are you?
Take stock of who you are: your race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual identity, etc. You should always be you, but it’s good for you to be aware of your multiple, intersecting identities—even ones that may not be obvious or “out”—so you can consider how they could impact your study abroad experience. It’s not a bad idea to share this information at your study abroad advising appointment, too.
Your study abroad advisor isn’t there to pry into your personal life or discriminate against you. But they may know more than you do about the legal, cultural, and sociopolitical situations in the destinations you’re considering. Sadly, some places in the world just aren’t safe for certain people. Sharing information about your identities in your study abroad advisor meeting could help you steer clear of some very unpleasant and even potentially dangerous experiences.
On the upside, it could also help you close your budget gap. Many schools and programs are committed to creating a more inclusive experience for study abroad students. They’re reaching out to first gen students, students of color, and students from other historically underrepresented groups and they’re putting their money where their mouth is.
9. What do you need?
Do you have any learning disabilities, physical disabilities, or chronic illnesses that require specific accommodations? Do you see a mental health professional regularly? Take regular prescriptions? The laws around accommodation and availability of certain kinds of treatments may not be the same in all places as they are at home.
This could mean a destination isn’t the right fit for you, or it may simply mean that you have to plan further ahead and be in touch with your future hosts in advance to make sure you’re both prepared for the experience. Talking about these non-negotiable needs with your advisor as soon as possible will make the process of finding the right study abroad program a whole lot smoother.
10. What’s your status?
Visa status, that is. If you aren’t a citizen of the country in which you are pursuing your full degree, it will be important to talk about your citizenship and visa status at your study abroad advising appointment. Study abroad advisors are generally well-informed about visa requirements for domestic students, but they may have to do a little more research to find out about requirements for students hailing from other nations.
Give your advisor this information early so that they can help point you to the information and support you’ll need to make your study abroad dreams come true. You may also want to pay a visit to the international student services office on your campus to verify what information they’ll need from you regarding your time off-campus, whether there are any restrictions on your time away, and whether there are procedures for re-entry after your study abroad experience is through.
11. What questions do you have?
Your study abroad advisor meeting should not be a one-sided conversation. Yes, your advisor will ask you a lot of questions, but you should have questions for them, too. What are you wondering about? What are you afraid of? What information do you feel like you’re lacking in order to reach a decision and feel comfortable about choosing a study abroad program? Do you have all the answers you need to respond to the questions your family will ask you? Make a list before you go so you don’t forget anything, and don’t be afraid to follow up after the initial meeting if other questions come up.
You’re all set for your study abroad advising appointment!
Alright. You’ve done all the things. Whew…that was kind of a lot! Now take your best listening skills and a reliable pen and notepad with you to this meeting so that you can remember all the details. Prepare to be showered with practical information and tantalizing facts about the study abroad opportunities before you. By the time your study abroad advising appointment is through, you’ll feel like you’ve got all the information you need.
Choosing the right study abroad program will be a breeze after you’ve done all this legwork! And like it or not, this is great practice for adulting. Bonus: You’ve ingratiated yourself with faculty and administrators all across your campus, and gained allies and cheerleaders you can count on. Trust us, you won’t regret it!
You’ve prepared yourself, done all your homework, and your study abroad advising appointment is going to be über productive. You’re golden! Go back to daydreaming—er, researching—and browse hundreds of study abroad program options.