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A Guide to Study Abroad Programs

By Volunteer Forever
Guest Author Contribution

Planning to study abroad?

We’re here to help. After all, with so many study abroad programs for high school and college students, narrowing down to just one can present a challenge.

If you intend to spend a semester or more abroad as part of your education, you may be asking yourself a number of things, such as:

  1. Is studying abroad worth it?
  2. Why should you study abroad?
  3. Which program is best for your needs?
  4. How much will a study abroad program cost?
  5. What scholarships are available for studying abroad?
  6. How can you best prepare for your study abroad trip?
  7. What about safety?
  8. Will you have time to travel outside your study abroad area?

Selecting a program may seem overwhelming at first. Not to worry! Let us be your go-to resource.

In this guide, we’ll help you uncover scholarships and financial aid and determine the best study abroad program for your specific educational goals. We’ll also assist with preparation for going overseas.

Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Why Study Abroad?

First, consider these statistics:

The number of international students rose 50% from 2005 to 2012 (3 to 4.5 million), according to OECD data.

Nearly 90% of students who study abroad say the experience influences their subsequent educational and life experiences (data from the Institute for the International Education of Students).

Research shows 67% of employers want candidates with intercultural knowledge and perspective on global issues. And more than 60% of employers place importance on international study.

  • Takeaway: Studying abroad can set you apart in the job market. An international education experience improves your cultural intelligence, which makes you more capable than others at operating effectively in a globalized economy.

As Dr. Allan E. Goodman, the sixth president of the Institute of International Education, asserts, studying abroad “teaches students to appreciate difference and diversity firsthand,” and “learning how to interact with people from other countries and cultures equips future leaders in all sectors to address urgent issues.”

To conclude, a study abroad trip exposes you to other cultures and viewpoints. Many who study abroad come home changed and with deeper understanding and empathy for those around them. Altogether, the experience can enrich you personally, professionally, and spiritually.

So, is studying abroad worth it?


How Do You Find The Right Study Abroad Program For Your Needs?


Remember: Each student carves a different path. Only you can truly decide which study abroad program is best for you.

As a Princeton Review article states, “you’ll need to engage in a little self–reflection. Start thinking about what you’re hoping to get out of your time abroad.”

To find the right study abroad program for your needs, determine what’s most important to you. Obviously, location plays a huge role. So, think about questions like:

  1. How far do you want to travel? You can find wonderful programs on every continent. Whether you want to study abroad in ChinaItaly, or Kenya, you have lots of high-quality options.
  2. How long do you want to study abroad? You can go for a few weeks, a whole semester, or even an entire year.
  3. How easy would you like it to be to communicate with your family or friends at home? With modern technology, this won’t be an issue in most places. But do check if you’re heading to a remote destination.
  4. Which country is best tailored to your field of study? For example, if you aspire to work in environmental conservation, Costa Rica has lots of great programs.
  5. Do you know any other languages? And would you like to learn a new language? For instance, if you want to learn or master French, consider a French language immersion trip.
  6. What’s your budget? Not only do study abroad programs vary in price, but the cost of living can also impact how much you spend. If your budget is tight, consider more affordable locations and programs.

Answering these questions will allow you to filter out unsuitable programs and destinations. From there, you can begin researching programs that match your interests and goals. And you can choose a program that will bring you a powerful experience.

How Much Does A Study Abroad Trip Cost?

Costs vary greatly. They depend on the study abroad program price and cost of living in the host country.

Overall, on average, a study abroad adventure may cost up to $31,270 per semester.

Before you get sticker shock, realize this price doesn’t paint the whole picture. And that’s probably the most you’d spend (unless you’re doing a lot of side travel). So, breathe easy!

First, most universities, like the University of Texas at Austin, offer low-cost programs. Universities actively connect students to study abroad opportunities that cost less than a semester on their home campus.

Second, you can find affordable study abroad programs through a variety of reputable organizations. For instance, Frontier, a leader in affordable gap year and study abroad programs, provides the chance to obtain academic credit through their various internships. Costs range from just $2,500 – $3,500 for four weeks. They also have language courses that don’t exceed $3,000, such as Mandarin courses in Yantai, China and Spanish courses in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Third, you can apply for scholarships and financial aid. See the next section for details.

The point is this: Be resourceful. An amazing study abroad experience doesn’t have to break the bank.

What Scholarships Or Financial Aid Are Available For Studying Abroad?

There are tons of scholarships available to fund your study abroad. You may even qualify for other forms of financial aid.

To get started, look into our list of 200 study abroad scholarships and grants. Learn about scholarships like:

  1. Freeman Awards for Study in Asia: Going to Asia? Earn a scholarship of $3,000 (summer), $5,000 (semester), or $7,000 (full academic year).
  2. Tortuga Backpacks Study Abroad Scholarship: Earn $1,000 for your semester overseas, plus a travel backpack (that will come in handy).
  3. Volunteer Forever Travel Scholarship: Each quarter, we award a $500 and $1,000 scholarship.

Also, check what’s listed at the International Education Financial Aid Center (IEFA). As a partner resource for college aid, scholarships, and grants, you’ll find a current and comprehensive list of funding opportunities for study abroad.

Additionally, you can run a fundraiser for your semester abroad. At Volunteer Forever, we offer fundraising tools. Simply set up a Volunteer Forever account to get started. To learn how that process works, see our tutorial and read over some fundraising success stories.

How Can You Prepare For A Study Abroad Trip?


Handle your finances before anything else. In addition to finding a study abroad program within budget and applying for scholarships and grants, do a careful calculation of how much money you’ll need in your host country.

For your calculation, analyze cost of living in your destination. For example, Numbeo has a solid cost of living by country index that breaks down the price of everything, like rent, groceries, dining, and entertainment.

Next, get all your important documents and materials in order (paper and digital). The list should include:

  1. Passport and other ID (leave a copy home with friends/family)
  2. Travel and health insurance card/info
  3. Prescriptions to cover you the whole time
  4. Credit and debit cards
  5. Cash in the form of local currency and/or USD, GBP, EUR, AUD, etc (if you plan to exchange there)
  6. Contact info of the nearest embassy or consulate

While abroad, you require a cell phone plan. Often times, buying a phone and plan at your destination is most affordable. But also inquire with your provider about costs and data plans.

Next, research your destination thoroughly. Read travel guides so you can learn about habits, customs, and traditions. And pick up words and phrases in the local language (if you don’t know it yet). This way, you can feel like a local right away!

Above all, prepare yourself emotionally for study abroad. Living in a foreign country can be a major adjustment for some, and you may not have access to all the luxuries you’re used to back home.

Be mindful and take time to acclimate yourself when you arrive. Walk around your new neighborhood to get familiar with everything. Form a network of friends and people you can trust, like classmates, teachers, and your host family. This will make the transition smooth and allow you to truly enjoy life overseas.

Also, get advice from those who’ve studied overseas before. They’ll tell you about the importance of having an open mind and entering the experience without expectations. They’ll remind you to be flexible and adaptive. And they’ll offer unique tips for your host destination that other guides can’t teach you.

Lastly, pack and go!

Is Safety A Concern With Study Abroad Programs?

While there may be some inherent risk in studying abroad in a foreign country, programs take measures to keep their students safe. By having a tangible plan yourself, you can also lessen the likelihood of something bad happening.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Research common dangers and scams. Guidebooks like Lonely Planet detail what you should know.
  2. Ask your program coordinator and local staff about safety. They’ll inform you about anything you should be aware of.
  3. Check travel warnings. As the College of William and Mary notes to their students, pay attention to any risks outlined by the Department of State.

Also, learn about customs and habits, like how locals dress and correct etiquette. You don’t want to do anything or wear anything that could come off as disrespectful.

Finally, use common sense. Don’t carry a bunch of cash around. Travel in groups when possible. Try to blend in and not look like a tourist. And learn a bit of the language so you don’t get ripped off and can ask for directions and help.

What Are The Best Study Abroad Programs?


1. Maximo Nivel

Maximo Nivel specializes in international internships and volunteer and study abroad programs in Latin America, namely Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru. To best serve those looking for study abroad opportunities, Maximo Nivel offers the following:

  1. University courses: Maximo Nivel’s university courses vary from Spanish to medical studies to conservation and science. You can earn university credit through these classes.
  2. Study at partner universitiesMaximo Nivel partners with Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima, Peru. Through an agreement, you can take courses in life sciences at the university and earn credit.
  3. International internshipsWhether you’re interested in a micro-business internship in San Jose, Costa Rica or a hospitality internship in Antigua, Guatemala, Maximo can connect you to a position where you can gain experience and school credit.

Note: Maximo Nivel’s fees vary by course and location. See a full price chart here.

2. Projects Abroad

Projects Abroad features study abroad opportunities across Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific. Founded in 1992, Projects Abroad sends more than 10,000 students and volunteers abroad each year. They have an excellent reputation, and that’s reflected in the quality of their study abroad programs and internships.

Through Projects Abroad, you could:

  1. Do a law internship in Shanghai, China ($7,500 for 12 weeks): Learn about China’s legal system and study Mandarin. Soak up the bustling scene that is Shanghai.
  2. Study French in Saint-Louis, Senegal ($8,045 for 12 weeks): Experience the unique culture of this West African country. And enjoy the beaches!

3. Global Vision International (GVI)

Global Vision International offers six-week study abroad programs throughout Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and Latin America. The study abroad groups are limited to 20 participants, making GVI an ideal option if you like to learn in smaller groups.

One well-regarded study abroad program hosted by GVI is the Conservation and Community project in Chiang Mai, Thailand (from $3,490 for two weeks). Help save Thailand’s elephants by contributing to preservation efforts. You’ll work alongside villagers as you learn about the plight of Asian elephants and put practical conservation strategies into action. This program suits those studying zoology, ecology, and related fields. Scholarships are available.

4. GoEco

A top-rated voluntourism company, GoEco is known for their affordability and commitment to sustainability. Since GoEco’s programs aim to benefit host communities, most experiences combine volunteering with learning.

If you want to boost your academic career, consider the following GoEco programs:

  1. Sustainable Community Development in Samraong, Cambodia if you’re a humanities student ($2,090 for 8 weeks)
  2. Pre-Vet Wildlife Internship in Chintsa, South Africa if you plan to be a veterinarian ($10,550 for 12 weeks)
  3. Medical Internship in Antigua, Guatemala if you want to learn Spanish and work in healthcare ($3,410 for 12 weeks)

5. The Intern Group

The Intern Group offers international internship opportunities across more than 25 areas of study. You’ll surely find an internship that aligns with your chosen major in an exciting new country.

With The Intern Group, you can arrange everything from finance internships in global hubs like London and Hong Kong to foreign language internships in Toronto, Canada and Medellín, Colombia. Recommended by major organizations, such as Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal, internships through The Intern Group will promote your academic growth and development.

6. International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)

Established in 2007, IVHQ, a leading study and volunteer abroad organization, has successfully placed more than 100,000 folks in overseas programs. From Italy to Tanzania to Cambodia, IVHQ has lots of learning opportunities around the world.

One course worth checking is their Spanish Service Learning Course, which is accredited by California State University, Monterey Bay. Not only can you improve your Spanish, but you can also give back through volunteering. Earn college credit in your choice of these three destinations:

  1. San Jose, Costa Rica (from $2,605 for 12 weeks)
  2. Antigua, Guatemala (from $2,095 for four weeks)
  3. Cusco, Peru (from $2,095 for 12 weeks)

7. Intern Abroad HQ

Experts in planning and delivering internships overseas, Intern Abroad HQ provides intern abroad opportunities in Bali, Costa Rica, Greece, Guatemala, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Peru, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zanzibar.

Internships, much like studying abroad, offer the chance to gain more in-depth knowledge and explore a new culture. They also enhance your CV by giving you practical experience. And you can potentially earn academic credit (check with your university).

Intern Abroad HQ can get you a position in a range of fields, including engineering and design, physical education, and marketing and communications. Some popular programs include:

  1. Business internship in Tokyo, Japan (from $1,230 for four weeks)
  2. Marine conservation internship on Samos Island, Greece (from $1,125 for four weeks)
  3. Law and human rights internship in Cape Town, South Africa (from $920 for two weeks)

Ready For Your Study Abroad Trip?

Now that you have all the essential info and advice, it’s time to select a program and apply. Start with the programs and resources we’ve listed in this guide. You’ll find a program that fits you perfectly before you know it.

If you’re looking for more inspiration for your study abroad experience, read these articles:

Summer Study Abroad Programs

How to Get College Credit for an Internship Abroad

Spanish Language Immersion Programs

And if you want to lower the costs of studying abroad, create an account with Volunteer Forever so you can apply for our scholarships, crowdfund your trip, and stay updated on the latest study abroad news.