As part of your college search, you may have heard about opportunities to study abroad. Most colleges that offer international programs showcase these options in their recruitment materials because study abroad can have a profoundly positive impact on your personal, academic, and professional growth. For example, at Meredith, we’re particularly proud that 100% of alumnae who studied abroad said that it positively enhanced their academic experience. And many of our students – between 70-88% each year – tell us that the opportunity to study abroad was influential in their college choice.
You may be thinking that study abroad is out of reach, or something that you won’t need to consider until much later in your college career. Perhaps you’re nervous that studying abroad means being far from home. When I first came to college, I wasn’t sure I would study abroad. I’m so glad my friends and faculty encouraged me to take the leap and spend a semester in Italy. Studying abroad was the best decision I made in college!
There are some common myths about study abroad that sometimes prevent students from pursuing it. I’d like to dispel these myths, so you can see why it’s important to consider international opportunities in your college search.
Studying abroad is very different from a vacation or from a mission or service trip. While there is certainly time for fun, study abroad programs have an educational focus. You’ll complete degree requirements, while learning about yourself and the world. At Meredith, a unique additional focus of our study abroad programs is that we help students develop smart, safe, independent travel skills for life. Study abroad programs exist for nearly every discipline and offer students the opportunity to earn major, minor, general education, or elective credits toward their degree. Students can also conduct field research or participate in internships abroad. Study abroad programs strengthen your resume, provide you with a global perspective, and include opportunities to build your confidence, independence, maturity, curiosity, cross-cultural communication skills, and flexibility.
Studying abroad is a smart way to invest in yourself. One of my favorite quotes is, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer!” While funding options are available, the study abroad process requires planning and wise decision-making. When considering colleges, ask whether financial aid travels with you abroad. For example, Meredith students who are approved to spend a semester abroad can apply 100% of their financial aid package toward study abroad costs. That’s pretty rare among private colleges. For summer programs, additional loans and scholarships are available. In addition to awarding over $30,000 in scholarships each year, our office educates students about financial planning through “Funding your Study Abroad” workshops each month.
Not true! At many colleges, including Meredith, students are allowed to study abroad the summer after freshman year. Students are encouraged to study abroad early in their academic career so they can go often! There’s no universal “best time” to study abroad. This choice is unique to each student, based on academic plans and personal goals. Your faculty adviser and your college’s study abroad office will be able to help you identify the best time for you.
Research shows that students who study abroad are actually more likely to graduate on time. If you plan ahead and intentionally choose a program that offers classes toward your degree, you can definitely study abroad and graduate on time. At Meredith, we strongly encourage students to begin meeting with us early, during their first year on campus. Many of our students have studied abroad twice while completing requirements for double majors, right on schedule. (Read some Strong Stories about our study abroad alumnae to learn more about their Meredith experiences.)
No, you do not need to know a foreign language before you study abroad. Programs exist at every language level and most offer courses in English. For example, students in our Italy semester program can start at a beginner level of Italian and fulfill the entire foreign language requirement in one semester. If you’d like to become more advanced in your language skills and perhaps major/minor in a foreign language, there is no better way to learn than through studying abroad. Consider a program with host family accommodations to maximize your language learning, such as Meredith’s summer study abroad programs in Spain and Costa Rica.
Still not sure? Hear from Alexis Stephens, ’21, who studied abroad this May just after completing her first year at Meredith.
“Studying abroad right after my freshman year was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The skills that I have learned will transfer over to so many other aspects of my life and continue to shape my education and future career. From this experience I have learned so much about myself as well as the world outside of my own. I have become more confident in my abilities as well as created relationships that will last a lifetime. Every moment was a new adventure.”