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You’ve thought about the classes you need to take. You’ve researched your dream destination, maybe indulged in some daydreaming about baguette breaks between classes or side trips to Patagonia or the Great Ocean Road. Now, you have one big question on your mind: How long should I study abroad?
Whether a summer, semester, or even full year abroad meets your needs and wishes depends on your specific circumstances. The right choice really comes down to what’s right for you.
Deciding how long to study abroad can be just as important as choosing where you’ll study. After all, the length of time you spend studying abroad has serious implications for your academic options, your overall experience, and of course, your finances. Here’s how to make sense of all the possibilities.
How long can you study abroad in college?
You can study abroad anywhere from a week or two to a full academic year or even longer. However, the answer to how long can you study abroad isn’t always exactly the same as the answer to how long should you study abroad.
The “right” decision depends on individual needs. Studying abroad for a full year might offer the ideal experience for one student, while a summer abroad might be the perfect opportunity for another. Factors to consider when you’re figuring out the sweet spot for study abroad program duration include:
- Academics: Does a given program offer courses you want (or need) to take? How long can you study abroad and still stay on track for graduation and financial aid requirements?
- Costs: How much can you afford to spend on a program abroad? What funding opportunities (like financial aid and scholarships) are available for different programs?
- Overall experience: Do you want to prioritize language and cultural immersion? Are you looking for opportunities for additional travel? How about other opportunities, such as ?
Keep in mind that money considerations go beyond the total price tag associated with a given program. Financial aid rules and scholarship availability can vary based on program length.
Not everyone can get away for several months, either—you might have work commitments or family members to support. And that’s okay! The range of study abroad program lengths means you can find a program that works for you.
How long should I study abroad?
From a to a , there’s a program out there for anyone. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of various program lengths can help you for your needs and goals.
Studying abroad for a semester means spending at least a few months at your destination. You’ll have enough time to truly immerse yourself in the culture, gaining valuable insight into daily life, new perspectives, and potentially another language, all with some down time to explore the country and region where you’re living. That’s right—casual weekend getaways to neighboring rainforests, beaches, and world cities just became your new reality.
If you’re hesitant about spending too much time away from friends and family, however, the commitment to several months away can feel like a drawback. Semesters abroad also tend to be more expensive than shorter programs. for housing, meals, and other essentials, and those expenses add up over time.
Though a longer period abroad does come with a higher overall cost compared to a short-term program, a full semester (or longer) is typically more cost-effective. You can find ways to save, like cooking some meals at home and discovering those inexpensive spots to hang out with new friends, once you’ve acclimated to local life during the semester.
A semester abroad may also allow you to access some or even all of your financial aid for that semester, and you’ll find a wide range of that prioritize longer programs. Plus, universities and programs tend to have more course options during a regular semester, which can boost available transferable courses that fit in with your degree plan at home.
- Pro: Several months abroad for a semester gives you time for full immersion—and travel!
- Con: You’ll spend that same length of time away from family, friends, and the other comforts and familiarities of home.
- Pro: Compared to short-term programs, you’ll find more available scholarships and courses that can transfer to your degree.
- Con: Semesters abroad can get expensive (though they’re also more cost-effective than shorter programs if you budget wisely).
2. Academic year
An academic year abroad amplifies both the pros and cons of a semester program. The longer you live somewhere, the more cultural immersion you’ll get.
That means more time with local friends, more trips to your go-to gelateria or udon-ya, and maybe even some built-in breaks in the semester to up your travel game. And if you’re , using your skills on a daily basis will give you that real-life insight essential to true fluency.
But you’ll also find a higher sticker price thanks to the longer time you’re spending abroad. , too. That said, you’ll likely have an adjustment period whether you go abroad for a few weeks or a whole year, so you’ll have more time to really enjoy your new home base once you’ve settled in if you’re staying the full academic year.
- Pro: You’ll maximize your time abroad, deepening your understanding of your host country’s culture, language, and more.
- Con: A longer time abroad comes with higher costs and more opportunities to miss home.
- All in all, an academic year abroad gives you more of both the positives and negatives of a single semester abroad.
Short-term programs, which typically span a couple of weeks to a couple of months, can absolutely be the right fit for some students. While a handful of weeks can’t get you the same immersion as several months abroad, a summer abroad can be more accessible, flexible, and affordable, all while building your intercultural skills—and still .
Shorter programs tend to have smaller price tags, and those numbers can make all the difference if you’re working with a tight budget. Likewise, you might be able to swing a few weeks off from work for a summer program if a full semester away from your job turns into a dealbreaker. If you’re paying out-of-pocket for courses you take abroad, you may also find it easier to fund one or two “extra” classes than a full semester’s course load.
Shorter programs can translate to more flexibility in terms of academics as well. If you’re earning a degree with strict course requirements, you simply might not have the option to leave your home institution for a semester. You can fit short-term programs between regular semesters and stay on track for graduation.
Finally, if you have the time and budget and aren’t sure studying abroad for a semester or year is right for you, can offer a great introduction to global travel. Short-term programs let you test the waters and see if you want to go for a longer experience later on.
- Pro: You can fit your study abroad experience between semesters so you don’t lose time during the regular academic year.
- Con: You won’t get to spend as much time in your destination country, so you’ll miss out on some of the cultural immersion that semesters and years abroad provide.
- Pro: The shorter time frame is less expensive and easier to fund, making a summer abroad a more budget-friendly option.
4. Degree abroad
There’s another amazing option for the independent-minded traveler ready to dive head-first into life in another country: doing your full . You’ll find both undergraduate and graduate degree programs that let you maximize your time and immersion in another country. Bonus points? You won’t have to worry about courses taken abroad fitting into your degree requirements when they are your degree!
Of course, enrolling in a degree program means you’ll have to navigate the ins and outs of another university system without the support from a home institution or program provider. Depending on where you go, you might not have access to financial support as an international student. Don’t write off a degree abroad for lack of expected financial aid, though, since tuition can be much lower overall in other countries.
- Pro: Looking to spend as much time abroad as you can? Get your whole degree in another country.
- Con: You’ll have to learn how to navigate a new educational system and culture on your own.
- Pro: You won’t have to worry about finding courses that count toward your degree at home when every class you take is part of your degree.
Whether you study abroad for a month or a year—it’s a great idea
How long can you study abroad in college? The truth is, it’s up to you. You’ll find programs spanning from just around a week to a year and beyond, so you have the flexibility to sign up for a program that meets your academic, financial, and personal needs while giving you the chance to experience the .