What school year is the best to study abroad?

Congratulations – you have decided to study abroad! Beyond the questions of logistics and where you will be going, there comes another decision: when?

Most colleges suggest students study abroad during their sophomore or junior school year. However, each year offers different possibilities and challenges for students going abroad. Consider the following…

* Freshman/first year

Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is offering a unique option to their incoming freshman class – to study abroad their first semester in college. The Freshman Frontiers program is the first of its kind at the school, by encouraging students to go out and explore the world, learn the importance of being open-minded and challenging yourself as freshmen studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland. It is unconventional for a school to encourage students to study abroad that early. The opportunity to study abroad this early within one’s educational path might get students interested in going abroad again while an undergraduate. However, starting on-campus things a semester behind other first years might make it harder to make friends and join clubs, as many cliques and bonds start forming within the first semester of a school year. People might not understand why you don’t know yet where a particular office is, since the other freshmen have had a whole semester to grow accustomed to the campus.

To check out a blog with more details about that option: http://newsblog.drexel.edu/2013/01/15/study-abroad-before-studying-on-campus/

The direct website for the Freshman Frontiers program can be found here: http://drexel.edu/undergrad/freshmanfrontiers/

* Sophomore/second year

About half of the colleges that encourage study abroad suggest doing it during one’s sophomore or second year in college. The idea is that you can take some of your general education requirements (such as history, philosophy, math, etc.) in a different setting than just at your home institution. Americans often commit to a major during their sophomore year, which would allow for flexibility in scheduling courses that might be offered only once a year or couple of years to fulfill degree requirements. Likewise, you are still new in the college lifestyle – you have made some friends but are not yet at that point of “only one more year of being in the student section of football games!” If you happen to make friends with students in grades above you – you might want to be on campus during your junior year, to be present for some of their “lasts” as college students. Going abroad as a sophomore also means that you could figure out how to go abroad your junior year, if that is something you want to pursue again and plan things accordingly.

* Junior/third year

The other majority of students studying abroad do so during their junior year. This is a great time if you are considering a program that will be taught in a foreign language (to ensure that your language skills are high enough). By your junior year, you are mostly done with general education requirements though and are more focused on your major and minor courses. This could prove to be more difficult in transferring courses over to count as a requirement at your home institution. (For example, the courses I took in South Africa counted towards general electives and a major requirement. It did not help towards my minor.) Schools also traditionally pick rooms for rising seniors (and then go down each grade level) in February – so considering who your roommates will be and where you will live is something that should be determined before studying abroad spring semester of any academic year.

* Senior/fourth year

The difficulty in studying abroad your senior year is that you will miss those “last” moments with your friends – the last football season as a student, last school dances, etc. Some schools do require students spend their final semester at their home institution, as an effort to help encourage student participation in graduation ceremonies. If you are considering studying abroad as a senior, mention it first to your academic advisor to make sure it is a possibility and then go talk with your study abroad office. Most would suggest to not study abroad your final year.