Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves. ~Euripides
Most institutions have a process in place to approve study abroad coursework for major, minor, general education, and elective credits. Make sure that your courses are integrated with your study plan by having each one pre-approved before you go abroad. While it may not always be possible to do this before departure, you can usually do it via email from abroad, before your classes begin. To save yourself some hassle, always have more courses pre-approved than you plan to take, in case of schedule changes or cancellations. If you end up taking courses that you did not get pre-approved, then get them approved as soon as possible. Also, know the drop/add procedures at your host institution, so you don’t waste any energy if you need to make a change. Planning ahead saves time and frustration in the end.
More than planning ahead, it is imperative that you know the rules before you begin your experience. For example, many colleges and universities will not award credit for coursework taken at institutes or training centers; some will not transfer courses in certain subjects; some limit the number of credits you can receive for study abroad experiences; and some limit the amount of time you can study abroad.
Credit is never automatic. Thus, it is important to ask if you are not given the information upfront. In addition to the rules at home, you may also encounter regulations at your chosen host institution. Some hosts will not let foreigners take certain courses and some of the courses have prerequisites or require a full year of study, etc. Every year I encounter students who find themselves abroad and in a quandary over their courses.
When it comes to processing credit from study abroad, every college and university is different. At various schools, grades earned while studying abroad are factored into the GPA. It is just as common for schools to record grades for study abroad courses that do not factor into the GPA. Still, at other schools, students receive pass/fail or transfer credit for their studies abroad. Some do a combination of the above.
The cause for so many differences is campus culture. Those institutions that calculate study abroad courses into the GPA are focused on the academic experience. They believe that students do less partying and miss fewer classes when they view their grades as important. Those institutions that do not factor grades into the GPA are more focused on the personal aspects of the experience, and believe that the added stress of GPA can prohibit students from taking healthy risks. For this reason, you will receive either resident or transfer credit for your studies abroad. The differences are explained below:
A. Resident Credit. A student is enrolled in either the home institution’s courses or a placeholder designated for study abroad. In case of a placeholder, credit evaluation is contingent on a host or provider transcript of the courses, credits, and grades taken through the program. After the host transcript is received and evaluated, the placeholder is deleted. Then, the institution’s equivalents, credits, and grades are recorded on the home transcript.
B. Transfer Credit. A student takes a leave of absence from the home institution to study abroad and re-enrolls upon returning. There may or may not be a placeholder that allows the student to receive financial aid and other institutional benefits while he/she is away. Transfer credit is dependent on a host transcript with the student’s actual courses, credits, and grades. This kind of credit may not be considered as resident credit, and may be limited.
Other forms of credit
Below are some different kinds of credit that you can explore for your study abroad experience, beyond the commonplace.
:: Internship Credit. This category of credit offers students an opportunity to gain important international work experience. Typically, study abroad internships are initiated by a student, and arranged in collaboration with an academic department or within the parameters of a study abroad program. In addition to working, students must complete academic requirements. This type of credit is becoming popular! See section #17.
:: Independent Study. An independent study course is a great opportunity to earn academic credit by engaging in research or completing a project related to a study abroad experience, outside of the formal classroom environment. A student who is interested in knowing more about a topic not covered in the regular curriculum may propose an independent study to any regular fulltime member of the department faculty. This type of credit is excellent for the self-motivated student.
:: Experiential Credit. This academic credit can be awarded to a student who has learned through international experiences certain competencies, which are indisputably equivalent to or superior to that which could have been acquired on the home campus. This type of credit may involve a supporting paper or portfolio. While not common in the field of study abroad, it shouldn’t be overlooked for people who have lived, studied, or worked extensively in an international environment.
:: Examination Credit. This academic credit may be awarded if, after an international experience, a student passes an exam designed to measure the learning objectives of study abroad courses that were taken abroad. This type of credit is most common with foreign-language learning, but is also available for other subjects. Check your home institution’s catalog for more information, specific to your college or university.
Tips for unaccredited Schools, Institutes, and Centers
Your university may not transfer study abroad courses from an unaccredited school, institute, or center. Notwithstanding, there may still be a way for you to acquire valuable credit. A few accredited colleges and universities will evaluate your study abroad courses for a fee. Not only will they evaluate your courses, but they will also record them on an accredited transcript. You can then use this official transcript to transfer the same credits to your university. The fee for this service may go up to $1000. Ask your host school, center, or institute for information. They may already have an arrangement.