Common paths to studying abroad

Nobody ever did, or ever will, escape the consequences of his choices. ~ Alfred A. Montapert

To understand the paths to studying abroad and your options, first identify the department or office on campus that helps students study abroad, and then go there. If your home institution doesn’t have a study abroad designee or process in place, then inquire about being absent for a semester or two and then transferring credit in through other channels. If you’re not yet in college, and study abroad is important to you, then find out how it all works at your top choices, before you decide where to go (this is important).

In any case, it is imperative to work closely with the office or the designee on campus. Doing this will make your life a lot easier when it comes to financial aid, course approvals, credit evaluation, and health and safety issues, among other things. If you ignore or bypass policies and procedures, and do things your own way, then keep in mind that you will probably have difficulties obtaining assistance, applying your financial aid, receiving credit for coursework, etc.


While some colleges have an array of study abroad options, others have only a select few, and still others don’t have any, in which case students have to creatively find ways to obtain credit for studying abroad. It comes down to what you can do for credit. Institutions have different policies in this regard. Some accept credit for only their sponsored programs, or a list of approved partners, while others accept credit from any foreign institution recognized by its Ministry of Education.


Your university may (a) own and operate its own programs, (b) rely on outside partners, and/or (c) allow students to select external programs of their choice (with approval). Either way, there are five common paths to studying abroad for credit.


Path  Description Advantages/Disadvantages
Exchange(Partner) You study at University X, and a student from University X studies at your institution. You and the other student pay regular tuition rates to your home institutions. The least expensive when the tuition cost at the host institution is greater than what you pay at home. The number of participants is always limited (making it more competitive).

Direct Enroll

(Partner or Non-Partner)

You apply directly to the host institution (through its international student office), enroll in courses available to international students, and make your own travel arrangements. Second least expensive, but can also be time consuming. Requires independence and foreign language skills (for some countries). Best suited for those comfortable with international travel.




Your institution has an agreement with a group of programs that belong to different institutions. The processes may be simple or they may be complex. Arrangements made on your behalf may be minimal or extensive. Usually more expensive than a Direct Enroll, but less than a Provider. An extra level of service is generally extended, but it requires you to make a lot of your own arrangements for courses, housing, transportation, etc.

Third-Party Provider

(Partner or Non-Partner)

A company submits the admissions materials on your behalf and makes most arrangements for you (classes, housing, orientation, etc.). Onsite directors and excursions are common. Everything is taken care of for you or very explicit instructions are provided (i.e. visa). Most costly, but usually a high degree of service for students who want to save time and energy. Best suited for those who have not traveled abroad alone and/or want a high level of support. Also good for those who don’t want to spend extra money/time planning their excursions, insurance, etc.
Home-Owned and Operated(sponsored by your college or university) Either your university owns overseas facilities and contracts all the staff OR your university sends a faculty member abroad for the sole purpose of teaching a course to its students. The group may travel about or stay put. May or may not be costly, depending on the location/ length, and the institution sponsoring the program. There are higher standards of care and expectations in a university-owned/operated program. Faculty and staff are usually well trained.


Example of a Third-Party Provider


There are many choices for third-party providers. Academic Programs International (API) is one example of a respectable third-party program provider. They contract with overseas academic institutions and housing; they organize excursions and cultural events, manage offices and fulltime staff in each program location, and provide many or all of the extras that students might need throughout the time they spend studying abroad (insurance, mobile phones, 24/7 on-site support, etc.). The most distinguishing aspect of API is that it was founded by four knowledgeable women (who are now all mothers), with significant experiences abroad, as well as in the field of international education. API emphasizes not only academics, but on providing tools to help students succeed academically, culturally, and personally. They have an online resource BKA Toolbox to help students maximize their experiences abroad.


Example of a Home-Owned and Operated Program


Many colleges and universities own and operate programs. They may or may not permit students from other colleges and universities to participate. Harlaxton College is a 100-room Victorian manor located in the English midlands. Students live and study at the manor along with their faculty members and other Harlaxton staff. Harlaxton is owned and operated by the University of Evansville, and it was cited amongst the top 25 programs in The Student’s Guide to the Best Study Abroad Programs (Tannen, G. & Winkler, C., 1996, Pocket Books: NY). Harlaxton offers a full curriculum, with courses taught by resident British Faculty and Visiting Faculty from a wide variety of Partner Schools and disciplines. Harlaxton is most renowned for its intensive British Studies course, and its unique and noteworthy student-learning experience.


This is a partial excerpt from the latest updated edition of Study Abroad 101 by Wendy Williamson.

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