Here’s a short version of some things you should consider before studying abroad:
1. Why do you want to go and where? This is clearly the most important question to ask yourself. Why are you going abroad? Whether it’s to learn a new language, to improve one that you already know, or just to live in a foreign country. If you know more languages than your native one, then you generally have more options. For example, if you only know English and you’re from the US, you can go to England or Australia without problem and you can research programs in other countries that offer beginning level language classes. If you’re planning on doing the latter I would suggest you go to a larger city in the chosen country where more people are likely to speak a small amount of English and you will have fewer difficulties. For those of you at a more advanced level in your second (or third, etc.) language, I would suggest studying abroad in a smaller town because it will cause you to use the host language rather than English. Lastly, if your goal is simply to experience life in a different country, you may want to ask yourself if studying abroad is the easiest way to do this. You will be missing out on a semester or year of college and may have difficulty transferring credits or taking the exact classes that you need (especially higher level math and science classes if your language skills aren’t very developed). You may want to study abroad during a spring/summer program where you can take an intensive language class or do an internship or find work in a foreign country before/after graduation or volunteer abroad with a program like the Peace Corps.
2. Are you going through a program run by your college, a different college, or the foreign university itself? One of the most important things to consider is whether or not your grades/credits will transfer in the case that your program is not run by your college. Each university has different regulations on what they will or will not give students credit for and it can vary by whichever program/university you decide to attend. This is something to look into after you have reviewed the programs run by your university and decided you may want to do a non-affiliated program. Every college should have a study abroad adviser who can help you make the decision from there.
3. Can you afford to study abroad? Another important question is whether or not you can afford to study abroad. It can be expensive to study abroad and even very expensive, depending on where you go. Especially considering the declining worth of the US dollar versus the Euro and other currencies. However, it can also be approximately the same as a semester at your home university. It is a good idea to see whether your university is willing to give you financial aid if you study abroad. Most are willing if you go on an affiliated program and some are even willing if you go through a non-affiliated program, though of course this depends on the university. If you are going through a non-affiliated program, you should ask the program’s university what kind of financial aid they are willing to offer you. Also, there are a lot of private scholarships open for students traveling abroad, especially if you’re looking into a country besides those in Europe, such as Eastern Asia or the Middle East. I’ll add some links to this part in a few days once I locate them, so check back if you’re interested.
4. When should you study abroad? Generally, it’s suggested that you study abroad in your sophomore or junior year. The reasons for this are that: firstly, freshman clearly should be studying at least their first year at their home institution to accustom themselves to a new type of learning environment that’s different from high school and secondly, seniors should realize that grades will likely take more time to be forwarded to their home university so they may not graduate on time. Of course, each student and each program varies so there’s no real reason why you can’t study abroad during any of these years. Another suggestion is to study abroad during a summer term anytime after your freshman year.