Sep 17, 2015
We are taking a one-week break from our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. to reflect on the notion of study abroad opportunities for U.S. college students. We are doing this because I just returned from London, where I was taking my daughter to graduate school, and I found that London seemed full of students from all over the world. Now, we know that about 70 percent of high school students stay in their home state for college. The virtual tour of U.S. colleges that we have been taking with you over the past four months was designed to take you outside your geographical comfort zone and get you to look at other regions of the U.S. as possible locations for a college for your teenager. College study abroad is going to take many of you way outside your geographical comfort zone. But we think it is a trip worth taking.
The practice of sending college students to study abroad for at least part of their undergraduate degree coursework has exploded over the past several decades. Now a number of colleges make foreign study a regular part of college life. In fact, we have talked about colleges in other episodes where the vast majority of students study abroad for at least a semester as well as colleges where students are required to study abroad. Those of you who have been listening to our virtual tour might remember, for example, our discussion of Centre College in Kentucky, one of the Colleges That Change Lives (see the website or book of the same name for further information). At Centre College, about 85 percent of students study abroad at least once and about 25 percent at least twice.
We have talked in past episodes and in our book—How To Find the Right College, now available at amazon.com—about all of the practical and philosophical reasons for sending U.S. students to study in foreign countries. We have also talked about the everyday difficulties (like medical problems) and the crazy amount of paperwork that has to be done to secure student visas, and we aren’t going to repeat all of that now.
Part-Time Study Abroad
So, a part-time short study abroad program could be the way to get started for your teenager. It could be for a summer or for a semester or even for a full school year.
As we have said before, a college might have its own study abroad program on its own campus in another country, or it might offer a program on the campus of a foreign partner university in another country. Or a college might join a group of colleges that offer study abroad programs together in facilities in another country. I have been intrigued by the colleges we have profiled on our virtual tour that have fabulous campuses abroad.
For example, take Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, but also in Madrid: Saint Louis University, The American Jesuit University in Spain. Starting as a simple study abroad program in the 1960s, the Madrid campus is now home to about 675 students, who are 50 percent American, 20 percent Spanish, and 30 percent from over 65 other countries. It has a faculty of 115 members, and a student-to-faculty ratio of 11:1. It offers complete degrees in business, art history, communication, economics, international studies, political science, psychology, and Spanish—and in English and history, with just one semester back at the Missouri campus. Furthermore, students from the Missouri campus can come and take courses for a year or two that can count toward the Missouri campus’s almost 100 majors. For many of the Madrid students, Saint Louis University is actually full-time, not part-time, study abroad.
If study abroad is something that you know your teenager is interested in or if this is something you are interested in for your teenager—and I hope you are—check out what study abroad options are available at colleges you are getting ready to put on your teenager’s list of colleges to apply to. And check out how many students at those colleges study abroad; the figures are readily available on college websites in the “Study Abroad” or “Study Away” program descriptions.
And don’t forget to take a look at what the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) has to offer. Based in Stamford, Connecticut, AIFS operates a wide range of summer, semester-long, and year-long programs in over 20 countries on five continents. (All three of my own children have done AIFS programs, with great success.)
In AIFS programs, students take college courses taught in English and receive college credits, which can be transferred back to the student’s own college. If a student chooses to attend a program in a non-English-speaking country, then language courses are usually required. For example, in just a one-semester program, which opens with an intensive full-time two-week language course before the semester starts and continues with regular language classes during the semester, students can earn a full year of foreign language credits, which many liberal arts students need to fulfill bachelor’s degree requirements.
By the way, whatever financial aid students have at their home college can usually be used to cover the costs of attending a semester or two abroad, and AIFS has scholarships available for their programs as well. We have found that it can actually be cheaper to spend a semester abroad through AIFS than to pay for tuition and living expenses at a private college in the U.S. I will say that some colleges that have their own study abroad programs might prefer that students use them rather than go through AIFS, so that is also something to keep in mind.
Full-Time Study Abroad
So, what if you have a teenager wants to go to a college that is located outside the U.S.—either because he or she just wants to study outside of the U.S. or because there is one certain college of particular interest to your child? Of course, there are thousands of colleges available in many countries across the world—many of which have much longer and more remarkable histories than any college history we have recounted to you in our virtual tour of the U.S. Admissions requirements, however, can be quite different from what U.S. colleges expect, partly because the systems of primary and secondary education in other countries are typically quite different from ours. So here are two easier options to consider.
One great choice is Richmond, The American International University in London. I have talked about Richmond on several occasions, partly because I know it so well. My son did his undergraduate work there, and my daughter just started her master’s degree there last week. Richmond is accredited in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom so that admissions (there is a U.S. admissions office in Boston) and everything else is vastly simplified. As I have undoubtedly said before, Richmond offers bachelor’s and master’s degree programs to students from over 100 countries. It offers a lovely picture-postcard campus for freshmen and sophomores in Richmond-upon-Thames (a beautiful suburban location just a tube ride away from central London) and a group of buildings in the prestigious neighborhood of Kensington in London for juniors, seniors, and graduate students. Richmond also has two outstanding study abroad centers in Rome and Florence, Italy, where both the curricula and the settings are unbeatable. So both its locations and its students are truly international, but U.S. students have the comfort of taking classes in English. By the way, Richmond also offers “study abroad” with partner universities in a variety of cities across the globe, so your U.S. student can study abroad abroad. And, when you are in London, you realize quickly that British English is not really the same as American English, so studying in London really is studying abroad. Incidentally, attending Richmond is no more expensive than attending a comparable private college in the U.S. (and tuition might actually be a little lower).
Another interesting choice outside the U.S. is The American University of Paris (AUP), a small, but incredibly diverse, institution—as the brochure says, “1000 Students, 100 Nationalities.” A liberal arts university founded in 1962, AUP is one of the oldest American higher education institutions in Europe. So, it’s American, which might feel a lot more comfortable to American students than studying in a foreign university. It offers bachelor’s degrees in a variety of arts and sciences, plus international business administration, and it offers master’s degrees in six fields. Of course, studying in Paris allows students to take full advantage of the enormous number of cultural opportunities there outside of classes—the museums, the theaters, the historical sites, and the most beautiful urban setting in the world. If I had it to do over again, I might well go there myself.
When Marie and I attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last April, we spoke with Julie Sappington, an AUP admissions counselor and recruiter. Julie offered the following audio pitch for AUP for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)
Graduate Study Abroad
Another choice is to have your teenager wait until graduate school to study abroad, assuming he or she is interested in graduate school eventually. Some U.S. colleges operate graduate programs abroad, and there are thousands of graduate programs offered by foreign universities as well, of course. At that time in their lives, students will likely be more mature, will have a better handle on what they want to do for a career, will be more focused on making the best use of their time abroad, and might be able to assume more of the cost themselves.
I love the idea of graduate study abroad—so much so that all three of my children did their master’s degree study abroad: Jimmy at Berklee College of Music, an American university with its own graduate campus in drop-dead gorgeous Valencia, Spain; Bobby at the University of East Anglia, a British university he attended after graduating from Richmond; and Polly, of course, who just started at Richmond. Those were all great decisions.
But I have to say that all of them also studied abroad as undergraduates: Jimmy in a summer program at the University of Limerick in Ireland through AIFS, Bobby full time at Richmond, and Polly for a semester in Florence through AIFS and Richmond. I think that international experience as undergraduates made a remarkable difference in all of them—both personally and academically—and I have no doubt that it contributed to their willingness to study abroad full time as graduate students.
So, here is my two cents’ worth of advice: Don’t wait. Help your teenager see the value of studying in another country and being immersed in another culture, hopefully with students from around the world. Studying abroad is not just for rich kids, as I imagine it once was some decades ago. Most students have student loans and scholarships, just as they do in the U.S., and most are on pretty tight budgets while they are abroad. Parents: Figure out a way to pay for it (it won’t be any harder than paying for everything else). Because the experience will be, as they say, priceless.
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