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16 places to consider if you want to study abroad

Published May 28, 2024| minute read
Dhara Singh

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    According to the U.S. Department of State, every year, more than 300,000 American students will study, intern, or volunteer overseas for academic credit.

    If you're intrigued about the prospect of studying abroad during your college years, and wondering what it entails, you're in the right place.

    Studying abroad offers a potential opportunity to complete some portion of your college requirements while immersing yourself in the culture of a new country. As a college student, this'll give you the opportunity to try new foods, meet new friends, and learn in an entirely new setting.

    Let's break down what studying abroad is, how to determine if it's right for you, and which countries you may want to consider studying abroad in.

    What's studying abroad?

    The U.S. Department of State describes study abroad as an opportunity to "build skills and knowledge [to] prepare to solve the world's toughest challenges and compete in the 21st century workforce."

    Studying abroad in college involves taking courses or participating in an academic program in a country different from one's own. This can be for a semester, an academic year, or sometimes just a short period over a school break.

    The experience may be organized by a student's home college, educational institutions abroad, or third-party companies that help students study abroad.

    Study abroad programs can vary widely in focus, from language and cultural studies to internships and research projects in various disciplines. The credits students earn studying abroad may count towards a student's degree at their home college, but not always.

    Study abroad programs often involve an application process and students often must meet certain academic requirements, including ones set by a student's home school and those set by the international college or university a student wants to study at or by a specific study abroad program.

    Who may want to consider studying abroad?

    If you want to study abroad, there's a lot to consider to make sure the decision is right for you. It may be helpful to ask yourself some of the questions below to try to make an informed decision.

    • Why do I want to study abroad?
    • What are my academic goals?
    • Which country and program best fit my needs?
    • Can I afford to study abroad?
    • How will I handle the language barrier (if there will be one)?
    • What are the visa and travel requirements?
    • Am I prepared for the cultural differences?
    • What will the living arrangements be?

    Studying abroad may be a great experience, but it's not suitable for everyone, so do your due diligence when deciding.

    When should I study abroad?

    The most popular option for students choosing to study abroad is the summer term, with 49% of students choosing this option, according to the U.S. Department of State.

    As far as when in their college career students choose to study abroad, many students who decide to do this do it in their junior year of college.

    That said, while a student's home college may have restrictions about when students can participate in study abroad, students likely have a lot of options as for when they can study abroad during their college career — it's likely not just limited to their junior year.

    As far as how long students study abroad typically? Some may choose a short-term option, think eight weeks or less during the academic year or the summer term. Others may choose a slightly longer experience like a semester or one to two quarters. Other students may choose to study abroad for a full academic or even a calendar year.

    For the most part students don't "study abroad" — which implies remaining matriculated at a home college in the U.S. — for more than a year.

    How can I pay to study abroad?

    One of the biggest concerns that students considering studying abroad may have is whether they can get financial aid for the experience. The good news is it's possible to get financial aid to study abroad. To be eligible for federal assistance specifically for study abroad programs, U.S. students must remain enrolled as a regular student at an eligible program at a qualified institution while studying abroad (in other words, remain enrolled in a home college or university in the U.S.) and that eligible institution must approve of the study abroad program for academic credit.

    To determine if your program is eligible for federal financial aid, you must first file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). The application may help you qualify for aid that could be put toward study abroad programs.

    Outside of federal financial aid, students may be eligible for grants, scholarships, and private student loans to help pay to study abroad.

    Where can I study abroad?

    It may seem like there's almost a limitless number of options to choose from if you're considering studying abroad. This may be both exciting and overwhelming to navigate.

    If you're looking to study abroad, you may want to consult your school's study abroad office to start researching potential study abroad options. Your college may be helpful in narrowing down the options to ones where you can earn credits that will count toward your degree and your major (if that's important to you).

    Given that study abroad is meant to be a time of exploration, don't be afraid to think outside the box though as far as what's possible. Half of the fun may be figuring out where to study abroad.

    16 popular destinations to study abroad

    Here's a list of 16 of the most popular destinations that U.S. students choose to study abroad in, according to Open Doors (sponsored by the U.S. Department of State) 2023 study abroad data. Consider this a starting point if you're considering where you want to study abroad. The world is your oyster.

    1. Italy

    Ciao! If you can't get enough of captivating social media posts of Italian life, you're not alone. In the 2021-22 school year, nearly 16.2% of all U.S study abroad students chose to enroll in an Italy-based program.

    According to the the Association of American College and University Programs in Italy (AACUPI), a nonprofit which promotes the exchange of cultural and educational activities between the U.S. and Italy, there are nearly 150 U.S. based colleges and universities who have partnerships with Italian study abroad programs. The AACUPI states that Rome is one the most popular sites for U.S. students to study in.

    Not sure where to study in Italy? Consider browsing the AACUPI website for a list of available programs.

    2. The United Kingdom

    According to the U.S. Department of State, 27,503 students visited the United Kingdom to study abroad in the 2021-22 school year, which made up 14.6% of all U.S. study abroad students that year. This may be a particularly attractive study abroad option for students studying law, engineering, and the humanities, which many British institutions are renowned for. American students may also find the opportunity to study in a new country but without a language barrier advantageous.

    3. Spain

    If you're a soccer fan, Spain may be on your radar due to its world-famous teams. Beyond sports, though, Spain houses cosmopolitan cities, a wide variety of foods and culinary practices, and world-famous tourist attractions. A tally by the U.S. Department of State showed that 25,348 students (13.4% of those studying abroad) chose this southwestern European country to study abroad in for the 2021-22 school year.

    4. France

    Bonjour! If you've ever seen a photo of the Eiffel Tower, you may be familiar with the allure of visiting France. France, which shares borders with both Spain and Italy, welcomed 14,397 U.S. students, or 7.6% of the entire U.S. study abroad pool, in the 2021-22 school year.

    5. Germany

    Another country that you may consider for study abroad is Germany. Home to many world-class cultural events, Germany housed 7,644 study abroad students from the U.S. in the 2021-22 academic year.

    It may be helpful to check the language requirements within various study abroad programs if you're considering selecting Germany. According to the official USA Study Abroad website, German is usually the language of instruction in most German classrooms, though some graduate level programs are conducted in English.

    6. Ireland

    This country, known for its Celtic traditions and breathtaking pastoral landscapes, welcomed 7,031 U.S.-based students in the 2021-22 school year. Ireland is home to several world-renowned universities, including Trinity College in Dublin and the University of Galway. For U.S. based students looking for a study abroad experience where classroom instruction will be in English, Ireland may feel like an attractive choice.

    7. Costa Rica

    While some may just think of Costa Rica as a vacation destination, it's also a top study abroad destination for American college students. Students studying abroad in this country may be able to visit volcanos, see spider monkeys, and practice their Spanish. The USA Study Abroad website reports that 4,751 college students from the U.S. enrolled in study abroad programs during the 2021-22 school year in Costa Rica.

    8. Greece

    Greece, known for its history, architecture, and beaches (among so many other things) is one of the most popular destinations with U.S.-based study abroad students. The U.S. federal government reported 4,484 U.S. students studied in Greece in the 2021-22 school year.

    9. Denmark

    Denmark is known for its high-quality education in areas such as design, engineering, and environmental science. The country also offers a high standard of living, with a strong focus on sustainability. Denmark's rich cultural history and modern cosmopolitan cities like Copenhagen make it an exciting and enriching place for international students to explore. In the 2021-22 school year, 4,393 American students studied abroad in Denmark.

    10. South Korea

    South Korea is known for its robust educational system, and is particularly strong in fields like technology, business, and the arts. The country offers cultural experiences from K-pop to cinema to a rich selection of festivals. Additionally, South Korea is known for its excellent public transportation and safe urban environments. In the 2021-22 school year, 4,304 U.S.-based students visited South Korea.

    11. Mexico

    Mexico, known for its ancient Mayan structures such as the Chichén Itzá, is one of the top destinations in the world for U.S.-based students to study abroad. The country hosted 2,832 American students in the 2021-22 school year.

    12. Czech Republic

    Sometimes called the "handsomest city of Europe", the Czech Republic, including its capital Prague, hosted 2,425 American study abroad students in the 2021-22 academic year. If you're looking to study abroad in Europe, it may be a country you want to consider to take advantage of its educational institutions, rich historical and cultural heritage, and medieval cities and landscapes.

    13. Ecuador

    American students may be drawn to study abroad in Ecuador for its rich biodiversity and unique ecological sites, like the Galapagos Islands, which offer opportunities for biological and environmental studies. Additionally, Ecuador's blend of indigenous and Hispanic cultures provides a vibrant cultural experience and a chance to learn Spanish. In the 2021-22 academic year, 2,283 students from the U.S. studied within its borders.

    14. Netherlands

    The Netherlands may be an attractive destination for Americans looking to study abroad for a few reasons. For one, English is widely spoken, and many program are offered in English, making it easier for American students to adapt. The Netherlands also offers a central location in Europe, providing students with opportunities to travel and explore diverse cultures and historical sites across the continent. Cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Ultrecht are historic destinations in their own right, too. In the 2021-22 school year, the country hosted 2,227 students from the U.S.

    15. Austria

    American students may be attracted to studying abroad in Austria due to its rich artistic and musical heritage, offering a unique opportunity to delve into classical music, opera, and fine arts in cities like Vienna and Salzburg. Austria's high-quality education is another draw, with several of its universities ranked well internationally. Furthermore, Austria's beautiful landscapes from the Alps for skiing and hiking to the historic architecture of its cities provide a picturesque setting for academic and personal exploration. Austria welcomed 2,037 U.S. study abroad students in the 2021-22 school year.

    16. Switzerland

    There are many reasons American students may want to study abroad in Switzerland. Swiss universities are known for their rigorous academic standards and cutting-edge research facilities. Switzerland's multilingual environment also enriches the learning experience, offering students the chance to improve their language skills in German, French, and Italian. Finally, Switzerland's stunning natural landscapes, including the Alps and numerous lakes, provide a beautiful backdrop for outdoor recreational activities, which may enhance the overall student experience. In the 2021-22 school year, the U.S. Department of state reported 1,573 American students travelled to study there.

    Final thoughts

    Studying abroad may be a chance to complete academic credits and immerse yourself in another country's culture. As you explore your options, it may be a good idea to research reviews of programs and the requirements of programs that catch your interest as you make your decision.