How to Choose a Study Abroad Program to excel in career

Different study abroad program types & their effect on career-readiness

Here are a few sample study abroad program types that you can choose from as you prepare for your education experience abroad. If your goal is to choose a study abroad program to maximize career benefits, it is helpful to understand how different program options can contribute to your overall professional skill development.

Study Abroad

The name says it all—in a general study abroad program, students take classes and complete coursework as they would at their current school, but in a whole different location. Courses often have course-related trips outside of the classroom to bring context to what students are learning. Study abroad programs can help students build “soft skills”, such as cultural understanding, personal confidence, and communication, as well as “hard skills” through specific course work and language acquisition.

Study abroad can positively impact your career by giving you a new network of students and international residence staff. You can also partake in optional career guidance classes depending on the program provider. If this is important to you, inquire early about optional or required supplementary job readiness seminars and services.

study abroad career readiness
Think about your career goals & how an international experience can best support them.

Study Abroad – Direct Enrollment

Similar to a regular study abroad program, students in a direct enrollment program can develop key business skills; however, they’ll do so in an immersive academic environment at a local university. Students will have the opportunity to interact more closely with students from their host country. Just as universities in the United States are varied in campus culture, course offerings, and extracurricular activities, direct enrollment programs will offer varying experiences depending on the host university.

The major career-related perk of doing the direct enrollment route over a traditional study abroad program is that you will have ample opportunity to exercise your independence and self-reliance. Navigating a foreign country and education system alone is intimidating at best. You will walk away from this experience with a renewed sense of your own capabilities and problem solving skills—perfect for the workplace.

Study Abroad & Part-Time Internship

This is a study abroad program where, as part of their course load, students can enroll in a credit-bearing internship seminar and be placed in a part-time internship based on their interests and skills. The amount of hours they will work vary by program and placement, as do the number of credits. More than just a line to add to a résumé, part-time internships offer students the opportunity to engage in a different work culture, network with professionals, and identify future career interests.

This is a recommended option to pursue if it will be your first internship abroad or you would like to get an introduction to a new field of work, as you will likely be interning part time. This can still do wonders for future job opportunities abroad and can even be leveraged to get that dream position in your home country, too.

study abroad career readiness
You can study and intern abroad at the same time to REALLY get a taste of it all.

Study Abroad & Service Learning Placement

Service learning gives students the opportunity to actively engage in their host community and to develop leadership, communication, and citizenship skills and insights that can have a lasting impact in their personal and professional life. Service learning is available on many study abroad programs. Typically, students enroll in a for-credit seminar in conjunction with their part-time placement, where they’ll work alongside local people toward a common goal.

If your career goal is to work in nonprofits, non-governmental organizations, in human services, or in other careers that translate nicely into volunteer projects, use your study abroad experience to get a taste of what the realities of these jobs are like.

Full-Time Internship

On these programs, students will work full-time. Their only course might be a required credit-bearing internship seminar. Some full-time internship programs also offer a language course. A full-time internship allows a student a substantial experience in an international professional setting, the connections to grow their network, and opportunity to identify possibly “next-steps” in their career.

Internships are the it girl of career-readiness and “study abroad”—a slight departure from the typical study abroad model, these international internships are generally full-time, giving you LOTS to think about when it comes to your future career (not to mention ample mentorship, related projects, and a new line on your resume you can be proud of).

Self-reflection: What do you want to get out of your time abroad?

study abroad career readiness
Internships abroad can be just the secret sauce for leveling up your career trajectory.

After understanding the different program types available, students can select the best-fit program through self-reflection on what they want to get out of their time abroad. To answer this, some other questions may need to be answered first:

  • Is there a specific city or country that you want to go to?
  • Do you have an academic or personal interest that you want to delve deeper into?
  • Do you need to fulfill major requirements while abroad? Do you expect to develop your professional skills?
  • Do you want to immerse yourself in another culture or improve your competency in another language?
  • Do you want to give back to the local community while you’re abroad?

Next steps to study abroad

Don’t pack your business cards juuuust yet. There are a few items on your study abroad to do list you should check off first.

  • Decide where to go. Figuring out where to study abroad  isn’t easy. The gorgeous highlands of Scotland? Somewhere Tokyo? Once you’ve done your self-reflection, don’t let ANYTHING hold you back—choose a place that’s right for you.
  • Your major courses or something more fun and experiential? You don’t only have to take classes that pertain to your major back home (though it never hurts to knock out some credits towards graduation). Look at your course options and decide what combination of required classes and just-for-fun-or-because-you-want-to-learn-it classes are out there. Choose from literature, the sciences, education, psychology, and more! Just remember to keep what’s best for your career in mind.
  • Choose from the best study abroad programs. Pay attention to past participants’ reviews, program/university reputation, location, and your ease of getting credits. Some schools or providers may even provide contact info for student ambassadors or past international students if you want the REAL dirt. Here’s our guide to choosing between study abroad programs.
  • Plan your finances. Sort out funding before you go to afford daily essentials and splurge in travel (in addition to program costs and airfare). Do your research to have an idea of how much your study abroad program will cost. Check out scholarships for study abroad too!
  • Talk to your home university. Getting all your ducks in a row is largely dependent on what your home university requires. Set up a meeting with your study abroad advisor or the equivalent at your university to see what choices are available to you.

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