The question “When Should I Study Abroad?” is normal for students to ask as they begin to explore how to build a study abroad experience. The primary reason is based on a mix of outdated concepts and peer pressure. Many students are unaware that there is actually no perfect time to study abroad.
If you live in the US, you are likely led to believe that studying abroad happens in the ‘Spring of Junior Year’ (for some people it does, but for many, it does not, and that is okay). Outside of the US, many students look around and find that their peers may be taking gap years straight out of 12th grade or right after the end of university, but not always during ‘off peak’ times.
Let’s start here: There is no PERFECT time to study abroad.
As I always say, this is your opportunity and it is an individualized one, so arbitrary ‘timelines’ are far less important than your own goals (we will talk more about study abroad goals in a forthcoming post).
How To Determine When to Study Abroad
This is by far one of the most stressful decisions for most students. Remembering that I have already mentioned that there is no ‘perfect’ time, it still matters based on your overall goals and the big picture of what you want to accomplish while you study abroad and how will impact everything else in your life. Here are some common factors that play a role in how students decide when to study abroad:
Your personal timeframe and what works for your education – This is the most logical and easiest for students to navigate since it is personal and often provides students with some control.
Do you plan to take time off in between high school and university? Are you willing to take a semester off to study abroad and graduate a bit later than expected? You will want to consider these factors in your personal timeframe will be the key determinant for deciding when to study abroad.
Semester abroad programs – For semester-based programs, some students struggle with how they should choose between Fall, Spring, Summer, or even Maymester programs. While these might be tied to your personal timeframe, but also important for the type of semester program you are interested in since they vary.
Time of Year Degree Programs: Intake seasons – For students who plan to get full degrees abroad, there are typically two intake seasons: Fall (Most Common) and Spring (Limited Intake).
Your ‘When’ will be heavily shaped by access to your program, especially if you would like to move forward with your degree and are not considering waiting extensive amounts of time to begin if they only have one intake period per year.
Any time limitations: Do you have other commitments at home that would be disrupted if you studied abroad at a certain time? In 2017, I worked with one student who was interested in studying abroad in South Korea during the Fall Semester, but she was also a star athlete in both Autumn and Spring sports.
The program she wanted only offered a Fall intake, but as the captain of a team, she could not just walk away from her teammates. Eventually, I helped her navigate a Maymester enrichment program. While it was not her first choice, it provided the balance she needed to be able to still study abroad, granted for a shorter time, BUT to still keep her commitments to her teams.
If you have any limitations on your time, plan on thinking them through BEFORE you start filling out applications to avoid overlapping and disappointment if you have to choose and cannot study abroad.
Are you ready for MORE content from the ‘Learn How to Study Abroad in 30 Days Series? Click the Button below to watch the playlist on YouTube!
The decision to study abroad is stressful but being able to determine WHEN is going to help you since it is the baseline for all that you will do to begin getting started with your applications.
Do you know WHEN you will study abroad? Let me know below in a comment!
Until next time,
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Known as The Study Abroad Specialist, Kimber Grayson is a serial-study abroader turned International Education coach and expert. Since 2014, she has helped 100+ students navigate their semester away journey from the coastal areas of Spain to China and every place in between. In 2018, she launched The LiveStudyLearn™ Abroad Association, a one-of-a-kind online membership platform for study abroad students worldwide.
She holds two Master's degrees from two well-respected London-based universities and has experience working in the US, UK & and Italy.
In her spare time (what's that again?), she enjoys leisure travel city breaks, any snow-based activity, skeet shooting, and attempting to learn new languages.