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Navigating Your University's Study Abroad Policies

Grace Lower | Dec 21, 2020

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I’ll begin by saying that I’m not a study abroad expert; I don’t even play one on TV. Thankfully, that’s where university study abroad advisors come in. While travel blogs and online lists are valuable tools to help you get started, your advisor should be your go-to resource for all your study abroad needs.

If you attend any college or university with a study abroad office, chances are, you’ll have a dedicated advising team to support your travel ambitions. These fine folks are equipped to handle all of your study abroad questions, from finances to legal forms. Before you go knocking on their door, you’ll want to have an idea of what topics to cover in your conversation; that way, you can leave your session with a clear idea of what’s ahead.

Although expectations and requirements vary across different universities, you can count on your advisor to help you navigate your school’s policies. Here are a few key topics to cover as you prepare for your trip abroad:


Academic Requirements

One of the first things you’ll want to do is determine whether or not studying abroad is a feasible part of your degree program. For instance, most universities have a minimum GPA requirement to determine study abroad eligibility. Beyond that, many academic departments have a carefully curated list of approved programs to ensure that all options are well-aligned with their students’ degree plans—others leave those decisions to their students. Regardless of your university’s approach, you’ll want to make sure that the courses you take while abroad will benefit you academically. Your study abroad advisor is there to make sure you can do just that.

Universities often have explicit guidelines on academics while abroad. Here are a few questions to run by your advisor to help you get started:


  • Am I academically eligible to study abroad?
  • Will a study abroad trip affect my ability to graduate on time?
  • How rigorous is the coursework associated with my preferred study abroad program?
  • How many credit hours am I required to take while abroad, if any?
  • What process should I follow to get my courses approved?
  • How will my academic credits transfer back to the university? Will I be responsible for obtaining a transcript?
  • Are there any other university advisors I should speak to during my planning process?
  • If I am graded on a different scale while abroad, how will my grades be converted?
  • Who should I contact if I begin struggling with my coursework while abroad?


Financial Aid

It might go without saying, but figuring out how to pay for your study abroad experience is a huge part of the preparation process. Your study abroad advisor should be all too familiar with the financial challenges that come with international travel, but you’ll want to do your homework, too.

Before my first meeting with my study abroad advisor, I made a list of all my financial aid sources, along with the costs associated with my preferred programs. By having basic financial information on hand, I was ready to discuss your options in greater depth. As you prepare for your own meeting, don’t forget to consider the following:


  • How much of my existing financial aid will apply to my study abroad program?
  • What types of grants, scholarships, and loans can I pursue?
  • How can I ensure that my financial aid applies to my study abroad program?
  • Could financial aid for my study abroad trip affect my funding for the following semester?
  • What campus financial aid resources should I utilize as I prepare for my trip?


Student Conduct

Regardless of where your travels take you, you’ll find that your host country has different laws and policies than what you’re accustomed to in the US. Let’s say you’re doing something that’s entirely legal in your host country (like drinking alcohol at age 18)—could you still be penalized if your home university finds out?

As a student traveler, you represent both your university and your country while you’re abroad. Even if you’re the Hermione Granger of your class, you’ll want to take some time to familiarize yourself with your university’s policies on rule-breaking while abroad. You never want to end up in a situation where a poor decision from your time abroad haunts you when you return back home. Consider running the following questions by your advisor:


  • Where can I find a list of the university’s student conduct policies?
  • How do these student conduct policies apply to study abroad programs?
  • Are there any additional rules or protocol specific to study abroad?
  • How does the university handle cases of student misconduct while students are overseas?


Emergency Protocol

In the excitement of preparing for your program, it can be easy to overlook the risks associated with travel. Before you depart, make sure to review your university’s emergency protocol. No one can fully anticipate a natural disaster, political turmoil, or a health emergency, but with the help of your study abroad advisor, you can make sure your bases are covered. Here are a few questions to get the conversation started:


  • What insurance plans will I be required to purchase? Where can I find more information on their coverage and costs?
  • If I wish to travel to a high-risk destination, what steps should I take to prepare?
  • Who is the best university contact to reach in the event of an emergency?
  • What steps should I take to ensure my safety and preparedness while abroad?


Student Support

Planning for your trip, and staying on top of your responsibilities once you get there, can be daunting, but you don’t have to tackle it alone. Before you leave, make sure you go over all the resources, training, and contact information you need to ensure that your trip is as successful as possible. Don’t forget to ask the following:


  • Are there any orientations or materials available to help me prepare for my trip abroad?
  • What cancellation or withdrawal policies should I keep in mind?
  • What disability accommodations should I expect while abroad (if applicable)?
  • What on-site resources are available to me, should I encounter a personal or academic problem?


Once you’ve done your homework, determined your key questions, and met with your advisor, you should have a clear idea on how best to plan for your time abroad. Coordinating your travels takes effort, but with the help of your advisor and a bit of advanced planning, that hard work will pay off in the form of an unforgettable travel experience.

About the Author

Grace Lower

Grace Lower is a recent college graduate with a love for writing and an incurable case of wanderlust. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.

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