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At many colleges and universities, undergraduate students are free to study abroad if they wish – as long as they can fit the experience into their degree program. However, at some of the top schools for studying abroad, an academic travel experience is mandatory. These schools include a cross-cultural, global, or intercultural learning experience as a graduate requirement, so it’s no surprise that most students at these institutions take at least one semester abroad.
Reasons Behind Study Abroad Requirements
At some schools, the intercultural experience requirement is intended to promote cultural awareness and a respect for diverse populations and perspectives. By immersing themselves in other cultures, students can learn a lot – and not only about the particular culture they’re experiencing. They also develop a deeper understanding of their own cultures and of cultural diversity as a whole.
Other institutions established the requirement when they realized how few students who want to study abroad actually get around to it during their undergraduate career. More than 75 percent of undergraduate college students in the United States want to study abroad, and 55 percent are sure that they will, the American Council on Education reported. However, just 10 percent of students actually do study abroad, according to U.S. News & World Reports. A variety of obstacles keep students from achieving their dream of a semester abroad, from the cost of traveling to rigid academic schedules.
Benefits of Degree Programs that Require Study Abroad Experiences
One of the reasons so few students study abroad, even when they want to, is because their schools don’t always do enough to facilitate their academic trip overseas. The institution may not offer many study abroad options or the options they have might not be affordable. Students’ degree programs might be so rigid that taking a semester abroad will put them behind schedule and make them graduate late.
Degree programs that require some form of study away or intercultural experience typically work hard to remove these obstacles. They often offer a large variety of study abroad and domestic study away options. Some of these schools have memberships or partnerships with other organizations or institutions to further expand the travel opportunities available to students.
Because all students must participate in a study abroad experience to graduate, these schools may make an extra effort to keep costs down. Often, students pay the same cost to live and learn for a semester abroad as they would at home, depending on the location.
When a degree program includes a mandatory study abroad experience, it must also allow enough flexibility for its students to fit that trip oversees into their academic schedule. At many of these programs, students work closely with advisors to make sure they stay on track to graduate on time. Some programs offer short study abroad and study away options as well as semester-long travel experiences, so students can complete this degree requirement over the summer or during a semester break if necessary.
Choosing an Undergraduate Degree Program that Requires a Study Abroad Experience
A relatively small number of schools across the United States require undergraduate students to study abroad or study away. Because this academic experience is mandatory, these schools clearly aren’t the best choice for students who don’t want to travel. For students who want the chance to study abroad – and particularly for those who fear they won’t get that chance – these schools provide the freedom, affordability and support that can help make a desire to study abroad a reality.