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The Basics of First-Year Study Abroad Programs

Elyse Krantz

Written by Elyse Krantzon February 2nd, 2022

I became interested in the college admissions process after serving as a student tour guide in the admissions office of my alma mater. After graduating, I accepted an admissions counseling position at Bennington College in Vermont where I evaluated applications and reviewed art portfolios from students across the country. Three years later, after pursuing my master's degree in New York City, I joined the admissions staff at Barnard College where I served as a senior admissions officer. At Barnard, I directed Long Island and Boston recruitment in addition to managing the College's alumnae interview program, coordinating admissions statistics, and editing various college publications. Having also served as an alumni interviewer for Dartmouth College and visited over 75 colleges, I feel especially well-equipped to help students prepare for admission interviews and campus tours.
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Unique Opportunities for First-Year Study Abroad College move-in day… we’ve all seen the movies, right? The perky student volunteers waving hello and offering helpful advice about where to park. The freshly minted first-year students, putting on brave faces as they prepare to meet their roommates. The supportive parents who promised they wouldn’t cry and end up embarrassing their child at least once before the day is over. It can be emotional, exciting, and downright stressful! But for a select number of first-year college students, move-in day will be an experience like none other. For in addition to managing the hurdles of packing (and unpacking) one’s prized possessions, navigating an unfamiliar campus, and saying goodbye to the comforts of home, these students will accomplish it all overseas! A growing number of colleges are offering study abroad experiences explicitly for first-year students, with the majority of these programs taking place in the fall semester. How does it all work? On some college applications, students may encounter a question about whether or not they are interested in spending part (or all) of their first year in another country. If they check “yes” and are admitted, their acceptance letter will indicate where their college journey will begin: either on the main campus (with the vast majority of other first-year students), or overseas. To be clear, students who are admitted to a first-year abroad program are essentially “locked” into that decision should they choose to attend that particular college. If admitted, studying abroad through the first-year program is the only way they can join that college community. Who should apply for this program? Studying abroad as a first-year student is not for the faint of heart! In fact, most colleges explicitly state on their websites they are looking for students who demonstrate high levels of maturity, open-mindedness, curiosity, and independence. Additionally, students who require extensive physical, emotional, or academic support are likely not strong candidates, as the typical support networks that are accessible on college campuses will not be available to students while they are abroad. The majority of these programs, however, are open to students in any major, so whether students are considering biology or business, mathematics or music, they can still take advantage of this unique opportunity. What are the benefits of participating in this program? One of the key strengths of first-year study abroad trips are their size. The majority of colleges that offer such programs cap the number of participants to one or two dozen, meaning that students will be perfectly positioned to forge strong connections with their classmates and engage deeply with their professors in small, discussion-based classes. All of the courses students take while abroad carry full college credit, so students will not be at an academic disadvantage once they return to campus the following semester. Does it improve my child’s chances of acceptance if they consider this program? Technically, no. Colleges are quick to assure families that first-year abroad programs are not a “back door” to gaining admission to what is already a highly selective college. However, if a college finds they do not have room to admit more students to their traditional on-campus program in the fall, and they still have openings in their first-year abroad program, they will be more likely to offer a spot to a student who checked “yes” on the application and indicated an interest in participating. Colleges offering a first-year study abroad program The list of colleges below is not comprehensive, but it represents many of the schools that are popular with students applying to college. Many of these international programs did not run in 2020 or 2021 due to Covid, so we strongly encourage you to use the links below to gain the most up-to-date information about upcoming trips. Beginning college is an adventure. Beginning it overseas is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For students who are eager to explore the world, combine rigorous academics with cultural discoveries, and connect to other like-minded travelers, a first year abroad program may be just the adventure they need!

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