If you’ve been on a guided tour of a college campus, your admissions guide probably mentioned the school’s study abroad program and said that students typically study abroad during their junior year of college.
But recently, students in their freshman and sophomore years of college are participating in study abroad programs instead of waiting until the typical third-year time frame.
These students choose to study abroad earlier in college based on a variety of reasons — high school experience, their college major selection, program availability and an eagerness to see the world.
Within the last five years, college admissions offices have seen high school applicants with enough Advanced Placement credits to count for a semester or even an entire year of college credits before they arrive on campus. Since these students are already ahead of their peers in course requirements, they can take advantage of these opportunities earlier in college.
Several universities, such as St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., offer study abroad programs specifically designed with first-year students in mind.
All St. Lawrence students are required to take first-year seminar classes, and one of them allows students to cross the pond and spend their second semester in France. Next year they hope to have one seminar based in London for the entire year.
Abigail Ross, a freshman at St. Lawrence, participated in a two-week exchange program in France while in high school, which helped prepare her to spend a semester abroad during her first year at St. Lawrence.
“When I heard about the program at St. Lawrence, I couldn’t say no,” Ross says.
Ross recommends that college students study abroad sooner in their college careers if they have the means to do so, because they’ll have the chance to study abroad before college life and coursework in their major becomes too overwhelming.
While Ross says she hasn’t faced any obstacles because of her choice to study abroad earlier in college, she does admit that leaving the college “bubble” earlier in life does affect the friendships students make during their first year of college.
“It will be strange to go back to St. Lawrence next year and no longer be a freshman,” Ross admits. “At the end of the first semester, I felt like I was just starting to adjust to college life, so I think it will be interesting to go back to school.”
A growing number of U.S. colleges and universities and some high schools also offer study abroad experiences to students in their junior and senior years of high school. These programs, usually offered in the summer months, allow students to gain experience living abroad before they reach college so they know what to expect if they choose to apply to college study abroad programs.
High school programs also provide an outlet for students who aren’t able to study abroad in college to experience life overseas.
The University of Dallas, for example, offers programs where high school students can earn college credit and spend two weeks at the University’s campus in Rome. During the months preceding the trip, students complete the class’s online portion, including submitting papers and participating in discussions. Once they’ve arrived at the site in Rome, students spend half of their days in the classroom and the other half touring historical sites and museums.
For high school students, it’s never too early to begin looking at study abroad options. With increasing opportunities for first and second-year college students and even high school students, programs like these redefine what “study abroad” means and offer more students the chance to participate in these experiences.
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