A University of Massachusetts student sits above an urban area at sunset while studying abroad
Student Voices

Essential Information to Prepare you for a Semester Abroad

College is full of opportunities. For me, studying abroad was one opportunity I knew I wanted to take as a student. Here at UMass Amherst, you can choose to study abroad on almost every continent with over 270 campus-sponsored programs. While COVID has halted many study abroad programs this last year, things are starting to look promising for the future, and I’m in the final stages of applying to study abroad in Prague in the Czech Republic for the fall 2021 semester. 

For those interested in studying abroad, it can seem like a daunting task. Luckily, there are many resources available to help you make your decision and I’ll be sharing my own application experience below, along with advice from AJ LeBlanc, the education abroad advising center coordinator here at UMass. 

Three University of Massachusetts students blow bubbles while studying abroad in Europe

Why Study Abroad? 

LeBlanc explains that studying abroad allows students to complete graduation requirements in a new setting. Some students want access to academics that they can’t get at UMass. Maybe they’re interested in classes that just aren’t offered here; or they want to take courses with professors in other countries who are specializing in a students’ chosen field. Some students want an international internship to stand out from other job applicants. Others want the UMass experience, but not at UMass, and going abroad allows them to be a college student in an entirely new environment. 

“We have intensive field studies programs for students who want hands-on experience, as well as research placements where students can get lab experience. Becoming a global citizen changes our perception of others and can help us be more open to new ideas and ways to problem solve,” says LeBlanc.

Qualifications to Go Abroad

Students need to be in good standing with the university to study abroad. This means they aren’t on academic warning or probation at the time they go abroad, and have no open dean of students cases. Some programs also have a minimum GPA or class standing, and the International Programs Office (IPO) will work with students who are worried they don’t meet the requirements. The earliest a first-year student can go abroad is the summer after their first full year at UMass. Transfer students can go abroad for their second semester after transferring to UMass. 

A University of Massachusetts student poses inside the Coliseum in Rome, Italy

Which Year is the Best Year to Study Abroad as a UMass Student?

LeBlanc says it depends! A lot of students get the impression you have to go in spring of your junior year, but this is not always the case. Some majors need to go sophomore year so they can stay on track for graduation, while others want to finish their final UMass semester abroad. Some students don’t want a semester experience, and prefer a short term or summer program. It’s really up to each student to decide how they want to invest their time and money. The earlier you start planning, the more options you will have. 

Research Stage & The Application Process

The first step to studying abroad is to watch Essentials, a mandatory study abroad information session. This video covers eligibility requirements, planning your course work, financing, and how to research for programs. 

The next step is to research for a program that will best fit you! This will depend on your area of study, geographical preferences, budget, and whatever other factors you value in this experience. 

LeBlanc encourages students to think about where they feel the most successful in their lives and why, and what that might look like abroad. For some students, it means choosing a smaller program, for others, they want the largest city they can find. Some students want sunshine and beaches, while others prefer a cool climate with not much sun. Anyone considering study abroad should do their research: reading up on what other students say about their time abroad. Instagram is a great place to see the beautiful, filtered, nothing-ever-goes-wrong version. Google street view is perfect if you want to walk around your city or campus. Students can take courses in English in countries where English isn’t the primary language, so don’t limit your options before talking to the IPO office. LeBlanc reminds students that the best choice for you might not be the best choice for your friends, so don’t feel pressured if a group of you are trying to go to the same place. 

Personally, I wanted to choose a place that I thought was unique, had lots of opportunities, and a rich and diverse culture. As a hospitality & tourism management major, I also looked at my course sheet to determine classes I still needed to take and compared that with the courses offered abroad to make sure I was still able to fulfill requirements while abroad. From a financial standpoint, I see studying abroad as a once in a lifetime opportunity as a student, and know that there are lots of resources available to help support the costs of being abroad. As long as I feel I will be able to get value out of my experience, the expense is worth it in my eyes! This being said, I am happy that I was able to find a program that was on the lower end for pricing, where the cost of living is also very reasonable and accommodating to college students. 

After doing lots of research using the Education Abroad website, I decided on studying abroad in University of New York in Prague (UNYP); which is a partner program with UMass. I chose Prague for its wide selection of courses, rich cultural background, the school’s reputation, and abundance of resources and opportunities. 

After choosing the program I wanted to apply for, I started my UMass Amherst application along with my UNYP application. It’s important to make sure you’re on top of deadlines and completing BOTH applications! For your UMass application you will need a copy of your acceptance letter from your partner program, so I recommend finishing the partner program application first. My number one piece of advice would be to make sure you’re communicating with both of your advisors and start the process earlier than later. There’s a lot of steps, and it can take time to get all of the pieces together. So the earlier you start the better it’ll be, and more time you’ll have to make sure everything is together. 

Another advantage to starting the application process earlier than later was that this gave me the opportunity to space out the work that needed to be done. Some important steps included getting classes approved on both ends, sending in a general education abroad request, renewing my passport, and applying for a visa.

The Financial Side of Things

When it comes to the financial side of things, there are lots of opportunities to apply for scholarships and tackle the cost of studying abroad. LeBlanc notes it’s never too early to start saving and that education abroad is affordable, especially if students are willing to explore the road less traveled. Here at UMass, we have programs that cost around $9000 for a semester, including housing, but you have to be open to new locations! With a few exceptions, your financial aid from UMass will also go with you when you’re abroad! There are also lots of scholarships available, but deadlines are early so it’s important to be on top of things. LeBlanc suggests researching locations you are interested in to find out the cost of living and exchange rates. Numbeo is a great site which allows you to compare the price of a movie ticket or cup

of coffee in Amherst to the same items in your host city. 

A University of Massachusetts student stands on a beach in South Korea, with high rise buildings visible in the distance

Academics Abroad: Courseload

When asked how easy study abroad courses are, LeBlanc says it depends; like any other situation. She encourages students to think about your UMass courses. Your favorite class might be someone else’s disaster course. You need to consider the academic structure of your host university, and this is where IPO comes into play. Will you be taking courses that are similar to UMass, with weekly quizzes and check-ins? Or are you in a course where you are only graded on a midterm and final? The IPO office always encourages students to take a cultural course to learn more about their host country, for you won’t get the same perspective if you take it in the States; so take advantage of your options. 

Last Remarks

Each year over 1,200 UMass students participate in a study abroad experience. As someone who likes to push myself out of my comfort zone, I am terrified but very excited about studying abroad in the fall. I am grateful for the support I’ve received from UMass, and from my host university and know they’ll be there for me every step of the way.