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by Jessica Brondo of The Edge | March 10, 2009

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One of the most commonly asked questions on campus tours and in admissions presentations is whether a school has a study abroad program. Now, more than ever, it is important for students to expose themselves to other cultures either through study abroad programs or by going to a college or university abroad. There are different concerns for both scenarios. The best way to prepare for each is to get an early start on the process.

Research the different requirements

If applying to undergraduate programs abroad is something that interests you as a high school student, you need to start preparing early because the application requirements differ by country. Currently, the two most popular places for students to attend university are the United States and the United Kingdom and the application process varies drastically for both. For example, schools in the U.K. are highly specialized, so students must select a particular course of study before entering and must discuss their passion for this subject in depth in their application essays, citing specific academic works and professors with whom they would like to work. Universities in the U.S., on the other hand, often do not require students to declare a major until the end of their sophomore years and are really looking for a "well-rounded applicant" with interests and accomplishments outside of academia. Navigating either of these application processes can seem daunting, but with the proper guidance from a college advisor it can be an extremely manageable and rewarding experience.

Plan ahead

The majority of schools now offer study abroad programs to various programs in myriad countries; however, some programs are not available for all majors. It is important to find out what your requirements are for your major before selecting a destination because some will not offer the appropriate courses. Last year, a former student of mine decided to study abroad in Florence only to discover that the program did not offer the necessary accounting courses he needed to complete his major. To accommodate his trip, he took classes over the summer before his senior year and during his winter break. This precluded him from participating in valuable internship opportunities that summer. So make sure to check with your study abroad office to determine what options you have within your major and whether one semester is more favorable than another for your program dates.

Immerse yourself in the culture

Once you've decided to go abroad and have applied to (and hopefully have been accepted by) the appropriate program, you'll really want to take advantage of every opportunity given to you. For starters, if you are studying in a country with a foreign language, definitely try to take all (or at the very least some) of your classes in the native language. This will improve your language ability tenfold, which will be beneficial for years after you graduate.

Explore other locations

While you'll certainly want to fully explore the city in which you are studying, you'll also want to take advantage of the opportunities to travel while you are abroad. Any destination in Europe is extremely accessible to a host of other European cities that are easy and inexpensive to get to. AbroadHandbook.com, a website launched by Jesse Klein (IES 2007) and Eric Shepard (CEA 2007), caters to students studying abroad. It offers various day and weekend trips in addition to spring break itineraries, as well as fantastic advice on what to do in the city in which you are studying. From restaurants to nightlife, attractions to important numbers to have, the website provides recommendations from former study abroad students who have unmatched insight into different cities to help students navigate their abroad experience.

Build lasting friendships

Studying abroad gives students the unique opportunity to meet other students from different schools and different countries. You definitely do not want to miss out on the chance to broaden your horizons and meet people outside of your school network, so make it a point to build relationships with other students and with people in your community. Andrew Teig (Barcelona IES 2007) explains that selecting whether to live in a homestay (where you live with a family) or in the dorms has a big impact on the type of experience you have. Living in a homestay really immerses students in the culture because they are forced to speak the language, eat the food and experience family life. Teig explains that students often build lasting relationships with their host families, which creates a fantastic resource for future visits to the city. However, for students looking for more independence and who want to meet more students from other schools, a dorm experience is probably the best option.

Wherever, whenever and however you choose to explore, studying abroad is an experience that will change your life forever. Enjoy the journey!

For more information on applying to international schools and study abroad programs and on the college admissions process in general, visit The Edge online at www.edgeincollegeprep.com or call us today at 877-499-EDGE to inquire about our current programs.

For information on specific study abroad programs and for all your study abroad needs, visit AbroadHandbook online at AbroadHandbook.com.

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