In this section, you will learn how to go a step beyond finding a quality program. You will begin to research quality programs that reflect your individual needs. You will be better able to find a program that matches academic and personal objectives. The following things are some personal factors that can affect a student's program decision:
Affordability and Finances
Cost: Finding a quality program that's affordable is possible. Depending on you or your family's financial situation, program cost may or may not be an issue for you. No one wants to compromise quality for cost. However, many students need to find programs that fit their personal budget. Costs for study abroad programs don't end with a basic fee; rather, additional costs can add up for insurance, housing, meals, excursions, travel, medical needs and purchases.
Spending and Saving: Frugal spending is key both before you go, and while you are in the United States. Make a budget for yourself and stick to it. Before you go, you may want to budget your spending by giving up that morning cup of coffee you buy on your way to work/class. Instead, you could make your own coffee at home, and bring your lunch with you rather than buying it every day. You may have to eat out less and give up going out as frequently. You could take the bus instead of paying to fill up your car, and you might even start clipping coupons.
Size Does Matter
Group Size: Some study abroad programs have very high limits for enrollment, while others are very selective about the number of students they allow to participate. You should determine in which situation you might feel more comfortable.
- Meeting many new people
- More opportunites to spend time with different groups of people
- More opportunity to form close friendships with other participants
- More personal attention
- Feeling lost in a large group
- Little opportunity to form stron friendships
- Being around the same group of people may get old
- Fewer opportunities to meet new people
It is important to ask your study abroad program coordinator what the ratio is between staff and students–a small program staff in charge of a large group may not be the best when you are trying to find someone to assist you. Of course, if you plan to do independent study, you may very well be the only U.S. student at the institution you've chosen. This would probably give you the highest level of immersion, but you would have added responsibilities that another student studying in a program group may not have.
Class Size and Diversity: Depending on the size of the school you choose to attend, class sizes may very well vary. Universities with larger enrollment numbers tend to have larger classes. However, class size will also depend on the program you choose to study. For example, a major such as journalism could enjoy higher enrollment numbers because of its popularity in the United States, even if this major is at a smaller school. As a general rule, you should consider the fact that more popular majors will have larger class sizes.
The average college campus in the United States has a mix of international and domestic students. While there are some instances where there are classes geared toward international students for the most part you will be attending classes with a very diverse group. Domestic students come from a wide range of racial, ethnic, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds. Expect to encounter a variety of people on campus!
Language Instruction: Even if you have little or no previous foreign language experience with English, you can still find a program to fit your personal needs. Be sure to ask if a student with low English skills can still be accepted into a language program prior to entering the college/university full time. The more classes you take in English, the more your English will improve and the more immersed in U.S. culture and society you will feel. Ask if your program provides classes in English or other languages. Any concerns you may have about your language abilities should be addressed right away so that you will feel confident with your position.
Do not be afraid of practicing your English skills once you get to the chosen school. Your ability to speak will improve the more you practice it!
If the program you choose requires proficiency in a foreign language, most likely your native language will satisfy that requirement. This way, you are able to focus on your English skills while American students a new language themselves!
Everyone chooses to universities for different reasons. You may want to learn or improve your English. You may want to do independent research. You may want to get a degree, or you may just want to travel and try something new. Before choosing a program, see if it fits the personal goals and objectives you have. Ask yourself if the program you choose will allow you to complete your goals.
5. Relevant Questions
- What are your personal goals for wanting to study in the United States?
- How many other students participate in the program each semester/year?
- Will you be studying at a U.S. university, a local university, or neither?
- What study abroad program group size and class size would be ideal for you?
- Do you prefer to be in a class with local American students or an international group of students?
- Does the program emphasize "total immersion" in American language and culture, or are you placed solely with other international students?
- Do you prefer to receive all of your instruction in the language of your home country, in English or a combination?
- Is the program you have chosen affordable?
- Can your program administrator put you in contact with any past program participants so you can ask them questions about their personal experiences abroad?
- The program I have chosen is affordable.
- I know how much money I will need to save in order to participate in the school I have chosen.
- I have decided what university size and class size would be ideal for me.
- I have decided whether it would be easier for me to live in a smaller town or a larger city.
- I have clearly articulated my personal goals for wanting to study in the U.S.