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What Makes a Good Study Abroad Program?

Have the urge to immerse yourself in a foreign country and learn a new language? The personal and academic benefits of studying abroad are hard to overstate, and spending a significant amount of time abroad in high school will set your application above many others.

But what should you look for in a study abroad program? What factors will indicate a successful, competitive program?

1. Immersion – not life in an American bubble

Make sure the program you choose will immerse you in the language and culture and local life. This can be done either through taking classes at a local school, or by living with a host family. “Island programs” are American programs abroad that are self-contained, which means you could be at any US institution… you just happen to have a foreign address. Get out of the American bubble and make sure you gain real cultural experience.

2. Academic competitiveness

Grades abroad can be confusing – and taking classes abroad even more so. The advantage of an island program is that a program can retain AP courses and highly competitive classes (but if you go this route, live with a family instead of in a dorm). If you want to take AP tests or have them on your transcript, consider this when looking at programs. If you are abroad in the summer, this may not be a huge issue, but you should still look at the course contents.

3. Successful past students

Look at programs’ reputations and alumni track records. If a program is known as a vacation abroad, skip it. You could load up a backpack and travel for a long time based on the price you’d be paying for a packaged vacation atmosphere. Ask where alumni go, and what they do. Alumni are a good indicator of any program and colleges will know some programs based on successful alumni. Ask to talk to alumni, too, if you have questions.

4. A location that appeals to you

Finally, make sure you choose a place that appeals to you! Personal investment and motivation are essential. A competitive program will be useless and the experience not as fulfilling if your heart is set on Italy but you decide to go to China. Really. It is important to push your boundaries, but go where the language, culture, or some aspect of the place – not just classes in a program – appeal to you.

Best of luck – bon voyage!


This post is titled, “What Makes a Good Study Abroad Program?” It was written by Marta Casey, a writer on Top Test Prep’s team.

To learn more about Top Test Prep’s programs, call (800) 501 – Prep.

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