Choosing a Study Abroad Program

You've decided you want to study abroad and have met the eligibility requirements. You've educated yourself about credit and financial considerations. Let us now help you decide which semester, program and experience is right for you.

Where to Begin

The first step is to ask yourself what you want from your study abroad experience. The Center for Undergraduate Global Engagement works with over 150 programs.

Aspects to consider about a potential program choice:

  • What is the program’s educational philosophy?
  • Are you eligible to go on the program with prerequisites?
  • What types of courses can you take on the program?
  • Does the program offer courses in your area of study?
  • What type of immersion does the program provide with the local environment?
  • What type of housing does the program offer?
  • What are the dates for the program and do they fit into other plans?

When to Go Abroad

Going abroad during the summer versus the fall, spring or academic year is a significantly different experience. You should consider how your goals for study abroad fit into your career at Columbia to determine the best time to study abroad.

Studying abroad for the academic year, fall or spring semester offers a more immersive study abroad experience. You take a full course load, like any other semester. In many cases, you take classes alongside local students and have more course choices. You're more likely to have the opportunity to live with local students or a family. You experience a new academic and social culture for a longer period of time. This longer experience provides you a chance to adjust and adapt, and create a life in a foreign city.

Summer programs generally only include international students, rather than classes with local students. There are credit and financial aid restrictions for summer study abroad. But, if you go abroad during the summer you do not miss a semester on-campus. This may be important to you if you have a leadership position in a student group or are an athlete. During the summer, you'll focus your attention on one or two classes. This can be helpful for improving a certain skill in an intensive fashion, such as foreign language fluency.

If you are interested in semester study abroad, a majority of Columbia College students study abroad during their junior year. Columbia Engineering students go abroad more frequently during sophomore spring than during their junior year. If you are a School of General Studies student, it is recommended to check in with the School of General Studies Study Abroad Liaison regarding recommendations for when to study abroad. Students can go abroad during any summer session they are enrolled at Columbia.

What's the Difference Between Columbia-Led and Columbia-Approved?

Columbia-Led Programs are overseen by the Center for Undergraduate Global Engagement and frequently have Columbia faculty as instructors. Some of these programs (Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies and Berlin Consortium for German Studies) are administered by Columbia on behalf of several partners. Many of them welcome students from other institutions and summer programs may also admit graduate students.

Because these are programs run by Columbia, you will receive grades that are posted on SSOL and factored into your GPA much like you would if you were on campus.

Columbia-Approved Programs are administered by other universities or not-for-profit organizations, called third-party program providers. Columbia-Approved Programs accept applications from Columbia University undergraduates. You will find a greater number and variety of destinations with these programs.

Types of Program

There are a wide variety of Columbia-Led and Columbia-Approved Programs. The overview below should be helpful in deciding what program is right for you.

Direct Enrollment Programs: You enroll directly into a foreign university for a semester or year. You take courses at the university with local students and faculty. You usually live in university-sponsored accommodation with local and international students. In many cases, there is an international office which provides support to study abroad students. Examples of direct enrollment programs include:

  • University of Edinburgh;
  • Bocconi University;
  • University of Hong Kong.

Supported Direct Enrollment/Study Center Programs: Study abroad programs run by U.S. based universities or third-party program providers. You usually have access to some local university courses. But, the program also offers courses at their study center for study abroad students. You must take at least two courses at a local university when available. You usually have options for accommodation, such as an international student dorm or a homestay. There is a dedicated program support staff to help you navigate the local academic and administrative landscape. Examples of supported direct enrollment/study center programs include:

  • Columbia in Paris;
  • Programs run by CIEE and IFSA-Butler.

Field Studies Programs: Study abroad programs run by U.S. based universities or third-party program providers. You generally take courses that incorporate field work. Programs often offer the opportunity to do group and/or independent research projects. You will most likely live with other students on the program or a homestay. Examples of field studies programs include:

  • Columbia Tropical Biology and Sustainability Program;
  • Columbia Earth Institute SEE-U programs;
  • Programs run by SIT.

Intensive Language Programs: Study abroad programs that provide intensive language learning. These are usually summer programs and last from 4-10 weeks. Most likely, you will take classes and live with other study abroad students. Examples of intensive language learning programs include:

  • Columbia Summer in Rio;
  • Columbia Summer in Beijing;
  • Humboldt University Summer Language Program.

We have a list of over 150 study abroad programs which should meet your needs. We do consider petitions for non-approved programs. You should consult our petition information to learn about the guidelines and process.

Advice from Others

It is important for you consult with different parties to help make the right decision.

The Center for Undergraduate Global Engagement (UGE) Advisers: UGE advisers are available to discuss your plans and the options available to you. The advisers will work with you to find programs that fit your academic, personal and professional goals.

School Home School Advisers: The School of General Studies and Columbia Engineering have designated study abroad advisers.

Department and Faculty: Consult with faculty for their suggestions. Your department will help you determine which abroad courses can count for major credit. It is important to start a discussion about your plans to study abroad with your major adviser as early as possible.

Peer Advisers: UGE hires returned study abroad students as Peer Advisers every year. Peer Advisers are a valuable resource to understanding the contemporary Columbia student experience abroad.

Student Evaluations: Students fill out an evaluation form upon return from study abroad. You can read evaluations and find contact information for returned study abroad students.

Travel Guidebooks: Travel guidebooks provide an helpful overview of foreign cities and countries. Guidebooks for students include Lonely Planet and Rough Guide.