Maybe you didn’t take a gap year and really wish you did, or maybe you’re looking to flame your wanderlust fire before graduation, but whatever the reason, studying abroad can be a life-changing experience. With so many programs, destinations and opinions floating around, it can be *very* difficult to figure out where to go and what to study while you’re there. So we called in Lorena Leonard, marketing director at CAPA The Global Education Network, for some tips. Pack your bags, and get ready for the semester of a lifetime.

Woman in paris reading a book

1. Listen to your peers. One of the best ways to find out about a program is listening to what folks who have already walked the same path have to say. Lorena agrees, saying, “Find out what students who have studied abroad are saying about the programs they went on. A simple Google search for study abroad program reviews will bring you to sites where students leave lots of details about their experiences abroad, including about the program provider. Look for providers with high rankings, or chat with your school mates who just returned from a study abroad program… do they recommend the provider they chose?”

2. Find ambassadors. “Some students who have studied abroad become ambassadors to spread the good word about this amazing opportunity,” notes Lorena. She adds, “Check with your study abroad office to see if your campus has a few ambassadors you can talk to. Preferably, you’ll want to chat with ambassadors who went on different programs so you can get the scoop on the providers themselves. Chances are, the ambassadors you find will be thrilled to talk to you about study abroad.”

3. Diversity and cultural enrichment are key. “Most students study abroad because they want to get out of their comfort zone and experience a new culture and live in a new environment. While most study abroad providers say they are ‘culturally immersive,’ not every program is the same,” advises Lorena. She adds, “Look for programs where you will be partaking in activities along with the locals, such as through an internship, volunteer or service-learning opportunities. Also, see if the provider uses the host location as an extension of their classroom — are courses mainly taught in a classroom or are students participating in excursions, visits, exploratory activities, etc. as part of their curriculum? What about the locations the providers have programs in — are they diverse? Diversity can include culture, ethnicity/race, lifestyle, religion, etc.”

Multi cultural group of friends hanging out in Central London

4. Find out how it helps your future career. Let’s face it — most students are concerned about getting a job upon graduation, so it makes sense to see if the provider offers personal and professional development. Lorena says, “While a study abroad experience looks good on a resume, most students who studied abroad cannot articulate the benefits gained on a job interview. Search for providers that make personal and professional development a core outcome of their programs. These include internships along with a seminar and training component where you’ll hone the skills you are developing abroad and how they translate to a real job after graduation. They will also teach you how to talk about your study abroad experience in a way that will set you apart from other job candidates.”

5. Academics are still important. They call it study abroad for a reason. “Yes, this is the not-so-sexy word in ‘study’ abroad, but you’ll eventually have to consider what classes you’ll be able to take on your study abroad program and ensure that those credits earned will transfer to your home campus,” says Lorena. “Ask for a complete list of course offering and syllabi and bring these to your advisor on campus before you go. Better yet, look for providers that offer courses in a wide range of majors and areas. For example, if you are an engineering major and you want to make your study abroad dream a reality, do your research to find a provider that can offer the same types of courses you need to take at home in their host locations.”

6. Research your options. It might seem like a no-brainer, but the more research you do in advance, the better prepared you will be to study abroad. “Research program providers and compare them to each other. Check out location options, inclusions, housing options, course offerings, length of program, etc. Are all of these or only some part of the total cost? Ask lots of questions from the providers themselves, your study abroad office, your academic advisor and your family and friends,” says Lorena.

7. Be financially ready. The bill, oof. Unfortunately, paying for the experience is part of the game. Lorena advises, “Check on your finances; can you afford it? Financial aid may transfer in most cases and many providers offer scholarships and grants to study abroad with them. Some providers too will be able to help you plan financially and will guide you on what to do to cover costs. A good provider will go to lengths to get you on their program if you are in high financial need and can show how you’ll benefit from a study abroad experience.”

8. Reputation is key. “Seek out providers that are established and have been successfully conducting study abroad programs for a long time. These kinds of providers will usually have accreditations and recognitions for standards of good practice from international education entities such as The Forum on Education Abroad, NAFSA and Diversity Abroad,” noted Lorena. Plus, we’re sure Mom and Dad will be stoked to hear there’s some credibility to the program.

Tweet us where you’re studying abroad @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)