Where should I study abroad? Trying to decide where to study abroad? Not such an easy thing to figure out. Are you at uni, but stuck in a rut? Can’t get out of bed to go to your classes? Fed up of the same old, same old? Maybe you need a change of scenery. Why not study abroad?

Deciding Where to Study Abroad Not as Easy as it Sounds

Studying in another country can offer a new perspective and motivation to complete your degree program. Maybe it will inspire you to change directions, change your major, or even change your career goals.

As they say in real estate, it’s always location, location, location. Where you study abroad can make or break your study abroad experience, so how do you decide? Here are a few pointers to help you hone in on where to study abroad.

6 steps to figure out where to study abroad

You need to start by asking yourself some very real questions. Get down to the root of why you want to study abroad and where. 

1. Make a List of Where You’ve Always Dreamed of Traveling

Is there a particular region that’s been calling your name since birth? If you aren’t that picky, which geographical area has caught your eye? What cultures fascinate you? Do you prefer to study abroad in Africa or the Middle East? Want to check out the penguins in Antarctica? Or, learn a different kind of English in Australia and Oceania? What about the diversity of Asia? How about Central America or South America to brush up on your Spanish pronto? Or do you prefer to explore the original seat of Western civilization in Western Europe or further afield in Eastern Europe and Russia?

Once you narrow in on a region you’d like to study in, decide on the specific country you’d like to go to. If you’re bent on Asia, should you brush up on your Mandarin in China, your Cantonese in Hong Kong, or learn to bow like a pro in Japan? If you’re more into Europe, should you cross the pond and study in jolly olde United Kingdom or channel chow down on paella in Spain? Perhaps you’d prefer to study far away from all in the land down under.

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2. Write Out the Pros and Cons of Each

These can range from serious (“better academics”) to slightly more lighthearted (“tastier street food”). All is game and nothing should be discounted—write out a length pros and cons list to give yourself a baseline of where your heart is, let alone where your study abroad heart is.

where to study abroad
The lengthier your “where to study abroad” pros and cons list, the better

3. Get a Handle on Projected Costs

Research Programs and Typical Fees in Each

If you’re considering studying in England AND Japan AND Costa Rica, it would be helpful to have a ballpark estimate of what the average program fees are for each individual destination. You don’t need to go full-on into research mode, but having some numbers to work with—and some knowledge of how much you can afford—can knock out some options and whittle your list.

Here are some study abroad program types to consider that could affect overall finances:

  • Direct enrollment in a foreign university. What if your university doesn’t have a study abroad office? That’s okay! Find one that does and will accept students from other institutions. If that’s not an option, consider direct enrollment—this is when you can enroll directly with a uni abroad as an exchange student. This can mean at cost tuition fees without the markup of a middle man, but also less overall support or community building.
  • Study abroad with a third party organization (aka Program Provider). On the other hand, if that’s too much of a hassle, or not quite what you’re looking for, find an affiliate program or third party provider to do all the work for you. Many study abroad alumni just love programs like IES AbroadAPI Study Abroad, and CIEE. Programs like these operate in hundreds of countries, for a myriad of durations (think: summer, winter, 1-2 weeks, whole semesters, etc.) and oftentimes have relationships with universities that make transferring credits a cinch.
  • Study abroad through YOUR university. This can be financially viable because you can usually score financial aid for study abroad, plus the transfer of credits can be easy-peesy.

Still confused? No worries! Here’s a great article that breaks down the difference between direct enrollment and affiliate programs for studying abroad. If you’d like one-on-one advice to help you match with your perfect program, don’t hesitate to reach out to our Online Advisor.

Research Anticipated Costs of Living Abroad in Each

Okay, so maybe the program fees are relatively the same in each. What about your day to day cost of living? Is taking the transport in Copenhagen once the same as a bus pass in Lima? Will rent in Bangkok wipe out your savings versus a homestay option in Cape Town? Pairing your anticipated costs of living with your program fees will give you more financial knowledge about your life abroad, and help you answer that question of where to study abroad.

Research Study Abroad Scholarships for Each

There are dozens—maybe even hundreds—of study abroad scholarships out there. BUT, sometimes, there are additional scholarships that are location-specific. Research the education government bodies in your preferred destinations to see if they offer awards or grants to international students considering study in their country. Browse the internet to find any special scholarships for students with specific destination intentions. You never know what you might uncover!

4. Check You Can Take Courses that Count Towards Your Degree

where to study abroad
You might reconsider surfing classes in Australia if they won’t fulfill your PE credits!

This probably could be done a little earlier in the process (like before or during your cost research), but you also want to make sure that whatever classes you’re going to take abroad, whether in France, Spain, Mexico, or otherwise, will count towards your degree if you need them to. Check out your university’s international or study abroad office to learn which universities does your home college partner with abroad, or which external organizations they have set up partnerships with. Will the credits you earn abroad be transferable? Have a chat with your collegiate advisors to ensure that every course you need to count while abroad will.

Now that you’re armed with all these answers, it’s time to look at your notes and…

5. Narrow Down Your Choices

You should have at most two strong contenders by this time. This is a great point to take a step back and get some external feedback on your final choices. Talk to your parents, study abroad advisors, mentors, professors—anyone whose got your back and can give you meaningful feedback and ideas for you to consider as you weigh your final two options. Be sure to also ask yourself:

  • Where will I thrive?
  • Looking back in 20 years, where will I be most excited that I studied abroad in?
  • How will or *could* the location potentially impact my future career or post-college choices?
  • What is gut saying?

6. Pick Your Country! And Then Your City

where to study abroad
From the midwest to an amazing, exhilarating country abroad <3

Once you’ve chosen your host country, next you have to decide between the city, town, or countryside? The great thing about cities is that they’re usually so accessible. Many urban centers have great transportation hubs and networks to get around the nooks and crannies of the rest of the country. Others, like London, Paris, and Tokyo, make the whole world your oyster with planes, trains, and automobiles heading to your dream destinations.

  • City life. What city would you like to study in? Better yet, ask yourself: what are the world’s best cities to study abroad in? How does hitting up El Prado and other museums and sampling churros in Madrid sound? Does the distinct Catalan culture of Barcelona float your boat? Maybe you dream of learning italiano over a cup of espresso in the Eternal City, Rome, or walking in the footsteps of Leonardo Da Vinci in always photogenic Florence? What about learning business in the alpha global city, London or reading L’Etranger on the banks of the river Seine in Paris?
  • Country life. On the other hand, don’t think that studying abroad means you have to study in a city. Maybe you already live in a city and want to get away from it all: the crowds, the traffic, the hussle, the pollution. Are you all about wide open spaces? Does studying in a charming hamlet or small town appeal to you?

The added advantage of studying in a more rural location is the slower pace of life which means you’ll really get a chance to immerse in the local language and have the time to rub shoulders with the people who speak it. Another great thing about studying off the beaten path is that you get to discover a place not many people know about. People will stroll through your Instagram feed and ask, where is this?! Maybe they’ll even be inspired to visit you while you’re there!

Popular destinations for study abroad

If you’re not sure where to start looking for study abroad programs, check out these always-popular locales. 

1. The U.K.

London, UK, sunset at Westminster along the Thames
Study abroad in London, a classic that never goes out of style!

This study abroad destination is as hot and poppin’ as a fresh order of fish’n’chips. An ideal spot for Potterheads, literary buffs, art and history nerds, music aficionados, future business moguls, and pretty much anyone looking for a great study abroad experience (without the added stress of a language requirement.

2. France

Calanque de Sormiou, Marseille, France, clear blue water and white sand on a sunny day
Not to sound cheesy, but you’ll literally never want to leave France once you step foot in this foodie paradise.

Come for the bread, stay for even more bread! Fashionistas and Francophiles will find themselves right at home in France. Whether you end up strolling along the Seine and spending your days wandering around the Left Bank with the ghosts of your favorite artists, or perusing fresh-market finds with an ocean breeze along the coast, France has always had a little something-something for everyone.

3. China

The Great Wall nestled in lush, green hillsides on a clear blue-sky day
Well, they don’t call it “Great” for nothin’!

Two words: hot. Pot. Grumbling tummies aside, taking on a study abroad program in China is no easy feat, but will prove wildly beneficial long term. Pick up a little Mandarin, and learn from the best in global business in this world power on the rise. The dumplings are really just a bonus.

4. New Zealand

4 sheep grazing in a green field in New Zealand
It’s tough to have a ba(a-a-a)d time studying abroad in New Zealand.

If you’ve ever wanted to go on your own hero’s journey, a sweet as semester in New Zealand is just the ticket. With rolling green hills dotted with sheep, towering fjords, and beaches littered with adorable fur seals, you really can’t go wrong.

Unique places to study abroad

If you’re looking to blaze your own trail, and go where only few study abroad students have gone before you, start here. 

1. Thailand 

Tuktuk in Bangkok, Thailand
Jet in and out of infamous Thai traffic on a Tuk tuk as you race to find the best noodles in Bangkok.

Drink in a tall glass of Thai coffee along with all the country and culture has to offer. Beaches, jungles, noodles for days. Thailand is affordable, delicious, and has so much to teach you— it’s the adventurous student’s paradise!

2. Oman 

Sprawling desert sand in Muscat, Oman
Studying abroad has never been hotter (literally— but don’t let that stop you!).

While it might not be considered a major study abroad hot spot, the weather in Oman tends to differ. For students ready to beat the heat and get down in the sand with their Arabic studies, Oman is the place to do it. Experience the influence of both Islam and the West on local culture, and learn more about relationships between nations in the Middle East.

3. Nicaragua

Brightly painted buildings along a street in Leon, Nicaragua
There’s a 40 percent chance of rain and a 100 percent chance of you falling in love with Nicaragua.

Get your feet wet in pristine tropical waters while diving into political and social issues, advocacy, and expression across generations of Nicaraguans. Engage with your local community to understand how revolution has shaped this nation, but remember to take the time to go out and explore the land of lakes and volcanoes!

4. Namibia 

silhouette of person standing on top of jeep against starry night sky in Namibia
Your mom says it’s too remote. We say Namibia is the perfect place to see the stars for a little self-reflection.

Close your eyes and bask in the hot African sun. Anyone looking for room to grow in the field of international development should look no further than Namibia. It may not be a cakewalk, but you’ll be exposed to the sweeping beauty of Namibia and the African continent, while taking the time to reflect on the impact of international development and humanitarian work in a hands-on way.

That’s it! You know where to study abroad

You’ve narrowed down your destination, found a program that fits, and done a lot of hard work to answer the question of where to study abroad. Well done! You’ve made such an informed decision that you can move forward with 100% confidence in your selection—no thoughts of “What might’ve been there…” allowed. Get ready to have the time of your life abroad!

Hopefully we’ve helped to clear up a lot of the gobbledygook out there about deciding where to study abroad— so, what are you waiting for? Hit the ground running, send in your applications, write some dope scholarship essays, and get out there and start living. Enjoy your time overseas to the max and make memories!

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