You have made the momentous decision to study in America. Whether you are primarily interested in improving your English language skills, gaining international experience, or attending an elite educational institution, you can gain a great deal from both short-term and long-term study abroad programs. For the purposes of this article, a short-term study abroad program lasts for several weeks to several months. A long-term scenario lasts the full length of your degree program—generally four years for a bachelor’s degree, and two years for a graduate degree. Year-long options can have characteristics of both short-term and long-term programs, depending on how they are structured.
So—which type of study abroad program is right for you? Here are several questions to ask yourself as you decide which type of program to choose:
How prepared are you to leave home?
If this is your first study abroad experience, a short-term program may be the better option. Whether you opt for a short-term or a long-term program, there will be challenges. Sometimes, these challenges (such as homesickness or culture shock) can be easier to handle if you know that you do not have very long left. In addition, a short-term program can give you a taste of the study abroad experience so that you can see if you would like to do it a second time.
Why are you studying abroad? What will you gain from completing a long-term program instead of a short-term program?
Your reasons for studying abroad will also play a factor in whether you should register for a short-term or long-term program. If one of your reasons for studying abroad is to learn a foreign language, the longer you stay, the more immersed you can become in the language. If one of your reasons is to experience a different culture, long-term immersion may provide you with more opportunities for that experience too. In addition, long-term study-abroad experiences tend to take you further outside of your comfort zone.
When you are in a long-term situation, you must leave your family and friends behind and start over socially. You make a commitment to relocate and to fully immerse yourself in the language and the culture of your new country. These same factors that allow you to learn more of a language and to better experience another culture will also help you to gain confidence as you prove over and over that you can problem-solve and handle yourself. If part of your reason for studying abroad is to gain confidence and grow as a person, a long-term stay may be the right one for you. If your reason for studying abroad is to just get a taste of another culture or to see the sights, however, a short-term experience may be the perfect option.
How much time do you have to spare?
If you have already started a degree program in your home country, you may have too much time already invested to do a long-term study abroad program in the United States. Alternatively, you may have career opportunities or family responsibilities that preclude you from spending more than a short amount of time studying abroad.
What are the costs?
Study abroad can be quite costly. In addition to the costs of travel to and from the host country, tuition, housing, food, insurance, and other fees must also be considered. These costs can be prohibitive if you are looking at studying for more than a short time, though services like Flywire can be a great way to handle the logistics while participating in multi-year programs.
If you are considering studying abroad, you will need to decide whether you wish to participate in a short-term study abroad program, or if you would rather spend a longer amount of time in order to complete a certificate or degree program and to experience full immersion in another language and culture. Whatever you decide, a study abroad experience can be a wonderful way to learn more about yourself, the world, and your academic area.
Dana Elmore is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world’s largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.