How to Pick a Study Abroad Provider:
Let The Forum on Education Abroad’s Standards Be Your Guide
Congratulations! You’re curious about study abroad. You’re curious enough to start looking at your education abroad options to plan for the near future. But there’s something you should know before you get serious about your search—there are a lot (read: thousands) of education abroad organizations out there.
Isn’t it good that there are a lot of education abroad providers and institutions?
Definitely, but it’s important that you know how to evaluate these providers/organizations/institutions to narrow it down to the one provider that will help you have the education abroad experience of a lifetime. And The Forum on Education Abroad can help!
How can The Forum on Education Abroad help me pick my study abroad provider?
We’re so glad you asked! The Forum on Education Abroad sets the gold standard for study abroad programs. They publish the Standards of Good Practice for Education Abroad, a comprehensive tool for study abroad organizations to guide program development, evaluate the quality of programs, and lots more. The Standards provide quality assurance for education abroad programs for U.S. students—like you!
The Forum on Education Abroad is recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as the Standards Development Organization (SDO) for the field of education abroad. That means that it is The Forum’s responsibility to monitor changes in the field of education abroad and continuously update the Standards to maintain this gold standard.
So, what should I be looking for then?
It’s good to start narrowing down your list by asking the basic questions like,
- Does the organization have the programs I want? (major, minor, or area of interest)
- In the places I want?
- What do I want to do outside of the classroom? (Internships, service learning, volunteer)
These will help you figure out what you want to do while you’re abroad.
Questions to Help You Pick a Study Abroad Provider
Once you’ve shortened your list a bit, here are some things to consider and questions to ask of organizations—using the Standards—when deciding how to pick a study abroad provider:
- What is your mission?
Has the organization you are considering written and distributed its mission, goals, objectives, and outcomes? Make sure that what they stand for aligns with what you stand for!
- How do you prioritize education in your programming?
Organizations shall ensure that education is at the core of their program design and implementation. It’s education abroad, not vacation
- What aid do you offer?
Providers should offer information on financial topics that include: all costs of participation (including meals, housing, excursions, travel to and from the site, etc.), financing options, financial aid, scholarships, loans, budgeting (including how much extra spending money you’ll need), and currency conversation and exchange rates. They may also have resources to other funding options, too.
- What is your code of ethics?
It might be awkward to ask a representative from the organization if they are ethical or not, so maybe plan to do some googling on this one. The provider you choose should follow a code of ethics (either The Forum’s or an internal version). They should consider the social, cultural, economic, and environmental impact of their programming!
- Does the organization prioritize equity, diversity, and inclusion?
How has the organization made education abroad accessible to all? Do they emphasize equity, diversity, and inclusion in their program design, goals, etc.?
- My health and safety are important to me. How will you help me care for myself abroad? What are your emergency and preparedness plans?
You’re right—your health and wellness are non-negotiables. Know if the organization provides insurance or if you’ll need to get your own. What does that insurance cover? Also, can they help with access to counseling services if needed? What if you need to go to the doctor or emergency room or get medication? Just as they need to have plan in place while abroad, you need to plan—and advocate for—your health and wellness, too.
- Can you help me get my visa?
Obtaining a visa can feel overwhelming but many organizations offer help! See if the organization you’re interested in provides this service.
- Which curricular and co-curricular activities and programming do you provide or can I have access to?
This is valuable to enrich the study abroad experience. Think cultural immersion…
- How will I interact with the community?Again, it’s important that the organization you choose helps you immerse in the local culture. In turn, they should also provide you with opportunities to reflect on the impact of those experiences on yourself and those you meet.
- I want to take a language while on a program—how will you make sure I’m in the right classes abroad?
Learning a language abroad? Make sure the organization will evaluate your competencies to be sure you’re in the correct course level.
- Do you have programming to help transition me into (and out of) the culture?
While everyone’s experience is unique, it’s important to note that the transitions aren’t always seamless. Your provider should be able to help by providing the tools you need to succeed!
- How is education abroad helpful for my career?
Organizations should support you in understanding and articulating the benefits of education abroad—both in identifying transferrable skills and how to apply the experience to your career goals.
Picking a study abroad provider is a big step, and The Forum’s Standards will help! Remember to keep in mind that the more research you do upfront, the better your education abroad experience will be!