Is Studying Abroad Worth It?

Studying abroad is worth it if you can find a program that aligns with your interests, goals and finances.
Eliza Haverstock
By Eliza Haverstock 
Published
Edited by Cecilia Clark

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Studying abroad is worth it if you can find a program that aligns with your interests, goals and finances. The once-in-a-lifetime experience can improve your future career and income prospects, broaden your horizons and give you space to build new skills.

Here are some key reasons why studying abroad is worth it — and a few cases in which it might not be the best choice for you.

Why study abroad is worth it

Improve your job prospects

Studying abroad during college can help you land your first job out of school, especially if you aim to work abroad or for an international company.

Nearly 90% of study abroad alumni found their first job within six months of graduation, according to a 2012 survey by ​​IES Abroad, a third-party study abroad provider. By comparison, 69% of all college graduates found jobs within six months, per a 2011 survey by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

Studying abroad can also boost your future income. Median starting salaries of recent graduates who studied abroad were $7,000 higher than the general population of recent graduates, the studies found.

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Learn a language

About 78% of the U.S. population speaks English only, according to 2019 U.S. Census data — but living abroad in a non-English-speaking country can boost your foreign language skills. From classroom instruction to casual daily conversations, study abroad provides a unique opportunity for extended language immersion.

Better academic outcomes

Studies suggest that studying abroad in college can lead to higher graduation rates and grades.

Controlling for other academic and demographic factors, students who study abroad are 6.2 percentage points more likely to graduate in four years than students who don’t study abroad, and they also earn a 0.12 higher GPA, according to a 2011 analysis by the University System of Georgia’s Consortium for Analysis of Student Success through International Education (CASSIE).

Boost your resume

About 76% of students who studied abroad in the last 50 years said they acquired valuable skills that impacted their career path, the IES Abroad survey found.

Studying abroad is a powerful way to build soft skills for your resume, like communication, leadership, problem solving and time management. More than 31 million job listings required these types of skills in 2019, according to NAFSA, the Association of International Educators.

Costs could be comparable or cheaper

Depending on the type of program and location you choose, the cost of study abroad could be comparable to your home university. It could even be cheaper.

For example, a student at the University of Louisville would pay $6,880 (plus airfare) for a semester abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand — less than the total in-state cost of a semester in Kentucky: $11,013, based on 2020-21 rates.

For the most affordable study abroad experience, choose a city with a lower cost of living and select your program carefully. Direct enrollment in a foreign institution or exchange programs run by a U.S. university are typically cheaper than study abroad programs operated by third-party providers.

In many cases, you can also use your financial aid package to study abroad.

When study abroad isn’t worth it

Studying abroad isn’t a good fit for every student. In fact, only about 5.9% of undergraduates study abroad in college, according to the Open Doors 2023 Report on International Educational Exchange. Here are a couple of reasons why you might reconsider studying abroad.

The program is too expensive

Think twice before committing to a pricey study abroad program if you can’t cover the tab with your financial aid package and savings.

If your financial aid package, including federal student loans, isn’t enough to cover the tab, some private student loans can help fill in funding gaps. However, private loans don’t offer the same borrower protections or flexible repayment options as their federal counterparts.

Your major doesn’t support it

Studying abroad isn’t a good choice if it will impact your ability to graduate on time. Not all programs will offer the class credit you need for your major. This is a particular challenge for STEM students, since they have a long list of specific required courses.

If you want to study abroad as an engineering student, start planning early, and save elective requirements for study abroad. Elective credits are easier to transfer back to your home institution than technical required courses. Meet with a study abroad advisor at your home university to discuss your options.

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