How to Study Abroad in Community College

Explore programs offered by your community college and apply to scholarships intended for students earning an associate degree.
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About one-third of U.S. undergraduate students attend community colleges, but fewer than 1% of Americans who study abroad are working towards their two-year associate degree, according to 2021-22 data from the U.S. Education Department, U.S. State Department and the Institute for International Education (IIE). 

Don’t let that small percentage scare you off: studying abroad isn’t just for students at traditional four-year schools. Community college students can earn academic credit through study abroad programs — and, in some cases, financial aid packages can cover the bill. Short-term study abroad programs led by faculty at your community college, which usually last around two weeks, may also fit into your schedule more easily than a semester-long program.

Reach out to the study abroad office at your community college to learn about the options available to you. If your school doesn’t have a study abroad office, contact your academic advisor.

Here are the basics to studying abroad in community college.

Financial aid can be used for study abroad

Study abroad programs can run thousands of dollars, but your existing community college financial aid package may cover most — or all — of the price tag. Outside of tuition and required fees, you may have to plan for study abroad costs like airfare, food and local transportation.

Federal financial aid, including loans and grants, can help you pay for study abroad. If your study abroad program is more expensive than your community college, you may also be able to request a larger financial aid package through your school’s financial aid office.

If you qualify for the Pell Grant, which provides up to $7,395 to students with financial need, you may be able to use it for study abroad. Typically, your program must take place during a standard academic term for the Pell to apply.

Some scholarships cover study abroad

Scholarships can help community college students who aim to study abroad. If you qualify for the Pell Grant, consider applying to the U.S. State Department’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, which awards up to $8,000 to recipients. The Fund for Education Abroad also offers scholarships to community college students, like the Breakout Scholarship for Community College Students.

Your school may offer study abroad scholarships to its students. Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tenn. has four different study abroad scholarships, which can cover up to 60% of a program’s cost. Mesa Community College in Mesa, Ariz. offers study abroad scholarships up to $900.

Some foreign embassies also offer scholarships. Community College in France (CCF) operates a handful of two-week, intensive summer study abroad programs for U.S. community college students. The programs cost $2,400 overall, but the French Embassy offers $1,400 scholarships to help students with financial need.

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Consider faculty-led study abroad programs

The vast majority of community college students who studied abroad in the spring of 2023 — 92% — opted for faculty-led programs, compared with 55% of all U.S. study abroad students, according to IIE.

Faculty-led study abroad experiences typically last between one and three weeks, and often occur over a school break. An instructor from your community college will likely lead the trip, and you’ll study alongside other students from your community college. Since the program is connected to your community college, academic credits you earn abroad will transfer easily.

Your community college may collaborate with other schools to offer more faculty-led study abroad options. For example, the Washington Community College Consortium for Study Abroad (WCCCSA) is a group of 16 community colleges in Washington state that have joined together to offer dozens of study abroad programs. Some community colleges coordinate with larger institutions, like Northern Virginia Community College, which partners with George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University to expand its study abroad offerings.

Choose a study abroad destination

Choosing where to study abroad can be difficult. Maybe you want to go to an English-speaking country, or maybe you want to immerse yourself in a foreign language. Location also influences currency exchange rates and total program costs.

More than three-fourths of all community college students who studied abroad in 2021-22 opted for programs in Europe, according to IIE. The next most-popular host region was Latin America and the Caribbean.

Here are the top 10 study abroad countries for community college students:

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