International Student Exchange Programs | Top Universities

International Student Exchange Programs

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Staff Writer

Updated Mar 25, 2021



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A huge array of student exchanges and international placements are now offered at universities worldwide. Find out more about the main options available. 

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the European Union's student exchange program, Erasmus.

During that period more than two million students have travelled from one EU country to another for the purposes of "educational mobility", the formal term for what we all understand to mean international exchange or study abroad purposes.

Student exchange schemes have become very popular in the last 15 years or so, with more and more students taking the opportunity to study abroad as part of their home degree. 

Such schemes allow students, generally at the undergraduate level, to study for a period of between one month and one year in a different academic environment in an entirely different country but still earning credits towards their home degree qualification. 

These programs are not confined to Europe either. US institutions are the biggest participants in such schemes, sending more than 75,000 students a year to destinations as diverse as the UK, China, Argentina and Italy.

Find out about some of the world's most popular student exchange programs.

International student exchanges

The first and most common scheme available at universities is the international student exchange scheme. As the name implies, such a scheme is based on the formal exchange of students between two partner universities, with one student from the first university being swapped with another student from the second university. 

Such a scheme tends to be part of a broader relationship one particular university enjoys with another partner institution and tends to be administered by your universities International Office or Office of Student Exchange. 

Universities can enjoy partnerships with many, many other universities all over the world, allowing you an impressive choice of which university you might wish to attend.

Exchange schemes have a number of advantages, not least their generally low costs.  Because students are exchanged between one partner university and another, costs such as tuition fees, health insurance and student housing are paid by the student at their own university before travelling, making the cost almost the same as a normal academic session. 

Exchange schemes are administered over varying lengths of time, with one-semester programs currently being the most popular. During the period of exchange, students attend class and fulfil all other academic requirements of the host institution and bring a transcript of their performance back to their home university on completion of the exchange. 

The European Union's Erasmus student mobility program is an example of this kind of scheme, with the added bonus that travelling students are provided with small travel and living grants to facilitate their period away.

International study abroad placements

The second most commonly available scheme is the international study abroad program. This differs from exchanges in that students are allowed to choose from a far greater number of potential destinations and are not necessarily confined by their universities partnership programs. 

Indeed, in some cases, commercial third party companies offer academically orientated programs outside of the university situation in specialist areas such as conservation and development through which students still earn academic credit for their home degree while they are away.

More often, however, international study abroad schemes allow a student to study at another university anywhere in the world. Choosing your destination university and country is generally down to your personal preferences, though some degree programs, particularly those in the languages, will confine you to a more narrow choice. 

Your home university will offer you support and counselling throughout the process and advise you whether a semester or year spent at a particular university will count for the equivalent of your degree at home, ensuring that the length of your whole degree is not extended. 

If you are enrolled at a university with limited international links, international study abroad programs may still be accessible through other universities or organizations specializing in this kind of scheme. 

Boston University International Programs, for example, offers any student meeting their basic requirements the choice of one of their 65 programs hosted in 30 countries in academic subjects such as engineering, fine arts, languages and liberal arts. 

Meanwhile the Institute for Study Abroad at Butler University offers programs at universities in countries as diverse as Cuba, Ireland, Mexico and Wales, in addition to summer placements and internships.

International study abroad schemes, whether offered by your own university or another organization, offer a far greater range of choice for you as a student and tend to be more flexible. 

However, in some situations, particularly if you use a third party organization for your study abroad experience, significant tuition, accommodation and service fees are levied, making a year abroad potentially quite an expensive proposition. As with anything, make sure you read the small print.

Semester at Sea

And for those of you with a more adventurous spirit not already served by such study abroad destinations as Australia, Costa Rica or Ecuador, how about spending a semester at sea? 

For more than ten years the Semester at Sea program has offered ship-based academic programs for students interested in an entirely new way of studying. Either offered as a 100-day fall or spring semester, earning you the 12 credits of a traditional program, or a shorter 65-day summer session, providing nine academic credits, Semester at Sea blends the development of academic tools in a unique environment. 

Participation in Semester at Sea allows students to test what they learn in the classroom against what they see when they reach dry land during the voyage. With academic credit being approved by the University of Virginia, Semester at Sea offers courses in a range of global issues, set in the context of the countries being visited. 

In 2007, programs in the environment, population, foreign policy and economics make up much of the curriculum.

Whatever your interests, the opportunity to spend a semester or a year at another university in another country is one that you should grab with two hands. The different cultural view, not to mention the exposure to another way of learning will add great value to your university experience.

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