Planning To Study Abroad? Here Are Things Aspiring International Students Should Think About


For prospective international undergraduates eyeing U.S. colleges, weaving a study abroad experience into their academic journey can be a transformative decision.

As these students weigh their options, the choice between direct enrollment and affiliate programs becomes a critical factor. Let's delve into four key considerations guiding international students through this decision-making process.

Study Abroad Tips: Factors to Consider for Aspiring International Students
(Photo : Pexels / Tima Miroshnichenko)

1. Structured vs. Unstructured Programs

The first decision revolves around program structure. Affiliate programs offer a structured approach, managing aspects like visa assistance, travel arrangements, and accommodations. In contrast, direct enrollment provides a more unstructured experience, allowing students to shape their adventure, find accommodations, and explore the local culture independently. The decision often aligns with the student's preference for independence or the desire for additional support.

Susan Popko, Associate Provost for International Programs at Santa Clara University, notes, "Students choose those programs which best fit their academic needs." The choice between structured and unstructured programs hinges on personal preferences and the level of independence a student seeks.

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2. Language Fluency

Language fluency emerges as a crucial factor influencing the decision between direct enrollment and affiliate programs. Direct enrollment programs typically have stricter language requirements, requiring students to prove their proficiency through various means. On the other hand, affiliate programs, especially those catering to U.S. or international students, may conduct courses exclusively in English.

Amy Ruhter McMillan, Senior Associate Vice President of Global Marketing and Strategic Communications at IES Abroad, suggests that language considerations are less stringent today due to the availability of content courses in English. However, direct enrollment still offers more opportunities to immerse oneself in the host country's language, enhancing language skills while pursuing major-specific courses.

3. Cost and Timing

Understanding the financial implications is essential for international students. Affiliate programs often come with a higher price tag, encompassing services like continuous assessment, U.S.-style syllabi, and field trips. On average, study abroad programs globally cost around $14,295 per semester through affiliate programs, according to In contrast, direct enrollment tends to be more cost-effective, with students paying fees directly to the host institution.

Kathleen Sideli, Former Associate Vice President for Overseas Study at Indiana University, emphasizes the availability of financial aid for international students, irrespective of their choice between affiliate or direct enrollment. Scholarship opportunities and financial aid can significantly alleviate the financial burden associated with studying abroad.

4. The Visa Process

Navigating the visa process is a critical step for international students planning to study abroad. Both direct enrollment and affiliate programs require a thorough understanding of visa requirements. Schools often conduct visa workshops to prepare students, as the process can be time-consuming and subject to frequent changes.

Susan Popko advises international students to commence the visa application process early, acknowledging that visa requirements can vary based on nationality and the chosen study abroad destination. Maintaining F-1 visa status is crucial for international students studying abroad, with the Department of Homeland Security stipulating potential consequences for extended stays outside the U.S.

The decision between direct enrollment and affiliate programs is a nuanced one, influenced by personal preferences, academic goals, and financial considerations. International students should engage with study abroad advisers, leverage available resources, and plan meticulously to ensure a seamless and enriching experience. As the global classroom beckons, making an informed decision will pave the way for a transformative and culturally immersive academic journey.

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