Oberlin Blogs

The Study Abroad Series: Finding a Program

September 29, 2013

Emily Wilkerson ’15

In case you didn't know, I'm studying abroad in Munich, Germany this year!

Me at Oktoberfest

Getting ready to chow down at Oktoberfest.

If you're interested in studying away and read the Oberlin blogs, chances are that you've checked out the study abroad post category. I've read a lot of the posts there and they're great, but they are relatively few in number. That's why I've decided to start a series of posts on studying abroad, partially inspired by this year's blogger application.

Since I've been here in Munich for a little less than a week and classes haven't begun yet, I can't really give you any insights about studying abroad. What I do happen to know a lot about is applying for study away and choosing a program.

How to Start: Where or What
So you want to study away! Hooray! Your first goal should be to figure out what sort of program you're interested in. As with applying to college, there are a lot of variables to consider: program size, location, duration, language, cost, and associations with local or home universities. I would suggest one of two starting points: location or subject area. Regardless of what angle you want to take, the list of Oberlin Affiliated Programs is a great place to start.

Affiliated Programs: Your New Best Friends
Oberlin Affiliated Study Away Programs are programs run by institutions separate from the college that allow you to use your Oberlin financial aid and pay Oberlin tuition while you're on the program. They are different from the three Oberlin Enrolled-Not-in-Residence Programs - Oberlin in Italy, Oberlin in London, and PRESHCO or Programa de Estudios Hispánicos en Córdoba - which are run by the college. You should absolutely check out the Enrolled-Not-in-Residence Programs, but there are only a few of them and they don't work for everyone. By comparison, there are over 90 affiliated programs and the college adds to that list all the time.

If you click over to the list, you'll see that the programs are organized by continent and country, but the page also includes language of instruction, the length of the program (some programs are only available for one semester or for a full year), and a link to the program website. This is very convenient for people who know where they want to study, but if you know what you want to study, you can make it work for you. Start by scanning the names of the programs and if something seems related to your interests, click over to its website to learn more.

Next Step: Expand, then Focus Your Search
If you're overwhelmed by the sheer number of options or have trouble finding what you're looking for, I have some suggestions:

  1. Talk to your advisor. Some departments recommend specific programs for their majors and that might narrow your search quite a bit. Even if this isn't the case, most professors at least know the names of the study away programs in their subject area.

  2. Talk to someone from the Office of Study Away. These people are the experts. Chances are they've answered your questions before and even if they haven't, they know the list of affiliated programs back to front and are acquainted with all of the major study away providers.

  3. Do a bit of googling. It sounds silly, but if I got good results from "study abroad Germany," chances are you'll get good results for "study abroad [insert subject or location here]." If you find a program that you like from googling, talk to someone from the Office of Study Away about it. They can help you determine how legit it is and give you some insight about how likely they would be to approve it. There are also a lot of resources on the Study Away website that can help you find non-affiliated programs, but honestly, I didn't use any of them, so I don't know how helpful they are.

  4. Go to the study away fair. Unlike other study abroad events I attended, the study away fair was very helpful to me. The programs there don't line up to the list of Affiliated programs exactly, but that's ok actually because you get a good sense of what's out there.

I recommend looking at a wide range of programs because, in my experience, it's hard to know exactly what you want before you know what's available. As you look at your options, you'll start to figure out what sounds like it will work for you and eliminate programs that won't suit your needs. Ideally you'll end up with a few programs that interest you and decide to apply to one, two or three of them.

Applying to Study Away: The Twofold Path
There are two steps to applying to study away. First you have to apply for your academic leave. If I remember correctly, this application is pretty simple. The main part of the application is an essay in which you explain why you want to study abroad and how the programs you're applying to suit your goals concisely and concretely. You also have to have declared your major, chosen the programs you're applying to, and "be in good academic standing" to get your application approved. The good news is that most people do get their applications approved, which only leaves program applications.

Every program application is different; generally, though, they include at least one faculty recommendation, an essay about why you want to study on that program, and a copy of your transcript. They might also include a language test, or an indication of what courses you'd like to take while studying away. Nota bene: you do not need to worry too much about these applications. You should absolutely devote due effort to them and make sure that they are clear and typo-free, but the stress that accompanies college applications has no place here. (I say this as someone who stressed way too much about college applications. Seriously my heart hurts when I think about people who are applying to college.) Most people get accepted to all of the study abroad programs they apply to and those who don't are most often rejected because almost all programs have rolling deadlines and some fill up quickly. So if anything, I'd say get your program application out soon rather than stewing and attempting to make it perfect.

An Extra Step
If you choose to apply to a program that's neither affiliated nor ENR, congrats! You have to do another application! I didn't have to do this one, so I don't know too much about it, but the gist is that you have to prove to the Office of Study Away that your program is legitimate and offers something that none of the other affiliated programs do. This can be difficult if there are a lot of affiliated programs in the country you want to go to, so I'd advise having a backup plan just in case.

That's pretty much it. Not too scary, right? My last general piece of advice is to utilize the Office of Study Away. Their website is very informative (so informative in fact that their general info sessions are pretty much pointless if you've read their website), and meeting with someone from the office is actually a required step for filling out your ALOA and a worthwhile one at that. You do yourself a disservice if you ignore the office and try to do everything on your own.

Now I have some questions for you:
Are you interested in more posts about study away? On what topics specifically?
Would you be interested to know about how I chose my program? (I debated including that information in this post but I wasn't sure how relevant it was.)
Would profiles of other Obies studying abroad interest you?
Can you think of a better name for this series? The puns are coming slowly today.

I'll be checking back in a few days so please ask away! Tschau!

Similar Blog Entries

Show! Show! Show!*

February 29, 2024

Ricarda Hill

In which the Oberlin-in-London program introduced me to the world of London theatre and fulfilled the "study abroad is life-changing" cliché.
Ricarda Hill