How to Get the Most Benefits of Study Abroad

There are seven key benefits of study abroad that cover personal, professional, and academic outcomes. These benefits are based on multiple research studies but here, you can find simple explanations, along with practical steps you can take to maximize your benefits.

Study abroad is all about the experiences you have and the relationships you form.
When you find an awesome study abroad program, you won’t be sitting around thinking “gee, I’m improving my cultural competence.” You won’t be taking “Cultural Competence 101”. You’ll be out attending a Japanese harvest festival with your new best friend from Italy. Or doing international market research for a Swiss company alongside classmates from Romania and New Zealand. You get the picture.

The best places to study abroad are the universities that give you access to the most opportunities to achieve the benefits below.

Click the links to learn more, or check out the individual articles to the right for specific benefits and how to achieve them! You can also use the Studying Abroad Benefits Tool to see how your university or study abroad program performs.

Personal Development

The challenges and new experiences faced during study abroad help develop independence, confidence, resilience, and maturity among students. To rate highly for this benefit, universities should present students with both challenges and the tools to overcome them.


Some study abroad goal statements refer to “global engagement,” but the ability to tackle problems in unfamiliar situations benefits not only those students who go on to work in international environments but also those who choose to take action in their home communities. Deep cultural involvement and non-traditional study abroad destinations offer students some of the best exposure to unique communities and challenges and so score well for this benefit.

Global Awareness

Global awareness is a study abroad benefit that yields rewards even if students never set foot outside their home country again. Study abroad participants interact with their host country as well as other students from around the world to understand how a variety of perspectives and goals come together to form the global situation. While expanded global awareness is all-but-assumed for study abroad students, universities that offer a wider range of interaction and deliberate reflection opportunities score higher here.

Cultural Competence

Whereas Global Awareness is a development of students’ ability to understand the broader considerations of a particular subject or situation, Cultural Competence refers to the ability to understand people. Students who develop cultural competence – an understanding of themselves as well as of others – will be better able to act in intercultural situations in the future and will develop the ability to resolve disagreements between conflicting viewpoints within the same culture. Universities that present students with a high number of opportunities to critically question their own culture and explore others will score well for this benefit.

Language Development

Only study abroad destinations in countries with a different primary language from the student’s home country are eligible for this study abroad benefit. Language development yields benefits beyond ability in the single language studied; it enables students to think critically about their communication and to communicate ideas in alternate ways. Study abroad destinations with the most comprehensive collection of instruction and resources for language ability development will score highest for this benefit.

Career Preparedness

While almost every benefit on this list contributes to career preparedness by developing abilities and mental strength that will apply across students’ personal and professional lives, this benefit of study abroad focuses on outcomes that correlate more specifically to professional skills. Universities that offer better opportunities to build a diverse network, to develop communication ability, and to gain in-depth understanding of the market environment in their host culture set up their international students for success in any field, from public service to entrepreneurship, and so score higher for this benefti.

Academic Performance

The academic goals and needs of study abroad students differ from a university’s degree-seeking students. Study abroad is an exercise in experiential learning, so students in these programs benefit from the opportunity to discover new ideas and to relate their studies to real-world issues, with the goal of fostering a commitment to lifelong learning. This benefit ranks how universities provide opportunities and support for their short-term international students to accomplish those outcomes, which will contribute to improved academic performance after their return home.
Note: The availability of sufficient English-taught courses in a student’s subject area is an important consideration, but this is addressed through the ranking chart filter system for the purposes of clarity and customization.


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Studies on Benefits of Study Abroad

There is a growing field of research into study abroad benefits from both universities and study abroad program providers. This research consistently points to the outcomes that universities or students can expect from studying abroad, but it reflects an average outcome, with no consideration given to whether one program is better than another for achieving these outcomes. The Seven Benefits of Study Abroad builds on the research below by evaluating which destinations perform better for each identified benefit.

GLOSSARI – Georgia Learning Outcomes of Students Studying Abroad Research Initiative (2010)

GLOSSARI primarily covers academic outcomes of studying abroad for individual students. One of the more interesting conclusions was that students who studied abroad tended to graduate with higher GPAs and had a 10% higher chance of graduating in 4 years, as compared to a student with the same pre-study abroad credit, GPA, and SAT background. This research contributed significantly to the “Academic Performance” study abroad benefit.

Beyond Immediate Impact: Study Abroad for Global Engagement (SAGE) – 2009

This tracer study of former study abroad students highlighted the value of their experiences in contributing to their future global engagement. Perhaps one of the most important conclusions was, “Destination and depth of program were strongly related. This suggests that programs in non-traditional parts of the world are likely to have more depth and be less shallow than programs in traditional study abroad locations.” Depth of experience is an important criteria throughout The Best Places to Study Abroad’s Seven Benefits of Study Abroad and the measurement criteria.

Maximizing Study Abroad Through Language and Culture Strategies – 2005

Among other findings, this research discussed the importance of both classroom and out-of-classroom language learning during study abroad and the connection between language and culture learning. These conclusions were key to determining the characteristics of a university and language program that would lead to improved language development.

IES Surveys of Former Study Abroad Students – 1999 and 2011

These surveys show students’ self-reported outcomes and also discuss the relationship between study abroad and career prospects. One of the important conclusions for the Career Preparedness study abroad benefit is that for job seekers, the experience of having adapted to a particular foreign culture is less important than the development of the ability to adapt to new and unknown situations (as demonstrated by having adapted to a foreign culture).

Falling Short – College Learning and Career Success – American Association of Colleges and Universities

According to this 2015 survey, approximately 78% of US employers agree that college students should gain intercultural skills and an understanding of societies and cultures outside the US. More importantly, 96% percent state that students should gain experiences that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own. While study abroad is apparently not valued for its own sake, the skills and experiences gained a deep and engaging study abroad program are in high demand.

Best Places to Study Abroad Methodology

This research was invaluable in narrowing down the list of Seven Benefits of Study Abroad, above. The Best Places to Study Abroad takes it a step further to determine how a study abroad experience contributes to outcome achievement. We have built on these outcomes through personal investigation and interviews of hundreds of short-term study abroad students, conversations with international student advisers and program managers from around the world, and also through analysis of student blogs, to determine which measurable experiences and university characteristics helped students achieve the outcomes in the Seven Benefits.

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