The Best Places to Study Abroad recognizes that academic rigor and world-class research is rarely a deciding factor in students’ study abroad program selection – or in their goals, at all. While study abroad destinations do need to meet certain minimum standards of academic performance to facilitate credit transfer back to students’ home universities, the focus should be on academic offerings appropriate to the international experience and maximizing the unique benefits of studying abroad.
International Academic Experience
Study abroad should offer a classroom environment unlike students’ home countries, both in terms of the faculty and student body makeup, as well as the topics of instruction. This makes some universal measurements of academic quality, such as small class sizes and faculty diversity, even more important in order to enhance the benefits of the setting. Other qualities, such as offering courses in a variety of disciplines that draw on the local country and community, are unique to study abroad settings but important to connecting the academic and international aspects of the experience.
Criteria considered for the Academic Offerings Quality score include:
- Small class sizes combining local and international students
- Courses available in local history, culture, sociology, business, etc.
- Faculty and student diversity
Language Development Resources
Language development resources count towards universities’ Academic Offerings Quality score even for universities with the same language base as their incoming students. Unlike the Seven Benefits, the Three Qualities look at the infrastructure and support systems that a university provides for its international students as indicators of its overall quality of service. A university with a robust language program is invested in providing for the needs of its international students at an organizational level, and that means that it will be better staffed and prepared to meet the needs of incoming international students, regardless of their language needs.
The more responsive a university’s language program to individual needs, the more likely it is that they will be equally responsive to students’ other academic needs. The Academic Offerings Quality score looks for:
- For-credit language courses, including core and skill-specific courses
- Language courses for specific purposes (academic, business, etc.)
- Non-credit language learning programs
The Bottom Line on Academics Abroad
The GLOSSARI study found that students taking a course at home earned higher grades than those taking the identical course abroad, but the students who took it abroad saw an increase in overall academic performance after returning and also developed practical skills. The importance of academics abroad is not in course rigor – that often falls short of home-university offerings – but in the international perspective on the subject matter and the development of new ways of thinking.
That is not to say that students should not invest themselves wholeheartedly in their coursework! The only way to obtain the benefits of academics abroad is to be dedicated and take advantage of the resources available. Students should also be aware that even when courses transfer home as Pass/Fail credits, in most cases, those grades will be counted when applying for graduate school!