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Book store in Madrid, Spain

Photo credit: Alana Elliott '20 (Spain, NYU Madrid, spring 2019)

Why study abroad? 

We're glad you asked! Research has shown that NOT studying abroad is the number one regret that College graduates have about their College experience. Don't let that be you!

Studying abroad broadens your academic perspective. It allows you to view your field through another academic lens, and to expand your professional and personal network by learning from local experts, engaging with peers during field trips, lab work, and in the classroom. It also gives you the opportunity to learn a new language or fully immerse yourself in a second language, depending on the program you pick.

A semester spent studying in a new academic and cultural context also provides for tremendous opportunities for personal growth. You may be cooking for yourself for the first time, organizing a trip for new friends, joining a local sports club, or uniting in prayer with others in a new place of worship. Study abroad alumni often comment on a newfound sense of independence and on the incredible feeling of knowing that they did something new, boosting their confidence. Students often develop important skills such as flexibility, open-mindedness, and a sense of comfort with ambiguity. 

Finally, studying abroad is a phenomenal resume builder. Only about 10% of college students study abroad (approximately 40% of Swat students study abroad), so your resume will almost certainly stand out if you can list an international experience. Even better, study abroad is a great conversation-starter. You may find that potential employers ask you about your abroad experience - why did you go, what did you learn - which can be a great help for a successful job interview. Employers look for employees who are self-starters, take initiative, are responsible and can work well with individuals from different cultural backgrounds. A study abroad experience is a great way to show employers that you have those skills they are looking for. 

When to Study Abroad?

Ideally, planning for study abroad should begin as early as freshman year. You can study abroad in the spring of sophomore year, during  junior year, or fall of senior year (with permission from your major department), for one or two semesters. Some students choose to spend an academic year abroad in one location, and others spend two semesters abroad, on two different programs; these can be consecutive or non-consecutive semesters. Students who plan to study abroad spring of their sophomore year declare their major during the fall semester of the sophomore year. 

Many students choose to study abroad in the summer, which is not organized through Global Engagement. Several academic departments can give you information about summer opportunities and funding possibilities. For further information see Summer Programs.

Academic Preparation

Any student, no matter their major, should be able to participate in a study abroad experience - but you may need to plan carefully! Some study abroad programs require a certain level of language proficiency or pre-requisites in major subjects. Some factors to consider are the timing of study abroad in light of the sequencing of courses at Swarthmore, required courses for the major, and the twenty-course rule. Students should discuss their interest in pursuing study abroad in their meetings with their academic advisor and later with their major advisor(s).

Pre-Med and Pre-Law

If you are a pre-medical student, you should not take any of your required pre-med coursework abroad. For more information about scheduling required courses to free up a semester to make study abroad possible, consult the Health Science Office's Guide to Premedical Studies.

Gigi Simeone, Health Sciences/Pre-law Advisor is available to chat if you have questions or concerns.


With early and careful planning it’s possible to do an honors program along with one semester abroad during junior or senior year. Some students have done an honors preparation based on work done abroad, which can be an incredibly rewarding experience. If you're interested in this, you'll work closely with your academic department, both before your abroad experience and after your return to Swarthmore. The chair of your actual or prospective major department will be the main advisor for this.


With proper planning many Swarthmore athletes are able to participate in study abroad. Students should work with their coaches to determine the best time frame in which to study abroad, and how to network with athletic programs while abroad.

Campus Leaders

Swarthmore students can often participate in a study abroad semester during the same year that they hold campus leadership positions (Resident Assistants, Writing Associates, Career Peer Advisors, etc.), if these positions only require a one-semester commitment and training can take place before or after the semester abroad. For positions that require a one-year commitment, students can usually study abroad the semester before or after the year in which they hold the position, without study abroad impacting their chances of being selected for the position. Please refer to this sheet for detailed policies surrounding campus leadership positions and study abroad.

Career Services

You should reflect on your academic and career interests and while abroad take advantage of opportunities to network with professors, career centers, host families, friends, program coordinators, Swarthmore alums, and others. The online alumni directory and LinkedIn are good resources to connect with Swarthmore alums. Students should consider taking advantage of school breaks to set up job shadowing externships.

If you are planning an internship prior to or following an abroad semester, please note that start and end dates might not be flexible and may be in conflict with the dates of the study abroad program. Students are not allowed to change the end dates of their programs. You can sign up for e-recruiting and UCAN to access online databases. If a placement requires an interview, consider asking the employer if the interview can be done by phone or Zoom. The Career Services website provides information on how to arrange an externship in the US. 

Alumni Directory

The online alumni directory is a great resource for study abroad participants. Before you go, check the directory to see if there are alumni near your study abroad location who would like to connect. Many students have reported that connecting with Swarthmore alumni was a great aspect of the abroad experience. If you need assistance with your password/log-on information you should contact the Alumni Office.

Faculty Perspective

Studying abroad could be one of the most rewarding experiences of your college career. Living in a different culture exposes you to different ways of thinking and experiencing life. However, the most important lesson to learn abroad is getting to know yourself from another perspective. Dare to explore the world!