Skip to main content

Timing, Planning, and Choosing


When should I start planning?

Ideally, planning for study abroad should begin as early as freshman year. You'll need to begin the study abroad process no later than two semesters prior to your intended term abroad. Some aspects of study abroad may affect your other plans as a Swarthmore student and are best to consider as soon as possible (​​​​academic, financial, health-related, etc.).

When can I study abroad?

You're eligible to study abroad during the second semester of sophomore year, either semester junior year, or the first semester of senior year. Students who plan to study abroad spring of their sophomore year declare their major during the fall semester of the sophomore year. First-semester seniors need approval from their major department(s)/program(s) to study abroad. GEO cannot approve requests for study abroad in the second semester of your senior year.

Some academic departments/programs have selected a semester that's best for study abroad. Be sure to check your department's/program's website and discuss the timing of your term abroad with your academic/major advisor. 

How long can I study abroad?  Can I go more than once?

You can study abroad for up to two semesters. You could spend the full academic year at one abroad institution, or you can spend each semester at a different institution, in a different location. Being away for a year requires careful planning, but it's definitely possible!

When do I apply?

January 15 is the Swarthmore application deadline for study abroad in the fall term or for the full academic year. June 1 is the Swarthmore application deadline for study abroad in the spring term.

Before you can start an application for Swarthmore approval, you will need to attend a Study Abroad 101 Session and an individual advising session, so you'll need to start the process several weeks in advance of the application deadline.

Once you receive Swarthmore's approval, you will need to meet the external application deadlines for each program that has been authorized. In the case of programs with rolling admissions, it is important to apply early in the application cycle. You can find more specific details on our Step-by-Step page.

Why does Oxford have a different deadline?

If you wish to study abroad at Oxford, Cambridge, or the London School of Economics in your junior year, you will need to submit your Swarthmore application by December 1 of your sophomore year. This priority deadline will allow you to meet the external deadlines for programs (all supplemental materials are due by January or February for Oxford). Due to the competitive nature of these programs, early planning is advised.

Do programs have different dates from Swarthmore?

Yes. Some programs start and end significantly earlier or later than a semester at Swarthmore. You'll need to make your summer and/or winter break plans around the dates of your program.


Who can I go to for help?

The GEO team is here to help! During your advising appointment, we will help you navigate your program options, and answer any questions you may have. And of course you can always email us.

Do I need to consult my academic department?

Most academic departments/programs have information about off-campus study on their websites. These websites often provide details on the following:

  • Recommended study abroad programs
  • A semester that's best for study abroad
  • Departmental policies on study abroad credit (see details on our Coursework and Credits page)

Therefore, be sure to check your department/program's website. If you can't find information online, you can contact your academic advisor.

Are letters of reference required?

While letters of reference are not required for Swarthmore's internal application, some study abroad programs require one or more letters of recommendation for their external applications. Be sure to check guidelines on recommendations provided by your program(s) of interest. It is your responsibility to contact the recommender to request the reference and to provide them with instructions to submit their letter. Remember, you may not be the only student requesting a letter, so be considerate of your recommender's time! Give them as much time as possible to complete the reference, and be sure to give them whatever information may be helpful to them in drafting their letter.

Did you get into your program of choice? Share the good news with your recommender! They will appreciate hearing from you.

How can I learn about prior Swarthmore students' study abroad experiences?

We encourage you to read previous students' evaluations, and talk to past participants of programs you are considering.


What programs are available?

The GEO program database includes all Swarthmore-approved programs. Click here to access the program database.

You can search for programs on the database by selecting from a range of parameters (e.g., location, area of study, academic focus, housing options, languages of instruction, etc.). If you prefer to search by geographical region, you can do a map search on the database.

What factors should I consider when comparing options?

 You can base your decision on the factors that are most important to you. The factors below may impact your study abroad experience:

  • Country/region: Are you interested in a particular country or region? Research the local culture, history, geography, politics, etc.
  • Academic area(s): Do you wish to explore your academic interests in a new location and possibly receive credit toward your major or minor? Research courses offered by program(s) of interest and familiarize yourself with Swarthmore's credit policies.
  • Living situation: Would you prefer to live with a local family or other students who attend the same program or host university? Depending on the program, housing options may include a homestay, a dorm room, or an apartment off-campus. Do you want to cook for yourself while abroad? Some programs provide meals, while others require you to prepare your own food.
  • Language learning/immersion: Are you seeking full language immersion, a language course, or a program with no language requirement? Swarthmore offers programs in each category.
  • Learning outside the classroom: Do you hope to participate in an internship, field experience, service learning, etc.? Many programs offer these opportunities, sometimes for academic credit. Some programs offer trips and cultural activities as part of the academic curriculum (which the programs pay for).
What should I know about types of programs?
  • Direct Enrollment: At a direct enrollment institution, you essentially become a student at a university abroad. You'll have an immersive academic experience, since you'll need to adapt to another country's academic system. Most Swarthmore-approved direct enrollment institutions are in English-speaking countries such as Australia, Ireland, and the U.K. You often take classes with local students and other international students, taught by local faculty. Direct enrollment programs require independence and initiative, since there is often more planning that you're responsible for (e.g., securing housing and applying for a visa).
  • Exchange: Exchange programs are direct enrollment institutions that have a special partnership with Swarthmore College. Swarthmore both sends and receives students from partner institutions. Our current exchange partners are Ashesi University, the University of Tokyo, Middlebury College, and Pomona College. Exchanges programs have a unique application process and timeline and are often selective. Meet with a GEO advisor early if one of these programs interest you, so that you can learn the details.
  • Third-Party Provider ("Programs"): The majority of Swarthmore-approved programs are organized by a third party that creates programs specifically for study abroad participants from U.S. institution (examples of providers include CIEE, DIS, SFS, and SIT). In these programs, you take classes with other study abroad students, which usually follow the U.S. education model. However, you'll still have an immersive experience abroad, since these programs often offer local activities, paid travel, and opportunities for community engagement. Providers will arrange your housing and provide on-site support during your term abroad.
  • Hybrid: These programs are the "best of both worlds" in that a Third-Party provider works with you to make arrangements and offer support, but you are also given the opportunity (or required) to enroll in classes at a local university. Many hybrid programs require a level of language fluency to ensure that you can take university-level classes in the local language.


Can I apply for a program that is not on Swarthmore's approved program list?

When you have a valid academic reason for proposing to study abroad on a program that is not on Swarthmore’s approved list, you may submit a request that such a program/institution be considered on a petition basis.   

You will need to discuss this request with a GEO advisior, who can open a petition request in your GEO portal. You will then have an opportunity to ellaborate on the details of your proposed program. 

In order to considered by the faculty committee, completed petitions must be submitted 30 days prior to the application deadline for your semester of study (i.e., by May 1 for Spring or December 15 for Fall).

Your petition on behalf of a non-approved program will be considered on its own grounds and apart from your subsequent student application to be approved for study abroad. 

Can I study abroad in a country with a travel warning for elevated risk?

Any time a student is seeking to study or conduct research in an elevated risk location,  their petition must be pre-approved by the International Travel and Risk Management Committee (ITRMC) . 

This mandatory review is required even if a program has status as one of Swarthmore's "approved programs."  The latter is a merit-based determination, rather than a reflection of fast-changing safety variables in a given location.

Please request an advisory meeting as soon as possible if you are seeking to study abroad in a country that has been classified by the U.S. Department of State as:

  • Level 3: Reconsider Travel
  • Level 4: Do not Travel
  • Other (with an orange-coded advisory)

Your advisor can open a "Petition to Study or Research in Elevated Risk Location" in your GEO portal.   You will need to submit your completed request for ITRMC consideration 30 days prior to the application deadline for your semester of study.

When reviewing requests, the ITRMC considers a number of factors including, but not limited to, the academic value of the proposed travel and the student’s preparedness and understanding of the risks specific to the region.

The ITRMC will continue to monitor locations where travel approval has been granted. In the event the risk rating changes and/or the travel environment deteriorates, the College reserves the right to rescind approval or revise the conditions of travel. 

Can I take a leave of absence?

Occasionally a student may choose to take a "leave of absence" to pursue an independent opportunity abroad, before returning back to their academic program at Swarthmore.  

Students who choose this option are NOT eligible for financial aid and can NOT transfer the credit earned while on-leave overseas to your program at Swarthmore College.

For planning purposes, please be aware that some institutions and/or programs will only allow students to participate if they are "study abroad" students who have been approved by the Global Engagement Office and are not able to host unaffiliated students. 

If considering a leave of absence, please follow the instructions on the Office of Academic Success' website  about taking time off: consult the Leaving and Returning pages, and be sure to remain in regular contact with your academic/major advisor, and/or Dean.