Answering Parents' Questions on Study Abroad

Global experience is increasingly being seen as a valuable and intrinsic component of an undergraduate education. Study abroad is one of the popular ways that MIT students go abroad, along with international internships, research, and service. In this article, staff from Global Education & Career Development (GECD) and our campus partners address some of the common questions and concerns that parents have about study abroad programs.

What’s new in MIT’s study abroad offerings?

Our programs continually evolve and we strive to be innovative in creating offerings that adapt to students’ changing needs and interests. For example, in the 2017-18 academic year, we have vastly expanded the departments participating in the MIT-Imperial College London Exchange Program in the UK (from 2 to 9 departments now), added Course 6 to our ETH-Zurich exchange program, and launched additional IAP courses: one in Madrid and one in London. We also continue to send students to new locations for direct enrollment programs, including University of Edinburgh (Scotland) and Fudan University (China) this past fall, and Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (Germany) and University of New South Wales (Australia) this semester.

-Malgorzata Hedderick, Associate Dean, Global Education, GECD

Who will help my student find the right global education program?

As the Global Education Advisor at GECD, it is my job to help all students understand the vast global options available to them through MIT programs and beyond. I will help your student explore the different avenues of international education, including but not limited to traditional academic study abroad, international internships, international research, and service learning opportunities. I work closely with each student to understand his or her motivation for going abroad to find the best possible option. As each student has different and unique motivators, we offer a mix of options, including departmental exchange, direct enrollment, faculty-led, and third-party provider programs.

Students can spend their January term (IAP) in Madrid, Spain or London, UK, taking one of four courses offered by MIT faculty, or spend their summer on a research exchange at Imperial College London. We also have a long list of semester-long departmental exchange programs with different universities across the world, including the University of Tokyo (Japan), Imperial College London (UK), University of Oxford (UK), University of Pretoria (South Africa), ETH Zurich (Switzerland), Sciences Po (France), Delft University of Technology (Netherlands), and University of Hong Kong. Through collaboration and careful planning with faculty and staff on the MIT campus, we will provide your student with the tools and resources he or she needs to not only succeed abroad, but receive credit and stay on track for graduation.

– Sara Stratton, Global Education Advisor, GECD

Will study abroad pose challenges for completing major requirements and/or graduating on time?

Students can earn transfer credit towards their major, minor or HASS electives, which allows students to make normal progress towards graduating on time. A typical course load abroad during a semester is four courses. Students can also earn credit over IAP and summer, thus reducing their course load during the academic term at MIT.

MIT makes the process simple by having faculty Transfer Credit Examiners in each department that can pre-approve subjects abroad for transfer credit. They will evaluate the depth and breadth of the coursework to ensure that it meets rigorous MIT standards. Courses taken successfully abroad will appear as an “S” for Satisfactory on the student’s transcript. Students know before going abroad how the credit will apply towards their degree. The earlier the student plans ahead, the better! 

- Julie Maddox, Assistant Dean, Global Education, GECD

When is the best time for a student to study abroad? When should planning begin?

We recommend that students start considering their study abroad options and plans as early as possible. Freshman and sophomores can leverage an early study abroad experience as a stepping stone towards an international internship or research experience by studying abroad during IAP or summer. Upperclassmen often participate in semester programs (some of which are departmental exchanges) that they arrange with the support of our office. We encourage students to meet with a Global Education Advisor at GECD to learn about all their options and build a plan. We are here for students every step of the way to make this process easier.

– Malgorzata Hedderick, Associate Dean, Global Education, GECD

How can study abroad help with landing an internship or post-graduate employment?

Students who have studied abroad tend to have stronger communication skills. They are able to connect better with individuals in the interview process and have a greater sense of themselves. Confidence also seems to be a bit higher in that the study abroad student has overcome being the new person in an entirely new country, sometimes in environments with a completely different language. That experience is not unlike the experience a student will have being a new hire at an internship or job with a company that has its own cultural norms and language.

– Tamara Menghi, Associate Director, Employer Relations & Career Programs, GECD

Without a doubt, employers are seeking employees who have international experience and knowledge, and who are comfortable working in culturally diverse environments. Study abroad helps students gain the “global intelligence” skills essential for succeeding in today’s global economy.

– Melanie Parker, Executive Director, GECD

How will study abroad affect my student’s graduate school plans?

Study abroad allows students to broaden their world view and return with skills that are valuable to present while applying for graduate schools. Although graduate school can be perceived as demanding and sometimes isolating, international experiences can help ease the transition and affirm students’ capacity to practice their adaptability and expanded sense of community.

– Tyrene Jones, Assistant Director, Career Counseling & Training, GECD

Students applying to medical school need to work closely with the Global Education team along with Prehealth Advising when planning for study abroad. There are often several pre-requisite courses that Prehealth students need to take, and planning out when they will take them is important. It is always great if a Prehealth student can volunteer or shadow a doctor when they are studying abroad because it allows them to see two types of healthcare systems.

Our Prehealth students who have studied abroad say that their experience made them stand out as an individual in med school interviews. They also reported that their study abroad experience helped them learn to manage uncertainty and problem solve, skills that are very important for medical school.

– Aleshia Carlsen-Bryan, Senior Assistant Director, Prehealth Advising, GECD

Can we afford study abroad?

Yes! If students study abroad during the fall or spring semester, or academic year, their financial aid package is portable. MIT’s Student Financial Services (SFS) work with undergraduate financial aid recipients to enable them to participate in study abroad options. A student’s expense budget is adjusted to reflect the expenses of the specific study abroad program in which the student is participating. SFS staff can counsel students on how studying abroad can affect financial aid and billing. All financial aid is disbursed to the student’s MIT account. In addition, many scholarships are available for IAP and summer study abroad and our office is happy to help students apply for them.

– Julie Maddox, Assistant Dean, Global Education, GECD

What should students be aware of before departing for study abroad?

We have a pre-departure checklist (PDF) for practical tips on topics including passports and visas, finances, and health & safety issues. We also have required orientation sessions that address these topics in depth. For example, we stress to students the importance of making sure that their passports will not expire within a certain timeframe of their return to the United States.  Some countries require that your passport be valid at least six months beyond the dates of your program. Some airlines will not allow you to board if this requirement is not met.  We make sure that students are completely informed of everything they need to do before leaving for their study abroad program.

– Sara Stratton, Global Education Advisor, GECD

Will my student be safe studying overseas?

MIT provides a range of information and resources designed to ensure the safety and security of our community while traveling abroad.

MIT’s approach is to prepare students to understand the travel risks in their destinations through pre-travel information sessions that address health, safety, and security concerns. For health care issues, MIT Medical’s Travel Health Clinic professional staff is available to provide advice, immunizations, and specialized assistance to reduce the likelihood of contracting an illness while abroad.  Referring students to the Travel Health Clinic is always stressed in pre-trip planning. For security and safety issues, MIT’s program for International Safety and Security supports program staff to review safety risks abroad and if required put in place additional guidance for students to follow. The International Safety and Security program also monitors the global situation and in the event of a serious incident, coordinates wellness checks with program managers to account for all student travelers.

If a student experiences an incident and needs assistance, MIT contracts with International SOS for a medical or security response. In the event an incident if critical, MIT has an international crisis team on stand-by to respond with additional support up to including medical or security evacuations.

– Todd Holmes, Program Manager, International Safety & Security, MIT