Study abroad is a life-changing experience for college students.
I’ll never forget my experience in Zimbabwe, for instance. Before I spent a semester during my junior year at Colorado College studying in this southern African nation, I was sure I wanted to go to medical school and work in a major U.S. city.
But when I returned from Zimbabwe, I was smitten with a desire to explore more of the world. As a result, I ended up joining the student newspaper and pursuing a career in journalism rather than medicine. I then spent the better part of the decade after I graduated from college continent-hopping around the globe, including multiple return trips to Africa, writing more than 30 travel guides for Lonely Planet.
I’m far from the only one who had a transformative study abroad program. Today Eric Stoen runs a popular family travel blog, Travel Babbo, which has roots in his experience studying in Italy and Germany while at Pepperdine University.
“After Pepperdine, I got my Masters in International Management, largely as a result of my studies in Europe, and I kept traveling,” Stoen says. “A long weekend – why not go to Australia? A friend’s birthday in Lithuania? Absolutely. And now with kids, I’ve continued to travel. My 10-year-old has been to all seven continents. My eight-year-old has been to 37 countries. I’ve never gotten tired of traveling, and it all started with my year abroad in Florence.”
When a student spends a semester or year abroad, it can help them appreciate new cultures, discover unexpected career paths, adopt new traditions, and become more independent. This real-world learning experience is unmatched by traditional classroom environments here in the United States.
But how do you choose the best program for you? Here’s a look at which programs stand out from the crowd — and how to narrow down your options.
How To Choose the Best Place To Study Abroad
Even if you made the decision to study abroad, you may be overwhelmed by options. It’s important to know which schools offer strong academic standards and deep cultural experiences, because not all study abroad programs are created equal.
While some schools offer hand-tailored, faculty-led programs that are academically rigorous, others are more focused on job networking, cultural excursions, and social bonding. In this list, we focus on the academic programs that offer the most return on investment. Here, you’ll find the schools that focus equally on academics, immersive learning, and real world experience.
From small liberal arts colleges to state universities, these 25 schools offer some of the best places to study abroad.
University of San Diego
A large number of students at the University of San Diego choose to study abroad during their undergraduate education, and it’s easy to see why: USD offers 135 programs in 44 different countries. There’s something for nearly every kind of student, including options for individual research and internships that look great on post-graduation resumes.
The Madrid Center is USD’s first permanent international campus. Opened in November 2014, it is located in the heart of Madrid, just steps from the famous Prado Museum, and is the new anchor at the center of the university’s study abroad program.
Students who choose to study abroad here for a semester will find the courses offered are similar to those at the San Diego campus and are taught by USD faculty and staff living on-site. Madrid also boasts a culture-rich nightlife, and students can go out dancing and dining in Huertas, Malasaña, Chueca, and Avenida de Brasil.
Middlebury is a small liberal arts college whose abroad program offers “an authentic experience through guided independence, allowing students to immerse themselves as fully as they wish in the host language and culture,” according to the school’s website.
Middlebury has 16 different study abroad programs at sites affiliated with local universities. This offers American students a chance to mingle with international students in home cities, which further enhances the cultural experience. Each study abroad program varies by size and subject, but the school is careful to only choose international institutions that remain true to their core values of small classes and individualized attention to students.
Additionally, a Middlebury staff member oversees each site with academic and personal support. Students are allowed to tailor their study abroad experience to meet their credit needs and goals, but must do so under the oversight of the site staff member.
Students at Boston University can choose to study abroad in more than 30 cities in programs located on six continents. While the majority of BU’s programs are open to qualified students from other universities if space allows, there are 14 programs open only to students enrolled in BU. These include options to live, study, and travel in Paris, London, Sydney, and Quito among other locales. The BU programs are multi-focused with an expansive course choice in a variety of subjects.
Students can choose to be totally immersed in the local language and culture through home-stays or courses in the native tongue. Or, they can opt to enroll in high quality science, business, engineering, and performing arts courses among other disciplines.
University of Arkansas
The University of Arkansas is another excellent public school option for study abroad. It offers students a chance to join faculty-led programs around the globe that let students explore a specific subject matter in depth. This includes programs in apparel merchandising and product development in Milan to global community development in Mozambique to international business in Brazil.
The university also has an exclusive center in Rome. Located in the heart of this historic global city, students take core classes offered through the university plus upper-level electives in Italian language, culture, art, and history. Beyond faculty-led programs, students can also choose from programs at affiliated universities.
Sarah Lawrence College
More than 50% of Sarah Lawrence College students study abroad and the school boasts the longest-running Cuba study program in the U.S. The college prides its global study abroad programs run by its faculty, which allow students to receive the same small seminar-style classes and individual work with faculty that they’d get at SLC.
Besides the Cuba program, the small liberal arts college offers programs in London, Paris, Peru, Japan, China, and more. For many programs, students need to have elementary proficiency in the host country’s language. For instance, the Beijing program requires one year of Chinese at the college level while for the Lima program, students need a high level of Spanish fluency to participate in classes that are not taught in English. The college also offers some less intense summer study abroad options.
With eight of its own programs around the globe in Florence, London, Madrid, Strasbourg, Istanbul, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Santiago, as well as some 60 partner programs worldwide, Syracuse University has a popular study abroad program.
Across its eight centers, students work with an academic director and support staff member to design a personalized schedule based on language abilities and study goals. Syracuse-operated programs include home-stay portions, internships, day trips, and community engagement led by this staff. These multidimensional experiences offer the opportunity to engage in the rich cultures of other countries.
The school also offers affiliated programs for students that want a more specific study abroad program; for instance, you can attend film school in Prague, study biodiversity in Madagascar, or research cultural identity in Ireland.
West Virginia University
One of a handful of state schools to make our list, West Virginia University has a diverse study abroad program that has been in operation for nearly 100 years now. They offer a large number of faculty-led programs to all corners of the globe — from Trinidad and Tobago to Turkey, Romania to Vietnam, Greece to Poland — as well as a strong financial aid program to give any student who wants to spend a semester abroad the chance to do so.
“In today’s interconnected and global world, having an international experience can help set you apart and give you valuable skills that will help you in the future. WVU is committed to providing unique, educational, and rewarding international opportunities to its students” the university’s study abroad page states.
Beyond its faculty-led programs, the university also offers exchange programs and programs for credit through affiliated schools.
About 900 students earn academic credit in over 40 countries through Georgetown University study abroad programs. Students have opportunities to earn academic credit in a semester, full year, or summer study abroad programs that are catered to undergraduates at Georgetown College, the Walsh School of Foreign Service, the McDonough School of Business, and the School of Nursing and Health Studies.
The university also has three international satellite campuses in Alanya, Turkey; Fiesole, Italy; and Doha, Qatar. Here, students take the same courses offered at the D.C. campus, just taught by visiting faculty.
These satellite campuses provide a living-meets-learning community for students. And both locations have Georgetown-hired staff that supports students and help plan excursions to regional locations.
More than half of Connecticut College students study abroad during their time at the liberal arts college. Students can choose from either carefully selected affiliated study abroad programs or Connecticut College’s own Study Away/Teach Away programs (SATA).
The SATA programs are offered in South Africa, Vietnam, Italy, Cuba, and Peru. They offer a group of 10-20 students the unique opportunity to join Connecticut College professors in a joint educational enterprise. This cohort program is designed to enhance student knowledge and appreciation of political, economic, and social systems significantly different from their own. During the SATA semester, students carry a regular course load, taking classes offered by the Connecticut College professors as well as faculty at the host institution.
The academic focus varies, depending on the location and the academic interests of the professors leading the program that semester. Most of the SATA programs also include field trips dedicated to helping students develop a greater appreciation for the region in which they are studying. For example, students who study in Peru can experience Latin American culture deeply by staying with a local host, where they’d speak Spanish and eat local meals, if they so choose.
When it comes to studying abroad, this Ivy League university offers dozens of programs around the world led by Dartmouth faculty. Some programs focus on language fluency with total immersion, where students live with host families while studying the culture, history, and language of the country they are living in.
Known as Language Study Abroad, these programs are offered in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Peru, Argentina, China, Brazil, Japan, and Russia, and include several excursions to surrounding regions during the semester.
The school also runs Foreign Study Programs that are designed to bring the Dartmouth classroom abroad. On these programs, professors take students on specific academic adventures at the source: they study theater in London, biology in Costa Rica, or environmental studies in southern Africa, for instance.
At Guilford College, a lucky 14 students are chosen to study each semester inside a medieval 12th-century castle in the Italian Alps in what is known as the Brunnenburg Semester. The castle is on a hill above the town of Merano, which is near the Austrian border.
During the semester, students also take extended outings to neighboring European countries, with a chance to explore nightlife and culture in places like Munich, Germany and Vienna, Austria. The Brunnenburg Semester is just one of the dozens of programs Guilfford offers around the world, from Australia to Spain to Peru. Guilford also offers financial help in the form of scholarships to qualifying students, which helps cover both tuition and the high cost of living (especially in Europe).
University of Denver
This private liberal arts school in Denver city limits is known for having a large percentage of its students study abroad during their time there. The University of Denver works hard to make these programs accessible to students regardless of financial situation through its Cherrington Global Scholars program, which offers scholarships to offset tuition fees to qualifying students.
Why does the school offer scholarship options? Well, the university believes the study abroad experience is integral to a deeper understanding of other cultures as well as your own.
“At the University of Denver, we strive to develop cross-cultural connections–and the new perspectives that come with them–by According to DU’s website, “At the University of Denver, we strive to develop cross-cultural connections–and the new perspectives that come with them–by encouraging students to study and live abroad for at least one quarter. We want our graduates to appreciate and understand the differences and interdependencies that characterize our world.”
Their commitment to financing study abroad, as well as their appreciation for cultural exchange, makes this one of the top study abroad programs.
This small college is affiliated with the United Methodist Church in Jackson, Mississippi. Millsaps encourages all its students to study abroad, stating on their website that it’s a “powerful tool for understanding and appreciating our complex world.”
This school offers students the chance to study at a 4,500-acre biocultural reserve on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. A wide range of courses are offered at the Yucatan campus, including archeology, ecology, geology, history, business, education, and literature.
The reserve also boasts an off-the-grid Research and Learning Center, which is a laboratory and research facility in the nearby town of Oxkutzcab, and a dormitory-classroom facility. Students can choose to return for multiple semesters and conduct research at the facility while continuing to take classes, making it a one-of-a-kind college study abroad program.
Duke University offers 150 university-administered programs around the globe for its students. Even more options are available through affiliated university programs, meaning that no corner of the world is left unturned.
One of the newest Duke-sponsored programs is a semester in India that focuses on both urban and rural life. During the first half of the semester, students live in a village and research poverty and global health.
For the second half of the semester, they head to Bangalore to study health and development issues, urban environments, slums, and income disparities in the sub-continent. Animal lovers will adore spending a week at the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary and Tiger Reserve. Here, the focus is on learning about endangered species and the link between conservation and development.
St. Olaf College
St. Olaf College has six of their own study abroad programs for students, and also participates in a consortium program with other top universities that have similar standards and philosophies. This allows the small liberal arts college to offer more diversity in the international programs it offers, without sacrificing the mission of integrating academic and experiential education.
The school believes the experiential component of study abroad amplifies and extends the liberal learning that occurs on campus. At the same time, it enhances student perspectives by helping them “encounter and understand changes confronting our world in a context of global community and world citizenship,” according to the St. Olaf College website.
St. Olaf programs include a semester in Turkey and Morocco, comparing three cultures in Asia, or a “Global Semester” where students study in Europe, Africa, Latin America, South America, and Asia over the course of the term. Students can also study environmental science down under in Australia, biology in India, and Chinese society and culture in China.
University of Chicago
From neuroscience in Paris to economics in Hong Kong, the University of Chicago is known for its study abroad options. Many of these programs are led by its own faculty, which helps the university’s values shine through. Students also have the option of directly enrolling in specially selected programs at local universities in cities around the world, including Beijing and Berlin.
The Center in Paris, however, is the center of the university’s study abroad universe. This research and teaching arm in Europe functions as a small version of the Chicago campus, with over 200 undergraduates studying each year. A full range of courses is offered covering social sciences, natural sciences, the humanities, and physical sciences, all taught by University of Chicago professors.
More than 65% of Earlham College students will spend a semester or year in another country. This college has a number of study abroad opportunities, including both Earlham-specific and affiliated programs everywhere from Tanzania to Austria.
Earlham itself sponsors programs in Japan, Ecuador, India, New Zealand, London, and Spain. Each program is unique with a distinct focus.
For instance, in India, you’ll be studying Tibet. Based in Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama and his exiled government, students in this program experience the cultural and intellectual capital of the Tibetan exile community while gaining an in-depth, first-hand understanding of issues Tibetan refugees face.
If you want to spend a year studying in another country, consider Pepperdine, where the majority of students study abroad for a full If you want to spend a year studying in another country, consider Pepperdine. Here, most students who study abroad do so for the entirety of their sophomore year. The school offers programs in Florence, Heidelberg, London, Buenos Aires, Shanghai, and Lausanne. Students live and study in Pepperdine-owned facilities with faculty from the school’s Malibu campus, ensuring high academic standards.
“Each program had between 35 and 50 students in university-owned residences,” says Alum Eric Stoen, who spent a full year in “Each program had between 35 and 50 students in university-owned residences,” says alum Eric Stoen, who spent a full year in Florence and a summer in Heidelberg while earning his bachelor’s degree at the university.
He noted that the program was more focused on social bonding and cultural outings, so it might not be the best fit for someone seeking immersion and language fluency.
Kalamazoo College students have options to study in far-flung corners of the globe, including Senegal, Thailand, and Ecuador. Students can attend programs offered directly through the school’s Center for International Programs, or work with an affiliated program at an academically comparable college.
There are 42 programs available in 23 countries, and most students at Kalamazoo spend at least six months out of the U.S. before graduation. Many of the Kalamazoo study abroad programs also allow students to earn credit for participating in an “Integrative Cultural Research Project.”
These students interact with the local community in a structured project manner to create results and compose an essay for a grade at the end of the program. It’s another way for students to be able to immerse themselves in the culture and practice the language skills of the region being studied.
Northwestern students can choose to study all over the globe with more than a hundred different program choices run by the well-respected school in the Chicago suburbs itself or partner programs with affiliated American colleges and universities.
Many of the programs run by Northwestern are theme-based and include options like public health programs in Cuba, Israel, China, and South Africa among other countries and global engagement studies in the Dominican Republic, Uganda, Kenya, and India.
Northwestern also offers a number of study abroad opportunities through its top-rated Medill School of Journalism that includes journalism residency programs in South Africa, Argentina, and Qatar, among others.
Other options include a semester in Oman, where students learn about Islam and the Middle East while living in an Arab country. Here, students study and live in Muttrah, which is the old part of the capital city of Muscat, and courses include Christian-Muslim relations and Arabic. Best of all, you’ll get to spend time traveling throughout the region — from climbing the Wahiba sand dunes to riding camels or watching sea turtles lay eggs — experiencing a destination not always accessible to tourists.
At Emerson College, 90 lucky students get to spend a semester at Kasteel Well, a beautifully restored 14th-century medieval castle, complete with two moats, in the Netherlands. There they’ll study European cultures, civilizations, and languages.
Students must apply a year in advance for the program, and are selected by a random lottery (it’s that popular!) for the school’s premier study abroad program.
The program, which lasts for a semester and is offered twice a year, focuses not only on rigorous classroom education but also on exploring beyond the castle’s lush grounds. As such the program has three-day weekends where independent travel is encouraged. There are also two group trips per semester to Amsterdam and one other European city like Prague, Rome, Madrid, Berlin, Milan, Dublin, or Barcelona.
Trinity College celebrated the 45th anniversary of its study abroad program in Rome in 2015. The college in Connecticut’s capital offers its students a number of different options for international travel, including summer, semester, and year-long study away programs in locations from Barcelona to Buenos Aires, Trinidad and Tobago to Paris, Shanghai to Cape Town.
The Trinity College programs require students to enroll in a for-credit academic internship at a local school, museum, medical clinic, or other institution that allows for direct engagement with the local community. From diverse live music scenes and world-class restaurants to beautiful beaches and rainforests, students that attend Trinity College have a range of experiences to choose from.
University of Washington
Whether you are studying indigenous Sami culture and connections to the land in Arctic Europe or island migrations, health, and social justice in Sardinia, the University of Washington offers many faculty-led study abroad programs that let students work closely with trusted university faculty members in small group settings.
“The programs really work to integrate travel, education, and service-learning. It’s decidedly not, ‘Just go overseas and (play) around for a few months of credit,’” says Adam Karlin, who participated in one of the university’s study abroad programs. “It was some of the most challenging, rewarding, and fun experiences I had in school.”
Another rewarding aspect of the University of Washington programs is that the professor leading the study abroad adventure is responsible for designing the semester’s curriculum. Programs are open to students from any of the three University of Washington campuses.
More than 80% of students will study abroad while at Colorado College, a unique liberal arts college in Colorado Springs. This school operates on the block plan, where students take one class at a time for 3.5 weeks, each of which is equivalent to a semester’s worth of credit at the traditional university.
As such, the school has an incredible amount of flexibility when it comes to studying abroad, and some of its most prized programs take students directly into the field for a block. For example, you can study tropical coral reef ecology in Belize, or head to Paris to take an English class that studies 20th-century African-American literature. The school also offers semester-long programs, led by either its own faculty or as part of a consortium of approved schools with similar academic standards.
Colorado College says it best on their website: “There is a wide world out there waiting to be explored — a rich and dazzling array of cultures and subjects, languages and people. An educational experience that purposefully immerses its student in something entirely different from what they know is an education that can put your entire college career into a new light.” entire college career into a new light.”
Goucher College prides itself on its top-notch study abroad program. So much so that this innovative, small liberal arts college just outside of Baltimore, Maryland mandates all students study outside the country at least once before graduation.
“At Goucher College, we believe that no matter who you are or what you want to do in life, the global community of the 21st century demands that you have an international perspective,” according to the school’s study abroad page.
And with some 60 programs in 32 different countries lasting from three weeks to a year in length, Goucher offers endless possibilities: study in Melbourne, Australia, intern in the United Kingdom, practice peacebuilding in Africa, or enhance second language skills over a summer in Argentina or France, China or Jordan.
Best of all, if once is not enough, Goucher also offers a list of additional international fellowship and volunteer opportunities for students craving more global immersion.
See the World Through the Best Study Abroad Programs
Whether you want to dance flamenco in Spain or see the northern lights in Iceland, there are countless options for students who want to expand their cultural worldview. The best places to study abroad will offer the academic programs you want to pursue, along with the cultural experiences you want to explore.
Keep your mind open to people, places, and ideas, and this experience is certain to be life-changing. For more information on top colleges to attend and which programs to study, check out CollegeRank.