Group of college students posing in front of Big Ben & Parliament in London

Looking for a Unique First-Year Experience? Consider Studying Abroad

Why do you have to wait to go abroad in college? Many schools think you shouldn't! Learn about new study abroad programs now offered to incoming students.

Stepping on a college campus for the first time is exciting. Meeting roommates and attending orientation events help kick off this rite of passage every year at colleges and universities across the United States. Some schools, however, are changing the way new college students begin their journey. With the number of admission applications increasing—especially at popular institutions—some schools are looking at creative ways to house incoming students while also providing them the opportunity to learn and travel. The solution? Having first-year students begin their college experience overseas.

What to know about first-year study abroad

Study abroad programs are not new, but they usually occur during sophomore or junior year. Now colleges are providing optional admission choices that let students start in another country. And with many graduating high school students eager for their first taste of independence,  heading overseas right away sounds appealing. But be aware, the selection process can be competitive because colleges want to ensure they select students with high levels of maturity who can adapt to different cultures and excel without the typical support system found on a traditional campus. Here are a handful of schools that offer these kinds of programs.

The Program

Northeastern University is one school that’s embraced having a select group of first-year students begin their college experience overseas. The Program “is rooted in our core belief that students should be active citizens of the world.” Northeastern’s experiential learning model allows students with specific majors to study in cities like Madrid, Spain; London, England; Dublin, Ireland; and Rome, Italy, right after high school.

NYU First Year Away Programs

Known as the Campus Without Walls, New York University is one of a growing number of colleges with multiple international campus locations. In addition to the school’s main campus in New York City, NYU also allows incoming students to study in Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, and 11 other international cities. New student opportunities include Stern First Year London for Business students and the NYU Liberal Studies First Year Away program in London, Madrid, and Florence, Italy. Students accepted to this program take core curriculum courses in Writing, Arts & Cultures, and Global Works & Society. They also “choose from courses that engage you with the language or culture of your new city.” All students follow the same first-year degree requirements whether they’re at the main campus or a First Year Away location.

Connect me with NYU!

Lehigh Launch

Through the Lehigh Launch program, Lehigh University offers a small group of new students the opportunity to spend their first semester of college studying in the beautiful city of Santiago, Chile—nestled in the Andes Mountains. Lehigh specifically notes that they are “looking for students who are curious about themselves and the world around them, who have an independent spirit, and who have outstanding leadership potential. Students should be willing to challenge themselves, be self-reliant, and have the maturity to thrive in a program that will stretch them personally as well as academically.”

The Discovery Program

Encouraging participants to “imagine the world differently,” Syracuse University’s Discovery Program lets new students interested in computer science, engineering, natural sciences, liberal arts, or pre-med spend their first semester in Strasbourg, France; Madrid, Spain; or Florence, Italy. Students then join their peers on the home campus in New York the following January. The University notes that students who choose the Discovery Program will be on equal academic footing with main campus students and will be guaranteed on-campus housing when they return to the states.

Related: How You Can Overcome 3 Common Study Abroad Stressors

How to pursue a first-year study abroad program

So how can you express interest in one of these unique programs? The Common Application and school-specific applications will ask a question about your interest in studying abroad as a new college student. For instance, Northeastern’s application asks, “How would you prefer to join the Northeastern community?” Included in the six choices that can be checked are:

  • Traditional undergrad: Starting at Northeastern’s Boston degree-granting campus
  • Program: First semester abroad at a partnering location
  • Global Scholars: First two semesters at two separate NU campuses

As more schools offer first-year study abroad opportunities, students need to understand the various admission options available to them before applying. Colleges make holistic application decisions based on the application pool. As a result, if a student’s acceptance letter notes they’ve been accepted into a first-year study abroad program, they will most likely be locked into that decision. Students should apply to a variety of schools that offer both on-campus and out-of-country opportunities for maximum flexibility when it comes time to choose a college and program.

Related: How Can I Pursue Study Abroad Opportunities in College?

The college landscape continues to change—and studying abroad as a first-year is a growing option that students should consider. Do you want the traditional experience of arriving on campus with your family in tow to help decorate your dorm room and a myriad of orientation events to attend? Or are you interested in exploring other countries by beginning your college journey abroad? For open-minded and independent students, a first-year study abroad program might be the best college decision you ever make.

Don’t make this decision lightly! Here are The Top 5 Things to Consider Before Studying Abroad to help you decide if these unique programs are right for you.

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