Compass with blue arrow point standing on map with blue pins stuck in locations

Plan Your Study Abroad Adventure With This Simple Timeline

Planning your study abroad experience can be daunting. But this timeline breaks everything down, making the process less overwhelming and a lot simpler.

Planning your study abroad experience can be a daunting process. When should you go? When are applications due? And scholarships? When should you start making travel plans? Numbers and dates might start spinning in your head just thinking about these things. Before you can start planning your study abroad trip, you have to decide when you’re going to do it. If you want to take gen ed classes while you're away, you’ll probably want to study abroad early in your college career. If you want to do an internship, volunteer, or student teach, you'll probably want to go toward the end of college career. When study abroad will fit best largely depends on when the classes you need for your degree are offered and what your schedule looks like from semester to semester. Get started with the timeline I used when prepping my own study abroad experience to make study abroad planning a little more manageable.

10 months out: Brainstorming and study abroad fairs

Start thinking about study abroad early, whether that's doing research online, talking to friends and classmates who have their own experiences, or going to study abroad fairs and events. Your school may offer programs on satelite campuses or have agreements with international universities, which could make the transfer of credits more seamless—again, be sure to ask your advisor! I knew I wanted to study abroad long before I started college, but going to a study abroad fair finally started the process. To be honest, I didn't walk into this thinking I would find a program or that I would even study abroad any time soon. If you want to go to study abroad fairs to simply look for ideas, that's fine! You don't have to walk away with any semblance of a plan. That’s what I did: I went in telling myself, "This is still a long way off." But when I left a half hour later with an armful of brochures and information booklets, I started in on the serious research.

Related: The Top 5 Things to Consider Before Studying Abroad

9 months out: Start planning

In the weeks after attending that study abroad fair, I did a lot of research to narrow down programs, figure out where exactly I wanted to go, plan my travel, and make sure my experience fit into my degree program. Nine months out may seem excessive, and I know plenty of people who have done it in less time, or more. Also, I didn't get everything planned right away. I ended up taking several weekend trips to nearby cities while I was abroad, and a lot of that planning didn't happen until the last few months before I left, some even after I arrived. There's no problem with making tentative plans this far out. It'll give you a good foundation to work from when you have to start filling in the details closer to your departure. But just know that things could change. Many of the plans I started making this far ahead were unrecognizable by the time I boarded my flight. And if you aren't going abroad for long, or if your program fills in a lot of the logistics for you, you most certainly don’t have to start figuring things out this early.

8 months out: Turn in applications

Filling out applications is the first concrete step to study abroad. I applied really early, so don't panic if you don't want to think about what you're doing this weekend, much less what you're doing almost a year from now. Most programs' deadlines are in the neighborhood of four months before your departure, but many offer rolling admission. You can apply early if you want to get things set in stone. Most schools are going to have deadlines similar to universities at home, since you still have to register for classes. Any study abroad internship or volunteer opportunities will have to connect you with an employer once you apply to the program, so turning in applications the semester before you want to go is a good benchmark.

7 months out: Apply for a passport if you don’t have one

Applying for a passport is one of those critical steps that you might not think about and then start to panic when you do. By no means do you have to apply for your passport as early as I did, but if you need a visa, it may be a different story. For a passport, the US State Department says processing takes four to six weeks on average, but this can change around peak times. If you already have a passport, the rule of thumb is to make sure it's still valid through six months after you plan on returning home. Visas, however, are a whole different ball game. Requirements and processing times vary depending on what you're doing, where you're going, and how long you'll be there, so talk with your program directors to figure out what the process will be like for you.

Related: 9 Tips to Make Your Study Abroad Experience More Successful

5 months out: Start applying for scholarships

Now that you've sent in your applications, applied for a passport, and filed all the important paperwork, it's time to start financing your experience. In truth, you can apply for scholarships throughout the whole research, planning, and application process. Deadlines for the plethora of scholarships out there will vary so much that it's difficult to put a hard-and-fast rule on this one. But many study abroad scholarships are similar to those applicable to your home university, which means deadlines are often around a semester ahead of time. So if that's where this step lands for you: great. If not, you can usually get applications in early if you want to get this process out of the way, but it may be worth keeping an eye out for new scholarships that pop up later in the process.

3 months out: Book plane tickets

Next to housing and tuition costs, your flights will probably be your biggest expenses. And they can get even more expensive if you wait too long to buy them. Be sure to start doing research early with sites like Google Flights, Skyscanner, and Kayak to compare prices and times. I bought my flights almost three months before I left and was only able to get the seat I wanted on my first flight by going to the help desk in the airport the day I flew out. So if you want something specific on your flight, the earlier the better. To some extent, I wouldn't recommend booking your tickets six months out.

1 week before: Start packing

Your plans are set, logistics arranged, flights booked—the hardest part is behind you, and one of the greatest experiences you'll ever have lies ahead. All that's left to do is pack. This step is pretty self-explanatory but comes with a few addendums. In your last weeks of planning, you might look into buying all the little things you'll want specifically for traveling. Because you're likely only taking a suitcase or two, don't load yourself down with stuff. You'll probably need an electronic converter of some kind, maybe a good eye mask, and plenty of pictures from home. Be sure to leave room for souvenirs! Packing is possibly my least favorite part of traveling (yes, even more so than airport security—I really hate packing), so I put it off to avoid having my bedroom turned upside down by piles of things overflowing from my suitcase. I was lucky enough to have help from my mom and sister, so I might recommend not following my example here. Pack whenever feels best for you.

Related: The Quick, Essential Packing List for Studying Abroad

Planning anything as momentous as study abroad can be daunting, but I promise all the hassle is worth it. The key is to take it one step at a time, don't try to conquer the whole process at once, and try to have fun between all the numbers, dates, and organization. After all, you're planning an experience that may well change your life!

Can't get enough study abroad advice? We have the answer—check out Our Best Advice on Studying Abroad in College for every tip you'll ever need!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Lorena Bacallao

Lorena Bacallao

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress was the foundation of my college search process. Because of CollegeXpress, I was able to make a more informed and confident decision as to where it was best to pursue my higher education. I have recommended this website to fellow peers and for first-generation students like me. It’s a website I will continue to promote because of how simple it was to use and how many opportunities were offered to me at my fingertips!

Carlie Cadet

Carlie Cadet

High School Class of 2019

CollegeXpress has helped me learn about an abundance of scholarships available to me and my situation. I was able to do research for colleges in my best interest with your website. I've had multiple colleges email me and offer me multiple scholarships and things of that nature because of this website! Thank you so much for uploading scholarships I didn’t even know existed, even if my life took a huge turn and I wasn’t able to go to college straight out of high school. CollegeXpress helped me a lot in high school to be even more motivated to get into my dream college (which I did, by the way). I'm looking forward to using the materials CollegeXpress has kindly provided me for free to look for scholarships to help pay for college.

Laura Wallace

Laura Wallace

High School Class of 2019

My favorite part of CollegeXpress is that it features student writers so I get an inside perspective from students slightly older and farther along than me. I realize that other college websites also utilize student writers; however, I relate the most to the college writers that I read articles from on CollegeXpress.

Kyla McClain

Kyla McClain

High School Class of 2024

I found CollegeXpress when you partnered with Bold.org for a scholarship. I found your website, put my information in, and got connected. I only wanted to stay in North Carolina [for college] and not move far from home, but you all opened a door up for me. I started researching colleges you suggested for me. On your social media platforms, you also give really good test-taking tips that I used and suggested others to do the same. It helped me a lot on my exams, so thank you.

Aaliyah

Aaliyah

High School Class of 2022

My mother signed me up for a couple of scholarship contests through CollegeXpress. I was also able to do some research and compare the different schools on my list. I was able to see the graduation rates and different programs that helped me decide on Adelphi University. I will continue looking for some scholarships for my start in September.

College Matches
X

Colleges You May Be Interested In

SUNY Maritime College

Throggs Neck, NY

Cedarville University

Cedarville, OH

High Point University

High Point, NC

Evangel University

Springfield, MO

Clarkson University

Potsdam, NY