By Laura O’Brien Gatzionis, MEd, IECA (Athens, Greece)

There are numerous ways for students to gain global experience and increase their transferable and marketable skills while broadening their horizons. Study abroad has become a typical college experience for many students. Gap years are another fascinating possibility. Many universities, including Tufts, Princeton, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Harvard, actively encourage entering freshman to consider a well-planned bridge or gap year. Families are interested in learning more about English-taught, bilingual or immersion bachelor programs outside of the United States, which may be ideal for independent, adventurous, curious personalities.

Independent educational consultants (IECs) should evaluate the following international options depending on the needs of each individual student, just as they do with domestic options. Students who should consider the possibility are curious explorers: independent, globally minded, self-motivated, and responsible. And although some students may not be ideal candidates for three- or four-year programs in international universities, other interesting options may offer the right fit for students who are a little less confident or who might require a more familiar framework.

First-Semester Options

Several US institutions offer a first-year or first-semester abroad option. Boston University’s College of General Studies offers students who are admitted in January the chance to take a gap semester and then to follow a condensed interdisciplinary six-month curriculum completed by a six-week summer residency in London. Examples of other opportunities are Northeastern University’s NUin program, Hamilton College’s January admission courses, NYU’s Global Liberal Studies freshmen abroad programs, and Loyola University’s Rome Start. Florida State University’s First Year Abroad program offers a unique advantage: students in good standing who complete 36 FSU credits with a GPA of 3.0+ at its European or Panama study center may be eligible to pay in-state tuition rates for the remainder of their first undergraduate degree at Florida State in Tallahassee.

American Universities Abroad ( is a group of private US universities located outside the United States. Those institutions offer US degrees and generally follow the same academic calendar as US institutions. Many of those universities are members of the Common Application and participate in some US federal financial aid programs in addition to offering institutional aid. Please note, however, that current federal legislation does not allow the use of SEOG, Pell Grants, Perkins Loans, or work-study funds by students enrolled at universities outside of the United States. Most programs provide an extensive prearrival and transitional process to help students make the adjustment.

Four-Year Undergraduate

Certain US colleges and universities maintain an international campus where it is possible not only to study abroad but also to spend the entire undergraduate experience overseas. In Florence, for example, Marist College, in conjunction with the Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici, offers bachelor’s degrees in interior design, museum studies, and global marketing communication. Saint Louis University in Madrid offers many areas of study, including art history, international relations, and engineering. Some courses can be fully completed in Spain; others require that the final two years of study take place on the St. Louis campus. The economics BSBA gives students the flexibility to move back and forth between the St. Louis and Madrid campuses as they wish.

US colleges located abroad, such as Franklin College in Switzerland; John Cabot University in Rome; and Richmond, The American International University in London also fall under the umbrella of the Association of American International Colleges and Universities ( They are fully accredited in the United States and offer a liberal arts education with majors including computer science, psychology, languages, business, and the arts.

The largest and oldest of these is the American College of Greece with 3,000 undergraduates; 27 programs of study; and 44 partner universities in the United States, Europe, and Asia offering study abroad programs (e.g., Cornell University’s Johnson School of Hotel Administration). The student body is 15% international students, currently from 67 countries. Although it is not a completely residential community, housing is available for international students, and the enclosed campus has facilities similar to US campuses, with a wide range of student activities offered. The Institute of Diplomacy and Global Affairs organizes conferences, meetings, and seminars for policymakers, diplomats, faculty, and students, and there is a newly established Institute of Public Health. Currently, undergraduate tuition with housing runs approximately 16,000 euros for the academic year.

Dual Degree Programs

Dual degree programs with European, US, and other international universities offer another intriguing possibility. The University of St Andrews (St Andrews, Scotland) and the US College of William and Mary (Williamsburg, VA) are partners for the BA (International Honours) joint degree program, which allows students to spend two years at each university and receive a BA from both universities. Students choose to specialize in one of the following subjects: classical studies, economics, English, film studies, history, or international relations. The Dual BA program of Sciences Po (France) and Columbia University in New York City offers a global undergraduate university experience in which students focus on social sciences and language during the first two years at one of the Sciences Po campuses and spend the second two years at Columbia fulfilling the famous core curriculum and major requirements. Students in the World Bachelors in Business program move in tandem with their cohort to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, the Universita Bocconi in Milan, Italy, and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology during the first three years; upon successful completion of the fourth year, they receive degrees from each school.

Learn More

In addition to institutional websites, several resources can help you learn more about programs outside of the United States as well as about preparing for the experience. One of the more succinct introductions is the NACAC Guide to International University Admissions, which is available from NACAC’s website. Another highly recommended resource for students, parents, and IECs is the free online asynchronous cultural competency course offered by the University of the Pacific. What’s Up With Culture? (, which will be useful to students before, during, and after their immersive educational experience.

For an independent student, choosing to study outside of the United States offers growth in many areas, cultural and language immersion, experiential learning, and travel opportunities. Global networking and international internships will be accessible as well as the possibility to study at another international program as part of their university experience (a semester or year study abroad). With so many potential benefits, the options are very much worth exploring.

Laura O’Brien Gatzionis, Educational Advisory Services, can be reached at [email protected]

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