Many American college students eagerly anticipate the semester (or two) when they get to shake things up with an off campus adventure, and I was no exception. For years I pinned every fanciful abroad dream on that mysterious semester I would explore the world. I did not need to go abroad in high school like some of my friends. I would do that in college. I don’t need a gap year – I will do plenty of exploring in my junior year abroad. Fast forward to first semester sophomore year, and sure enough, it seemed that a semester abroad would pose many problems for my other academic plans. I soon realized after that seemingly devastating setback that I could achieve just about everything I wanted and more through a summer abroad program.
Why No Semester Abroad?
For those of you who have yet to seriously plan any JYA experience, here is a brief survey of potential obstacles to this seemingly essential piece of the American college experience. For me, it was the fact that I am premed student who would prefer to avoid doubling up on lab courses. For premed and other academic tracks there are simply some course sequences that must be done at your university or at least in your country. Generally core requirements of a major or pre-career track do not translate well between universities. Personal attachments, pets, or extracurricular commitments can also be tethering factors for college students. Now that we have considered the potential issues with semester abroad, let me convince you why summer abroad is better anyway.
It’s all there!
If you can find a program in your chosen location, chances are it is quite similar to what you will find in a semester abroad sequence. There may be slightly fewer course options but they should still cover the same fields as the university regularly offers. Some universities also use the summer sessions to float new interdisciplinary approaches to old subjects. The University of Sussex summer session (which has rolling applications through April!) offers an English class in Children’s Stories which can be appealing to English, Education, and Psychology majors alike!
It is a bit more relaxed
Many students planning a summer abroad are surprised to find that it is not just a three month vacation. Often students have to adjust to a new environment, a different language, and keep up with course work all at once. If credits accumulated during a semester abroad are going towards a major, then it is especially important to stay on par with the work you do at your home university. Summer abroad programs, while accelerated, are a bit more relaxed.
Generally students are taking one course rather than the full time student load of a regular semester. Depending on the program, your home university, and your own plans, you can often opt to not have the credits counted toward your GPA, and so you really can focus on enjoying the course and the country. Programs through NYU’s summer session can be very intense, but they do allow students who are struggling in a course to withdraw so that a grade never shows up on or off of your transcript at all, which is great if you are just using it to prepare for a sequence at your own college.
It will probably be a good time of year
If you are looking at mainstream JYA plans you must account for which end of winter you will have to face in a foreign climate. Much of Northern Europe is practically frozen over from November-March, and you have to calculate that into any and all semester abroad plans. However, summer is summer anywhere you go in the northern hemisphere, and heat is less of a travel barrier than snow and ice. Whether you want to take weekend trips to neighboring countries or just want to wander about your temporary university’s little hamlet, summer will be a bit easier to navigate than the winter months.