1% of American students study abroad

Hard to believe, but it’s true: Only 1% of students from the US study abroad each year.


Is it that American students aren’t interested in studying abroad or that they encounter too many obstacles–including financial challenges–that prevent them from doing so?

Whatever the reason, US Congress took a big step toward improving study abroad opportunities for American students yesterday when it introduced the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act as part of the House Foreign Relations Authorization Act.

The purpose of the act is to establish public-private partnerships that will achieve four broad goals:

1. Increase American students’ participation in quality study abroad programs;
2. Encourage diversity in student participation in study abroad;
3. Diversify study abroad sites, especially in developing countries;
4. Make study abroad an integral part of the American higher education experience.

The bill was actually introduced last year and enjoyed bipartisan support in the House and Senate, but the Congressional session expired before the bill could be passed.

Full information about the bill can be found here.

If you’d like to support the bill, you can join the Movement for Study Abroad on Facebook.

Community Connection:

Do you know about Matador’s study and live abroad blog, Matador Abroad? Whether you live in the US or elsewhere, you can find a rich archive of articles on study abroad subjects there!

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  • Jeff

    I’m no math genie, but I don’t think “1% of American Students Study Abroad” (in the title) is the same as “1% of students from the US study abroad EACH YEAR.” The title indicates only 1% of American students EVER study abroad. I would bet that percentage is substantially higher than 1%.

    Irregardless, my guess is that finances plays a large part. I would guess awareness of the mechanics of such programs has something to do with it as well. When I was in undergrad, I didn’t have a CLUE about what was going on. With my adviser being responsible for who knows how many students, I’m sure his telling me about any study abroad programs was not a top priority…so long as I enrolled in classes: mission accomplished. And like any other thing like this in school, studying abroad requires a certain amount of effort and paperwork, which is about as much fun as writing resumes and cover letters. It sucks. My guess is that very few students–who are suited for studying abroad–are getting turned away from study abroad programs due to limited space.

    I also don’t think study abroad is necessarily a Congressional concern. How ’bout fix secondary education first? Greater “diversity” in high school graduates may inherently increase diversity of all kinds of higher education programs.

    • http://wayworded.blogspot.com/ Hal

      I agree that there are a lot of changes needed in all levels of America’s education system, but why not make study-abroad promotion one of them? The figure that’s the basis for this article is kind of appalling. I would have guessed 15-20%.

      ps julie – i had no trouble with the title :)

    • AP

      Perhaps we should focus on teaching vocabulary skills so people don’t make up words like “irregardless”.

    • http://seanwatts@yonsei.ac.kr Prof S. Watts

      Yonsei University is Korea’s premier private university, ranked globally 142 (topuniversities.com) between UBC & Queens, and Vanderbuilt, Ohio State, USC, and above UC Irvine, Georgetown, etc. The fastest growing areas of the world are growing precisely due to their international education efforts. This is why Korea & Yonsei developed rapidly. The development that USA took 100 years to accomplish, Korea accomplished in less than 30 years (G20 member). Yonsei has consistently grown faster than other schools since we offer more international student scholarships! Contact us about possible full tuition waivers, housing and living grants, and “EIC” university fully funded tours to other countries to ensure a proper international understanding of the world. SeanWatts (@) Yonsei.ac.kr

    • http://www.soultravelers3.com Jeanne @soultavelers3

      I agree that finances and major problems with secondary education ( not to mention ALL education in the US) plays into this. Most would be better off going on their own.

      A university system that leaves graduates deep in debt in their 20′s as they begin life is totally ridiculous and shameful. It MUST change and will.

      Forget the system, take charge, think differently and get your OWN education abroad whether you are 5 or 55 or ANY age.

      We’ve been doing that and as monolinguals raising a trilingual/triliterate child ( Mandarin/Spanish/English), experiencing the world deeply ( 39 countries on 5 continents on 23 dollars a day per person)


      The gov’t is doing too little too late. One starts preparing a child to be a global citizen of the 21st during inutero ( when one begins to learn languages easiest) and the early years.

    • Brian

      “Irregardless” isn’t a word. I think you’re looking for “Regardless”.

  • Debi G

    I don’t find the stats surprising at all, but very disappointing! Studying abroad was one of the best things that I have ever done and now I look to teach abroad. I think we would have less international conflicts if we all spent more time visiting other countries and learning other cultures, languages, traditions and histories. I support this bill!

  • http://nonotfar.blogspot.com/ Troy

    Correct me if I’m wrong but, admittedly while not as shockingly low, isn’t the number of Americans with passports also very low? Could be correlated?

  • http://collazoprojects.com/ Julie Schwietert

    Good points, everyone! And Troy, yes, the number of Americans with passports is quite low.

  • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

    I wonder what the percentage is for Canadians…when I finished highschool I don’t remember even hearing about this as an option, so it’s definitely something that needs to be promoted more. Of course, that was quite some time ago now, maybe things are different?

    • http://www.evaholland.com Eva

      I’m not sure how unusual my undergrad (Dal) was among Canadian schools, but study abroad was pretty common there. I had friends who went everywhere from Senegal to Cuba to New Zealand to Malta, Malaysia, Swaziland, and on and on.

      There’s a big “but” coming though: there were extra costs associated with a semester or a year of study abroad, and an academic price to pay too — a full year of study abroad usually meant extending your degree to five years, because most often your study abroad credits were useless as far as prereqs for your specific program went. A one semester study abroad was tricky too because it made it impossible to take any year-long prereqs that year. So, to put it delicately, the kids that went on study abroad often a) didn’t have student loans to worry about, and b) weren’t necessarily too concerned about their academics. (The exception was the international development crowd.)

      The long lead-up, planning-wise, hampers things too. For myself, I didn’t make plans (late in first year or early second year) to go abroad in third year because I was a classics major and my full-year language prereqs (Greek and Latin) wouldn’t allow it. But by the time third year rolled around, I’d switched to African History. So a study abroad experience in Africa would have been ideal…

      It’s certainly an imperfect system! It’s encouraging to hear it’s being taken seriously now in the US.

  • Alan

    I wish I could have studied abroad while in school. I’m still in school right now, but I only have one semester left, and finances are too tight to try it out. Too bad this wasn’t done sooner. I definitely would have taken the opportunity.

    But who knows. I may end up going to graduate school, so the opportunity may just come my way.

  • http://www.matadorabroad.com Tim Patterson

    Great news – study abroad is such a powerful educational experience for high-school and college students.

  • http://www.studyabroad360.com Matt S.

    The statistics that we’ve found pubilshed are that 55% of US college students polled say that they are interested in and at some point would like to study abroad. And only 5% of those US college students do end up studying abroad. Multiply the two and this comes out to 2.75% of all students.

    The main reasons most don’t go, as has been stated, is funding. Some people actually decide to skip studying abroad and instead go traveling abroad for several months after graduation, which can be a low cost alternative……

  • Joseph

    I was really surprised to see a photo of my old university while reading articles on this amazing , richly informative site. and coincidentally i also feel strongly about this topic. most american students these days are content to stay in the bubble of comfort and relative safety and consumerism of the united states. study abroad is a great opportunity for students to learn more about the world, learn a different language , and even to work abroad. i wish i would have done it

  • http://alainarose.wordpress.com Alaina O’Brien

    I’m not surprised: I’m the only one of my close friends from college who studied abroad, and probably because I’m the only one studying a language. Additionally, my best friend applied, and was accepted, to study abroad in Greece but turned it down because of financial reasons. I’m glad the government is pushing for this.

  • Anoop

    Im confused by these numbers. I’m an American who hasn’t studied abroad but I’ve been to some 25 countries in my life. Is this 1% of college students at a 4 year University? My University was well above 50% of students studying abroad, the reasons for the other 50% I can’t be for certain but I can say one thing, its VERY hard to study abroad.

    If your tuition is 20k a year and you go to school in Ethiopia which costs 500 dollars for the year, the University expects you to pay the full tuition. If not, good luck getting your credits transfered. I experienced this with just transferring summer credits, it was damn near impossible.

    The US govt getting involved means there will just be more red tape and less programs that you can actually apply to (and get credit to.) They should force the Universities to stop running as a business and do whats best for the students instead. That would be real change.

  • Bernadette

    I’m sorry but I don’t buy the finances argument. In many places (eg: Canada, Australia and New Zealand) university fees are much less than in the states, and credits will transfer. Who says you have to do a structured exchange?

  • Kyle

    well…. being an American student who just returned from studying abroad in Australia, I can tell you that FINANCES are pretty much the driving factor in whether or not one studies abroad. Granted there are a lot of people who just flat out do not want to leave, most that do simply can’t afford it. I had to take a loan out that I’ll be paying back for a decade, but my experiences far outweigh the cost of the program!

    Also, a lot of people are brainwashed into the “go to school for exactly four years, get a degree, get a job” mentality. Although I think it is bullshit, many engineering and education majors, among others, can’t go because it will screw up their graduation timeline and class schedules. Why don’t they just go somewhere, and graduate a semester late!?

    And btw, the passport thing is not correlated, the only reason the majority of the people leave the country before going to Uni is for a vacation, and if your family can’t afford an out of the country vacation, chances are you can’t afford to study abroad either.. meaning you probably wouldn’t have a passport. thats my opinion at least..

  • http://MaxTheITpro.com Max – The IT Pro

    Traveling abroad should be MANDATORY for all students. Heck, the kids here at the Nairobi Waldorf school either go to France, Egypt or some other kool place as a class field trip, and they’re all so sharp when they return.

  • http://www.ashleyenicholson.com Ashley

    I have always dreamed of studying abroad. However, it is the financials and transferability that has always kept me from fulfilling this dream. Perhaps for a masters or a contract job in the future?

  • http://www.hopeandjosh.com HKNunzio

    Some universities, like mine, allow you to do “affiliate programs” so you can avoid paying full tuition. Since the program fee was a lot cheaper than tuition, I actually saved thousands of dollars by studying abroad in Argentina. I think the Study Abroad Foundation Act is a bold move, especially after the Race to the Top winners were just announced, but in my opinion, any move toward global education is a positive one.

  • Pingback: Inspiration from Talented Travelers « The Wandering Scholar

  • http://www.globetrottingtexan.wordpress.com Carla

    You know, the finances problem only exists because you are forced to pay US tuition fees PLUS the foreign university fees at the same time. Otherwise, how would you explain the success of such foreign initiatives like Erasmus in Europe? We (in the US) are being screwed over by the price of education, and let me tell you: I’ve studied in both the US and Europe, and the quality of education has been much better -not to mention cheaper- abroad.

  • Katharine

    I would LOVE to be able to study abroad, but even as my parents’ salaries, combined, place the family in the top 5% of income in the nation, I cannot afford to study abroad. The costs are still far too prohibitive.

    THAT is why I, at least, can’t study abroad.

    • V

      You might want to find scholarships. There are a ton out there and many go unclaimed. If you are in STEM there are a ton of scholarships out there. Your major/school might also have scholarships available. Also, there are grants for students interested in studying abroad so you might want to check those out. I pay all my tuition and housing from what I make interning and also from corporate scholarships. Similar to you, my parents make enough, but not enough to splurge on these sorts of things. I’ve found that applying for every scholarship I can get that are not need based really helps. I’ve studied abroad twice now and it hasn’t changed my graduation time or my ability to pay my tuition. It’s all about finding the right program that suits your needs and then working with your study abroad/financial aid office to find a way to fund it. I would say go for it. Its a chance of a lifetime and you grow so much. Just get informed, plan, and take action. Good luck on your adventures~

  • Katharine

    In addition, the options for study abroad in my discipline are almost zero.

  • cheechridge

    I am a sophomore, who had every intention on studying abroad for a full year (spending a semester in Australia followed by a semester in Galway, Ireland) Unfortunately, being a nursing major makes it near impossible to do so.
    If anyone is aware of a Summer program that offers Microbiology for nurses, please let me know, it is a course that I must take over the summer, I have yet to find a program abroad that fits this criteria. if not I will have to take it in the states.

    Pertaining to this article, I don’t think a lot of college students are aware of how the available the opportunity is and how great of an experience it could be!

  • TimR

    As a couple have mentioned, transferability of credits can be a major issue, making foreign study potentially very risky. I had to get individual professors involved in order to get mine approved (before I went). Universities, I’m sure, hate to lose the tuition revenue, and therefore don’t really have an incentive to make it easier.

  • Catt

    A great option for students wanted to spend at least some time abroad is to check out XploreU . The company has brands pay for students to travel across the globe for 1-4 weeks volunteering and exploring the culture in return for being a brand ambassador on campus when they return. Students only have to pay the airfare from their home state to the departure city (Miami, NY, etc). It’s a great concept for students and lets them give back to the community as well.

  • pomm

    study abroad really doesnt seem worth the money unless its for a foriegn language. Im sure its an awsome experiance but unless its for language. then you should just take a long vacation

    • V

      Some university have well established programs where you take core classes at partner schools. I took 3 (out of the 4 offered) core engineering classes in China as well as a language course, a culture class, and a gen ed class. We used the same text books and took comparable exams as I would have had back at home. The tuition for the program costed us exactly how much it would have been if we had stayed in the US for that semester (if anything, it was cheaper because everyday necessities are so cheap in China). Also, some kids came with no language experience and others, like myself, came with some, and we all did fine. Honestly, more and more schools are offering these types of programs. It’s all about taking the time to walk down to your school’s study abroad office and talking to someone. If they don’t have it, you can always research online and find a program that fits your needs and schedule. I’ve studied abroad twice and neither have delayed my graduation and or hindered my ability to pay for my tuition and housing (which I pay myself with a little help from corporate scholarships).

  • Bruce Jones

    For those who didn’t have the chance to study abroad and now are in the work force, the way to see the world living abroad as a local is to Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). If you speak English fluently, go through a short term TEFL certification course, you can get paid to teach in over 80 countries worldwide. Check out International TEFL Academy http://www.InterationalTEFLAcademy.com as they train over 1,200 new students a year and help them find work abroad every year.