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How to Choose a Program

Deciding where to go can seem overwhelming. Although it does take some research and self-reflection, the hardest part is already done: deciding to go abroad!  Read more to understand how to choose a program.

It is important that you choose an appropriate program to get the most out of your international experience.  Because there are a variety of program types, structures, locations, and requirements, it is worth the time and effort it takes to find a program that meets your individual academic and personal needs.

Programs have distinctive characteristics, like students, and thus it is important to find the right “match” between the you and the program.  Your friend, or sister, or teacher may have participated in a program that was “absolutely great” for them, but may not be a good fit for you.  Thus, a glowing recommendation from someone who went on a program is not necessarily the most appropriate approach to choosing a program.

  • Understand your needs and characteristics before choosing a program

  • Explore several options and compare program characteristics

  • Choose a program that fits your needs and characteristics

Your Needs and Characteristics

Ask yourself these questions, and get a friend or family member to confer with you on these topics.

  1. What type of courses do you need to take (major requirements, major electives, general education requirements or lower-division courses, electives)?

  2. What academic topics do you need (and want) to study (only your major, or a mix of academic disciplines)?

  3. Will your department approve experiential courses (ie, internships, field study, independent study, independent research, service-learning, touring)?

  4. Can you take courses in another language?

  5. Do you feel comfortable using public transportation (buses, taxis, trains)?

  6. Would you prefer to live in a community where you can easily navigate your way, and meet local people?

  7. Would you enjoy living with a host family, or prefer a dorm or apartment?

  8. Are you a self-starter, outgoing, and self-motivated, experienced in exploring new/different situations?

  9. Do you prefer functioning in a group with leaders and/or guides making decisions for you and being surrounded by others much like yourself?

  10. What type of leisure activities do you enjoy? 

Program Options and Characteristics

Consider the following program aspects:


Location, geography, language, population, cost of living, food, health and safety conditions, climate, ease of transportation, etc.


Do you have beginner, intermediate, or advanced language skills in the host country primary language?  What is the English language fluency of the local population?

Community / City size

Urban city, suburban city, or town?

Host institution

Enrollment size, urban campus or enclosed campus, facilities available, language of instruction, academic options, etc.


Homestay, residence hall, apartment, house, meal plan or cooking facilities, shared or not, etc.

The chart below compares the three types of study abroad programs:




ISEP Direct Programs

- Authentic academic experience with local students.

-  Immersion with locals.

-  Likely to be less expensive.

- Unfamiliar teaching style and university administration

- Requires independence

Affiliate Programs

- Create especially for U.S. students; lots of support.

-Includes students from different universities all over the U.S.

- May be more expensive.

- Sometimes isolated from host country people and culture.

Group Programs

- Most of the time, accompanied by a professor you know.

- Take classes that are familiar in style (some programs do not offer credit).

-  Travel with a group of FMU students.

-  May be too structured for some

-Usually shorter (one to four weeks long)

By Dr. Sandi M. Smith, Director of Institutional Relations, Global Learning Semesters, 2008. Adapted for Florida Memorial University courtesy of the Xavier University of Louisiana Center for Intercultural and International Programs. 
Florida Memorial University Global Citizenship Portal