Sometimes your class schedule and graduation date play an important role in deciding which semester you are able to study abroad, but if your plans are more flexible, here are a few things to consider when choosing the time of year for your program.
Depending on which country you go to, the fall semester is often shorter than the spring semester by as much as a few weeks to a month. This is due to things like spring break and final exams.
As a result, the fall semester might be more cost effective. The program tuition may be less if the semester is a bit shorter, and you may have to pay less for housing if the costs are calculated by day, week, or month instead of a flat fee.
On the other hand, if your goal is to spend as much time abroad as possible, spring might be a better option because it will allow you to be in your program for a longer amount of time.
I looked into a few programs in Japan when I was choosing where to study abroad. Since the school year is structured a bit differently there, only the spring semester or a full year were available to international students. Make sure that the way the school year works in your host country matches up with your classes and other commitments back home.
Holidays, both at home and in your host country, are important to factor into your planning. Take a look at the academic calendar for the study abroad program(s) you are considering to see how the semester works around major holidays.
For example, most fall semesters end right before Christmas. If you want to spend a few weeks traveling but still want to be home with family for Christmas and New Year’s, you will have to cut into the summer before your program to travel. Spring has the opposite constraints in that it usually begins shortly after New Year’s, but when it is over, you will have the entire summer in front of you.
Flight costs are also impacted by holidays. Flights around Christmas (when you would be going home after a fall program) tend to be more expensive. Summer flights also get more pricey as school ends and people are able to travel more. Do some searches of flights to and from your destination around the times of year that you are considering to find out of there are differences in cost based on when you go.
Finally, look into national holidays that will take place while you are abroad. Does one semester offer more holidays and subsequent days off of school? National holidays often contribute to long weekends that are useful for short trips or exploring your host city.
Alternatively, are there national holidays you really want to experience in your host country? Many countries have festivals and other events that only take place once a year, which might influence when you want to study there.
I chose my program because the spring break was a full month—three weeks longer than back home or any of the other programs I looked at. We also had a week of no classes and optional seminars, which I used to travel. The spring semester program at my host university was appealing to me because of all these breaks; the fall program was too short to include so much time off of school.
Every country and school handles exams a little differently, and your home university will probably be able to guide you in this area since they’ve worked with the host school before.
The school where I studied in England didn’t have final exams in the fall; exam time was a month in the spring. A lot of my classes had papers that were due during the semester instead of final exams, so it didn’t really matter in my situation, but if you study abroad in the fall and have exams, you might have to schedule to take them independently before you return home or do some kind of replacement project.
The weather might not have a huge effect on your decision, depending on where you are going. Countries near the equator will be warm all year long, and countries farther away will start out warm and get progressively colder during the fall and start out cold and get warmer during the spring.
But it doesn’t hurt to do a little research on your host country’s climate. Does your chosen semester include a particularly rainy time of year? How cold does it get, and when? Will the majority of your semester be chilly? Can you escape to nearby places for warmer weather? Is it easy to get around even if it’s cold? Would the alternative semester give you more time with warm weather?
Also, consider how the weather will be when you get home. I loved seeing England warm up and flowers bloom in the spring and coming home to summer vacation and hot temperatures in Minnesota. Minnesota’s winters are dreadfully snowy and cold, so I think it would have been a bummer to return from studying abroad and have to settle in for a long winter. Plus, I got to skip the worst of Minnesota’s weather (January through March) by studying abroad in the spring.
What are your thoughts on fall versus spring study abroad programs?
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