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How to Study Abroad: The Ultimate Guide for International Students in 2024

Are you wondering how to study abroad, and where to even start? Read on to learn how to study abroad in 2024.

Jan 1, 2024
  • Study Abroad Resources
How to Study Abroad


Have you been wanting to ask: How do you study abroad, and where do you even start? Well, studying abroad is truly life-changing, and you should do it if you can. But first things first about your path to study overseas– a lot of planning needs to go into a study abroad application. When should you study abroad? Can you afford it? Which country should you even choose, and how do you apply? Read on to learn how to study abroad.

Table of Contents

1. Make a plan

2. Begin your search

  Choose a country

  Choose a school

  Where to look

3. Application process

4. Apply for scholarships

5. Apply for financial aid

6. Accept an offer

Need to know how to study abroad in a specific country?

Use our country guides to get the information you need.

1. Make a plan

Don't get discouraged by all the study abroad myths out there. The journey from first considering a program to actually stepping foot on campus may appear to be full of hurdles, but good planning and a positive mindset can go a long way. To make the answer to 'How does studying abroad work?' quite short, the biggest decisions you’ll have to make are when study you study overseas is when you'll go and how to pay for it. It may also be a challenge to convince your parents to let you study abroad. Before we get into the details of how to study abroad, let’s make sure it works with your life first.

When should I study abroad?

If you’re ready to go abroad for a master’s degree or a PhD, this may be an easy decision. Studying for a bachelor's degree abroad also offers a perfect opportunity. However, you don't have to apply for an entire degree abroad to study overseas. It is entirely possible to study overseas for a semester or two through your home university. If you go for this option, you’ll just have to figure out where studying abroad fits in your academic schedule and course requirements, as well as in your life and work-related commitments.

Depending on your university or major, you may have little choice. Not all schools allow first-year students to go abroad. The third or fourth year of your bachelor's degree is generally a common time to go abroad for those looking at short-term programs. Be sure to check with your university’s study abroad office or your academic advisor who can provide information on what’s most typical and convenient for you.

Can I study abroad as an engineering or pre-med student?

You absolutely can study medicine or engineering abroad. There is a common misconception out there that for students majoring in pre-med or other STEM fields that studying abroad won’t work with their very structured academic requirements. This is untrue! While you may have to plan ahead if you have a lot of academic requirements, it's definitely possible to study overseas and will likely make you an even stronger med-school candidate due to the development of valuable soft skills.

Contact your school’s office of pre-professional advising the second you know you want to study abroad. They’ll be able to work with your schedule to see how you can fit it in. While you might not be able to do a full year abroad, you can usually still fit in a semester, or at the very least, a summer program.

Can I afford to study abroad?

There’s no way to sugarcoat it – studying abroad can be expensive. If you're looking at young students living abroad and wishing you could ask, 'How do you study abroad?', you're not alone. Cost can be a huge deterrent to those who want to study abroad, but you have options! You can look for student jobs abroad, search for scholarships, and find other creative ways to save money

How much does it cost to study abroad?

How much it costs will depend on the country you go to and of course, how long you stay. Beyond program fees, you’ll also have to consider airfare, transportation, accommodation, and the general cost of living during your study overseas. You can use our country guides to find information about budgeting for costs in specific countries. Expect adding a good amount of spending money to that total as well for things like weekend trips or nights out!

However, there’s good news! You have many options, especially if you’re looking to study abroad at the bachelor’s level. For example, if you are currently receiving financial aid to go to college, that financial aid will still go toward your study abroad program. You could also take out a student loan or accumulate some scholarship money. If you can’t afford to study abroad for a full year, a summer program would still get you that life-changing experience for a fraction of the cost.

How can I convince my parents to let me study abroad?

Your family might be hesitant to let you study abroad. Put yourself in their shoes – they’re probably just nervous, especially if they’ve always lived nearby or if you've never been out of the country before. But if you build your case, you can ease their fears and convince them.

First, be prepared. They’re going to have a lot of questions and you’ll need to have answers. Make sure you know how you’re going to potentially pay for it. Outline the many benefits of studying abroad, and ensure them that you’ll communicate with them often when you’re away. If you approach the conversation with empathy, you’re sure to have a good chance of convincing even the most protective parents out there.

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2. Begin your search

Once you know roughly when you’ll go and how you’ll pay for it (as well as getting the green light from your parents if you need it), the fun stuff begins. The next step is deciding where you should go!

Where should I study abroad?

Maybe you already know exactly what country or continent you want to study in, or even which university. Or, maybe you’re truly open to studying abroad in different countries, but you also want to go to a top biology program since you’re pre-med.

If you want to know how to study abroad in short-term programs, first find out if your home university partners with universities abroad. If so, this may be the easiest route for you when it comes to transferring credits. Many schools have partnerships with a variety of universities all over the world, so ask your study abroad office.

If you have no country in mind yet

Check out the Top 10

If you've been wanting to ask 'How do you study abroad?', expect that the answer might be very different depending on your destination.  Find some inspiration by scrolling through the Top 10 Places in the World to Study Abroad in 2023, or head over to the Top 10 Countries in Europe and Asia for even more possibilities. These rankings were created using student preferences from our annual student survey along with data from external sources to create a list of ideal study abroad locations.

Consider your major

If you’re an English literature major, it might not make any sense to study in China. But if you’re studying world literature, studying in China might actually be an awesome idea. Certain countries are known for different subjects of study, and while there will likely be excellent programs in many countries, this list can be a good starting point if you’re at the beginning of your search. Consider the following ideas:

📊 Business & Finance

Looking to launch your business career? These major cities are international business hubs: London, New York City, Hong Kong, Toronto, Sydney, and Tokyo.

📝 English & Literature

If you're a bookworm, you'll want to know that the world's most famous literary hubs include the cities of Santiago, Oxford, Paris, Saint Petersburg, Dublin, and Edinburgh.

💓 Medicine & Public Health

Where is the best healthcare in the world, and where does the world need healthcare the most? Try Denmark, South Africa, Ghana, Thailand, or India.

⚖️ Politics & Law

Political hotspots in Europe include the EU Headquarters in Brussels and the Red Cross in Geneva. Find the Headquarters of the United Nations in New York City.

⚙️ Engineering & Technology

Ready to think outside the box? Head to a global innovation hub like Singapore, San Francisco, Berlin, Tel Aviv, Stockholm, or Lisbon.

🎨 Visual Arts

Try a city with a rich cultural history of visual arts and tons of museums, like Florence, Paris, Barcelona, Beijing, or Chicago.

🎭 Performing Arts & Music

You'll find vibrant theater and music hubs in many cities around the world. Some of the most famous are Nashville, London, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, and Berlin.

🏛 History

Whether you’re interested in archeology or just history in general, you can’t beat places like Athens, Jerusalem, Cusco, Istanbul, or Moscow.

📚 Education

If you want to experience the world's best educational systems, go to Finland, the Netherlands, or Japan. If you're an aspiring English teacher, look to Vietnam or Colombia.

Consider your interests outside of school

You’re more than just a student! So think of your interests outside of the classroom. Do you want to spend time studying at the beach? Or maybe you want to go camping on weekends? Consider the following ideas:

🏕️ You’re outdoorsy

Consider countries like Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Norway, or Tanzania.

🍱 You're a culinary enthusiast

Consider cities like Tokyo, Casablanca, Rio de Janeiro, Dubai, and Hong Kong.

👓 You’re all about design

Consider iconic fashion centers like London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Paris, and New York.

☕ You're a coffee or tea lover

Consider the cities with some of the best café cultures in the world, like Stockholm, Melbourne, Rome, Singapore, or Vienna.

Consider the cost of living

When learning how to study abroad, your budget should play a main role in decision-making. Countries with a higher cost of living are primarily located in Western Europe and Northern Europe. More budget-friendly countries are found in South and Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. If keeping a strict budget is important for you, you may want to consider cities with a lower cost of living. Keep in mind that you will be able to find more affordable places to study outside of bigger cities, especially in the more expensive countries. You can find more specific living costs and budgeting information using the country guides below.

Want to learn more about how to study abroad in a certain country? Use our country guides to find out:

Study in North America:

Study in Europe:

Study in South America:

Study in Asia:

Study in the Middle East:

Study in Oceania:

Study in Africa:

Study Online 💻

If you already have a country in mind

If you already know the country you want to study in, now you have to decide on schools. When you’re choosing universities, you should consider many things, including the following:

Does the university offer a program that fits with my career goals?

If you want to do an entire bachelor’s degree in biology in England and then go back home to the USA for medical school, you’ll want to be very careful that you’re meeting certain requirements so that you can apply to American medical schools. Do your research beforehand! If you make the right decision, studying abroad can help boost your career.

Will I be able to transfer credits back to my home institution?

This is for those who are studying abroad going for a semester or year and not for the entire degree. Some schools might be quite strict about what study abroad credits they will count towards your degree, particularly when it comes to major requirements. Be certain that your school will allow that biology class you take abroad to be counted as your required biology class for your public health major! Make sure you document the school's approval in writing beforehand.

Where should I look for study abroad programs?

Once you’ve decided on a general location, now it’s time to get serious about making a list of potential universities. The resources listed below can help you narrow down your final list of schools to apply to. 

Education search engines

While Google can be a good starting point, use a specialized education resource like to help you explore and compare programs, directly message universities, and talk with current students. You can filter programs by country, city, school type, and subject category - making your study abroad journey as smooth as possible.


If you’re more focused on finding the right school rather than country, it may also be a good idea to check out ranking sites like THE, QS, and US News, which compile annual rankings of top schools around the world. However, don't trust these numbers completely. These sites rank older, well-established, large research universities more highly due to their ranking criteria, so just because a school isn’t at the top doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an amazing program that’s uniquely suited to you and your interests. 

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3. The application process

Are you still wondering: How does studying abroad work? Well, now it’s time to start the application process. If you have a list of schools in mind, we promise that it’s not as complicated as it might look! If you’ve applied to a university at home before, the process will likely look quite similar. Read on for exactly what goes into a study abroad application.

Get organized

Before you do anything else, get organized. We recommend starting with a spreadsheet to help you keep track of deadlines. You may also want to keep checklists of requirements for each school. You should come back to this spreadsheet again and again throughout the process to update it. If a spreadsheet isn’t your style, you should try making a checklist or some sort of master document that you can return to.


Ready to apply? While the application process will vary depending on the type and level of school you’re applying to, here are the basic requirements that might be a part of your application.


Most programs want to see how you did at your last school, be it your undergraduate university or even your high school. Some schools have specific minimum GPA requirements that will have to meet in order to be eligible. Contact your current school as soon as possible to have them send your transcript to the school you’re applying to. Depending on the grading system of the country, you may need to convert your grades or even get your transcript translated into another language.

Test scores

Many international programs are taught entirely in English. If English isn’t your first language, you’ll need to take a test to prove your English abilities to schools. Many schools accept the TOEFL iBT test as proof of your proficiency, including all universities in popular study abroad destinations like the UK, Canada, Australia, and the US. You can check if you’re ready to take the TOEFL iBT test here.

Depending on your chosen country, the schools you’re applying to might also require more general standardized tests. For example, many American universities require the SAT or the ACT for undergraduate students. If you’re applying to an American graduate school, you may need to take the GRE.

Motivation letter or personal statement

Some schools will require you write a personal statement, also sometimes called a study abroad essay. A personal statement explains to the school why you’re a great fit for the program. It’s a chance to show your personality, your priorities as a student, and how the school will help you reach your dreams. Motivation letters vary in length, but expect around 500 words as an average.

Your motivation letter should do several things:

  1. Explain why you want to study at the specific university you’re applying to. Think of what they can offer you and how you can contribute to the school.
  2. Explain why you want to study in their country, and not your home country.
  3. Show proof that you could excel abroad and at their university specifically.

Your motivation letter should not:

  1. Be a generic letter that you send to all of the schools you’re applying to.
  2. Plant doubt that you couldn’t handle being an international student away from home.
  3. Imply that you’re studying abroad to party and only make friends.

Teacher recommendations and references

Some schools will ask for one or two academic references (your teachers) to submit with your application. Often they’ll ask that the teachers submit references directly to the university. Sometimes you will be asked to send them in yourself.

Choose teachers who really know you and ones with who you have a good relationship. These might be teachers you’ve had recently or have now. When you ask them for an academic reference, you might want to provide them with your CV and a list of the schools you’re applying to so they can customize their references. Give them at least a month’s notice to prepare the reference for you and be prepared to send them reminders.


Interviews are not very common, but you might be asked to do an interview over the phone or on video chat. Interviews might sound scary, but they’re a great way to show your personality. They are also a good chance for you to ask questions and decide if the school is right for you – interviews are a two-way street!

Here are some questions you might encounter in a study abroad interview:

  1. Why do you want to study abroad?
  2. Why are you interested in this particular program?
  3. What are your long-term career goals?
  4. Have you been abroad before? How did you find it?
  5. What parts of the host country's culture are you most looking forward to?
  6. How would you get involved at the school?
  7. What do you do in your free time?

You should come prepared with questions of your own as well. Do research first and don’t ask questions that you could easily find on their website. Taking the time to do thoughtful research will show your interviewer that you’re serious about their program and about studying abroad. It may help to do a practice interview with a friend or family member before the real interview.

If you go into a study abroad interview prepared, you’ll be sure to leave a good impression. Don't forget to send a follow-up thank-you message by email after the interview!

Writing/Art Sample

Most programs won’t require this, but if you’re applying to a program that is writing-heavy or arts-focused, you may be asked to submit a sample of your work. For a literature program, this could include a research paper. For an animation course, this might be a portfolio of your best work.

Need to know how to get a scholarship?

Use our Scholarship Guide to get the information you need.

4. Apply for scholarships

Studying abroad can be expensive, but scholarships can be one way to majorly offset the cost. There are many places to look for scholarships, and scholarships will vary - they could provide several hundred dollars toward tuition or could even cover an entire program. However, don’t overlook the smaller scholarships! Any amount can go a long way in making studying abroad possible for you. Unsure where to start? Let us be your guide!

Start with our Study Abroad Scholarship Directory

We’ve curated a list of 440+ international scholarships across 37 countries. We’ve already done the work of researching and organizing scholarship award amounts, eligibility requirements, and deadlines for you. So, know that these scholarships are legitimate and actually worth applying to. Some of these scholarships are associated with universities, but others are open to students looking to study anywhere in a country.

Explore government-funded scholarships

Some countries will help fund students who are looking to study there. For example, the Swedish Institute provides scholarships to international students who want to study in Sweden. It’s certainly worth a quick Google search to find what other countries have government-funded scholarships.

Look at your university’s scholarship page

If you want to know how to study abroad in a country that’s not included in our scholarship guide, you should look to see if specific schools in that country offer scholarships for student applicants. Most universities will have a page dedicated to scholarship information. If you are looking at a short-term program, you may also want to investigate if your current university offers students scholarships to study abroad at other universities.

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5. Apply for financial aid

If you’re an American student who is on financial aid at your home university, you will likely be able to get financial aid to study abroad. If you’ve taken out a federal loan, check out this list of countries that accept FAFSA. If your school has given you a private grant, you likely will be able to extend that to your study abroad studies. Be sure to check with your school’s financial aid office if you have any specific questions.

6. Accept an offer of admission

You did it! Once you get into a school abroad, the real fun begins. But perhaps you’ve been accepted by more than one school. Now you'll have to decide which school to choose.

How to decide where to study if you have more than one option

First things first - make a pro and con list of each school you’re deciding between. There are several things to consider when picking a college.

  • Your own priorities: Spend some time thinking about what you want in the future. What does your ideal life look like in a few years, and what can help you get there?
  • The courses and teaching staff: Find more detailed information about the future courses you'll take. Will they help you once you graduate? Do some additional research on class sizes, faculty involvement, and opportunities like internships.
  • Support services and facilities: The library and gym as well as the mental health support, career services, academic advising, and international student services are all a part of your future experience. Make sure that these are what you’re looking for!
  • Location and student life: You can get a sense of student life on the university’s website to see what sports groups, clubs, and societies they offer. Check out the schools’ social media. What vibe do you get? Could you see yourself there?
  • Cost of living and tuition: What’s the tuition? If the schools you’re deciding between are in two different countries, what’s the cost of living in each? Does one school offer better financial aid or scholarships?
  • Your gut feeling: Don’t choose a school just because your parents prefer one. If you’re going to spend a few months or a few years out of the country, it should be somewhere you actually want to be.

Didn’t get an offer of admission?

If you weren’t accepted by any of the schools you applied to, you might feel very disappointed. However, keep in mind that many programs are extremely competitive. Just because a school didn't think you were the right fit now doesn’t mean they never will. The good thing is that now you know all the answers to the question: How does studying abroad work? Don't give up, consider a wider variety of schools, and apply again next year!

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Why Study Abroad?

There are so many reasons why study abroad programs are life-changing experiences for many international students. Learn more about how studying abroad can help build your future.

What Can I Study Abroad?

Wondering about what you can study abroad? This section of the How to Study Abroad Guide will talk about the different kinds of degrees and programs you can study overseas. 

Preparing For Study Abroad

Now that you have chosen a program and received your acceptance, where do you go from there? Discover more about housing, budgeting, and packing for your study overseas in this section of the guide.

What to Do When You Arrive

Do you have your ticket abroad but need to know what to do on arrival? Learn how to navigate your first few days in a new country and also what to expect as you are adjusting to a new culture and society.

After Study Abroad

So, you have had an incredible adventure and are looking at your options after your time is up? We have some ideas for you. Find out more about how to put study abroad on your resume, and what to do if you want to stay in your study abroad country.

Keystone Team


The Keystone Team is comprised of experienced educators and advisors dedicated to providing valuable resources and advice to students all over the world.