As some of you may have previously read, I am embarking on a year of solo travels in 2015 while continuing my Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Media and Communications degree on an overseas study exchange. After successfully getting to the end of the study abroad application process (and realizing how time consuming narrowing down and deciding upon the available options was), I thought I would share with you a simple guide to ensuring you choose the perfect program that suits your wants, needs and expectations.

1. Location

If the tertiary institution you attend is anything like the Queensland University of Technology, their extensive list of available university partners means you have the entire world at your fingertips. Whilst this is an exciting prospect, it can also be overwhelming! Consequently, shortening your list based upon one or two general locations is a simple way to narrow down the options you have.

First ask yourself some broad questions:

What weather do I like?

Personally, after spending my 19 years of existence under the hot Australian sun I was eager to go somewhere where it snowed in winter! This crossed a quite a few regions off my list.

What attractions interest me?

Do you want the hustle of a busy city? Or the slow paced atmosphere of the countryside? Would you like to be near a beach? Or are you a museums and art gallery kind of person? For example, as I plan to travel extensively during my year abroad a key factor I was looking for was easy accessibility to transportation (like railways and airports).

Then ask yourself location specific questions:

What surrounds the place I am considering? Would I like to travel there?

This was the quickest way I narrowed down my list. Whilst there are countless places I want to travel (no exaggeration, there isn’t a place I wouldn’t consider visiting), when it came to my priorities I had my heart set on Europe. This immediately shortened my list to one continent.

How secure is the place I am considering? Would I be confident and comfortable living there?

Whilst safety is an important consideration for all travellers, if you are a solo female traveller like myself, assessing the security of the intended location is paramount as you do not want to have your enjoyment hindered by safety concerns. If you are unsure about the safety situation of the place you are deciding upon I suggest popping over to the Australian Smart Traveller website for the latest updates on most regions.

2. Language

Research the predominate language spoken in the areas you are deciding upon, then think to yourself:

Do I want to learn another language? Can I live 6 months to 1 year speaking little to no English? 

If you are like me and are unsure about your ability to learn a new language but would be willing to give it your best shot – narrow your list to places where you would be interested in attempting the new language. However, if you find the thought of not being able to easily find English speaking persons to converse with too daunting, you can cross off places where English is not spoken. Keep in mind that even though English is not the native language of many places in Europe, almost everyone you encounter will be able to speak it e.g. Amsterdam. A quick Google search will help you determine this. Also remember there is a high chance of other study abroad students from your country joining you on the exchange, so it is unlikely you will ever be completely unable to find someone who speaks English.

3. Available Units/Teaching Methods

This is the most time consuming criteria to research but probably the most important as it will greatly impact on your lifestyle during the exchange. Whilst it varies for each university, you should find a full description of each unit offered on the institutions website under something along the lines of ‘module specification’, ‘unit description’ or ‘program specification’. For me, I needed to ensure that every unit I undertook overseas met my university guidelines so the equivalent amount of credits points could be accounted for and added to my degree. If you need help with this I suggest contacting the Study Abroad/Overseas Exchange department of your university. Tip: look at more than the actual content or assessment items of each unit because knowing the differences in contact hours, timetabling and teaching methods (lectures, tutorials, lectorials etc) can be a deal breaker.

4. Cost Of Living

Finally, determine whether the cost of living in the destination you are considering suits your budget. Remember that the cost of living includes more than groceries and accommodation – things like transportation, visas, insurance, university administration fees and knowing whether electricity, water and rates are included in your accommodation are also important factors. Researching this will also make for a more enjoyable exchange as you will not be stressing about finances.

Further Research

If you are looking for more information I found Study Abroad 101 to be a great site. Real exchange students upload their reviews of the universities they went to, the units they took, their cost of living and their overall experience.

Hopefully this guide has helped simplify the process of deciding where to study abroad for you! Feel free to comment further suggestions below as I would love to hear how you chose your study abroad program 🙂