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International education aids college students’ development

Study abroad participants say their international experiences benefited their development through building adaptability, resilience and cross-cultural communication, among other skills.

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Study abroad is often touted as a high-impact practice that helps expose students to new ideas, locations and cultures, but what do students think of their abroad experiences?

A from global engagement platform provider Terra Dotta found that, among students who had studied abroad or plan to study abroad, learners recognize the value of international education and its impact on their life and career skills. To expand the reach of these programs, students also want to see greater help in financial aid processes from their institutions.


Terra Dotta’s survey collected responses from 258 students in winter 2024 who are interested in study abroad programs or who have participated in study abroad. The greatest share of students were first-year students (33 percent) or sophomores (25 percent).

Impact of study abroad: Among all respondents, almost 90 percent (n=169) say study abroad is somewhat or very important for their personal and professional development. Among those who had already participated in a study abroad program (n=40), 55 percent said the experience was very important.

These former participants identify adaptability and resilience (58 percent), cross-cultural communication (50 percent), and problem-solving in new situations (48 percent) as skills they learned abroad that will be most relevant to their future career.

More than eight in 10 students say study abroad changed their worldview, and 30 percent of students say the experience “profoundly impacted me by challenging my global assumptions and beliefs.”

Students report being most surprised by social norms and etiquette of their host location (41 percent), followed by the pace and structure of daily life (21 percent).

In addition to supporting students’ professional development, research points to the impact of study abroad on students’ feelings of belonging at the institution. A from Pepperdine University found students who studied abroad had higher levels of sense of community and well-being compared to their peers who did not study abroad.

Challenges of study abroad: Data from the found student interest in study abroad is rebounding post-pandemic, with 188,753 students studying abroad during the 2021–22 academic year. The largest share of students participate in a summer term (49 percent) or over one semester/two quarters (33 percent).

For the majority of students, cost is an impediment to studying abroad (67 percent), with additional fees for visas, transportation and personal living expenses. The greatest share of Terra Dotta survey respondents (44 percent) report having spent between $5,000 to $10,000 on study abroad, but 11 percent will spend over $15,000 on their experiences.

Four in 10 respondents say they plan to use financial aid to cover costs and 29 percent will use scholarships. Nationally, over half (56 percent) of students pay for their own study abroad experiences, followed by institutional funding (20 percent), .

Over half of students who have studied abroad (58 percent) say easier access to financial aid would improve the study abroad experience for students in the future, according to Terra Dotta.

Increasing access: Some colleges have to reduce some of the costs associated with international education, including a free passport program and scholarships for first-generation or underrepresented minority students.

More colleges and universities are also creating study abroad experiences for their students at the institution to and expand opportunities for students to participate.

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