Choosing Your Off-Campus Study Program

There are more than 200 approved or petitionable programs in about 60 countries for you to choose from. Please refer to the Off-Campus Program Opportunities webpage for more information and to research on these programs. There is a great diversity of programs available to Colby students in terms of classroom settings, housing options, course availability, location, and classmates. 

To find the best program for YOU, start by using the resources below:

We strongly recommend that you:

  • Meet with your Academic Advisor and the OCS Faculty Liaison for your major
  • Attend the Off-Campus Study Fair in early October
  • Attend any OCS Information Sessions held by departments
  • Research of the OCS programs listed on Colby's approved/petitionable opportunities list

To meet with a member of OCS please schedule an appointment by calling (207) 859-4500 or stopping by Eustis 103. 

You should start planning early in the fall of the academic year before that in which you hope to study away, and fully investigate all available resources.


If you choose to study at an overseas University you will enroll in regular classes and study alongside students from the host country. This option offers the advantage of full cultural immersion. This also permits you to choose from a wide variety of courses in many disciplines. Visiting students are expected to perform at the same level as their native classmates, and will be graded as such. In most overseas universities the majority of each course grade will depend heavily on the outcome of a final exam or paper and less on assignments throughout the semester. In addition, classes will follow the local academic calendar and semesters may start earlier or later than universities in the U.S. University Based Programs normally offer housing in dorms or in student apartments. Some universities only offer housing in a designated international dorm.

There are two different ways you may study at an overseas university:

a) Direct enrollment: In many countries you may apply to and enroll directly in a university. Generally, overseas universities do not offer the same level of support services that students are accustomed to receiving at Colby College. However, there are usually international student offices that do provide some services to visiting students.
Examples: London School of Economics and Political Science; University of Melbourne

b) Applying through a program provider:  In the U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa you may apply to universities through American intermediaries, such as IFSA Butler, CIEE, and IES. (Not all of their programs, however, are approved by Colby). These program providers’ program fee usually includes a variety of services including: application, pre-departure, medical insurance, orientation, excursions, assistance with course selection, registration and housing and other on-site support services. These organizations also employ a resident director and other staff in each city or country who provide on-site support. If you decide to apply through a program provider you should use their application materials, follow their eligibility guidelines, requirements, and deadlines for the specific program in which you are interested (in many cases, they vary from the university's).
Examples: IFSA-Butler: University of Melbourne; CIEE: University of Cape Town.

English-speaking university enrollment: It is possible to enroll in one of many English-speaking universities (in Ireland, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc.) and take all your classes there, alongside host-country undergraduates. The universities have their own international student offices that can help you through any stage of the study abroad process.

Non-English-speaking university enrollment: This must nearly always be done through a program. The most common model is for programs in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico, etc. to teach at least one of their own courses in a somewhat US-style format, at their own center, but also enroll students for some or most of their courses at a local university, alongside host-country undergraduates. For the languages taught at Colby, you will normally need to have at least two years of college-level language for a program of this type (see specific program requirements).  

Please see the section below on Study Center Based Programs for more information on other ways to take some of your courses at an overseas university.  

Some academic institutions have study centers overseas where they host programs specifically designed for international students. These programs offer classes in English or the local language that are taught by local and/or visiting faculty. Courses are generally structured similarly to U.S. university courses, with a syllabus, regular assignments, and frequent exams. These programs are also more likely to follow the U.S. semester calendar. If you chose to study on one of these programs you will be taking courses with other foreign students. Most of these programs offer housing with homestay families, a few offer housing in student apartments.
Examples: IES in Granada, Spain; Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies 

In some countries where English is not the primary native language these programs may also allow students with adequate language abilities to take one or more courses at a local university alongside local students.
Examples: IES Buenos Aires; CIEE programs in many countries  

Study abroad on a field-based program offers you the opportunity to approach academic learning in a new way. These physical and social science programs take advantage of their locations in the field to engage students in experiential, interdisciplinary learning. Most programs have very specific themes such as ecology, marine biology, anthropology, social justice, etc. These programs tend to be small, usually accommodating 25 or fewer students from the U.S. who take all of their courses together. Courses are taught by a combination of professors, local experts and working professionals. Most class time is spent out in the field, learning about the local culture and history, observing, collecting data and interacting directly with the subject matter you are studying and the program will often conclude with an independent study project in which students pursue field studies based on the theoretical framework they have acquired in courses in the first part of the semester. Courses tend to have regularly scheduled assignments and exams. Assessment is often based on the quality of observation and analysis demonstrated in your work. These programs tend to follow a U.S. academic calendar. Housing options vary depending on location. Many programs offer a homestays or rustic accommodations in field stations.
Examples: SIT: Madagascar: National Identify and Social Change; School for Field Studies: Sustainable Development, Costa Rica. 

Language acquisition programs are language intensive and designed to help you enhance your host country language skills and cultural fluency. In addition to courses in grammar, conversation, and written language, all of your other courses on culture, art or history for example will usually be taught in the local language but adjusted to your level of ability. In some cases, some classes on the country’s history, art, or politics for example may also be taught in English. Housing on these programs will usually entail a homestay with a local family. Examples: Colby in Salamanca-Language Program; Associated Colleges in China (ACC) program.

Internships offer a unique way to immerse yourself in the local society and gain a deeper understanding of a particular field. Several programs around the world sponsor academic internships that allow students to gain real word experience with a private firm, an artistic association, a government body or a non government organization. Please note that not all internships offered by programs on the approved list meet Colby' requirements for credit. In addition to general policies, internship programs must include a non-paid internship with considerable academic work done in tandem and not to exceed 4 credit hours.  The internship should be done as part of a study abroad program that is predominantly credited in terms of the courses taken.  Typical models consist of 16 credits with the internship counting for 4 credits and three other courses counting for 4 credits each).  Internships and independent study courses must have approval from the Office of Off-Campus Study in order to be accepted for credit.
Examples: Boston University London Internship; IES in Vienna.

Language instruction: Do not assume that if you have no great language competency or background they are your only option. There are some programs in Europe or Asia that accept students with no previous knowledge of the host-country language, although you will be required to take an introductory course in the language during the semester.
Example: CHP in Prague, DIS in Copenhagen, the Swedish Program in Stockholm.

Teaching and learning: There is much variation among programs in teaching methods, types of assignments, amount of supervision and direction from instructors, and forms of assessment. All students should pay close attention to this, and bear in mind that the method of assessment of many university courses remains heavily weighted towards final examinations, and most courses offer less direct contact with the instructor than you are used to a Colby.

Housing: While most universities abroad don’t have an American-style campus life or dormitories, some do. Some programs give you a choice of housing options or a mix of several over the course of the semester, others have just one option. The most common options are homestays (living with a local family), dormitories (living with local or other international students), and apartments shared with other program participants, local students, or both. In many field-based programs, housing is usually some combination of small local hostels, field station dormitory, homestays, and/or camping during the semester.

Program Style: Some students want a great deal of independence and are willing to do a lot of legwork on things like finding their own housing, figuring out how to register for courses, and learning about the host culture, while others prefer to be part of a program that will take care of these details for them. You may want to stay away from Americans as much as possible, or you may decide it would be more comfortable to be around at least some people with similar backgrounds, going through the acculturation process together. There’s no one right answer, so think about finding a good balance based on your knowledge of yourself.

Service Learning/Volunteering: Some programs have a service learning component or are able to help you get in involved in volunteer Location: You may choose a program by the country or city in which it is based. This is especially common for those who want to study a particular society (current or historic), environmental phenomenon, language, or culture. You may want to consider whether you will be able to travel in the region, and whether the political climate is conducive to your spending a semester or year there. Also consider if you want to live in a big city , a smaller city, or a more rural area. Personal Factors: These may include the cost of living in the countries you’re considering, your health situation (asthma, for instance, may preclude some locations), courses available in your major field of study, dates (some programs run only at one time of year, and some have a calendar that conflicts with the US university schedule or summer break), a longstanding desire to live near the sea or to follow in Fitzgerald’s footsteps, and so on.

Cost: Program and university costs vary greatly. Since while studying abroad Colby students pay the cost of the program (not Colby tuition) you should check on each program/university for their fees. In general, fees for direct enrollment in a foreign university are lower than applying through a program provider but these program providers’ program fee usually includes a variety of services including: application, pre-departure, medical insurance, orientation, excursions, assistance with course selection, registration and housing and other on-site support services for students on site. Use the Off-Campus Study Budget Planning Worksheet on the OCS website under Financing Off-Campus Study.

Back to Getting Started                                                 Back to Choosing Your Off-Campus Program


The possibilities for off-campus study can be overwhelming. Before researching programs you will want to have made some preliminary decisions as to the type of experience you want to have. Start by realistically assessing your academic and personal preparation and your objectives. As you research among the many program possibilities, consider the questions below and download the CHOOSING YOUR OCS PROGRAM WORKSHEET to help you think through what kind of off-campus study experience would be the right “fit” for you.


  • What do I hope to achieve by studying abroad?
  • What are my personal goals for my time abroad? Primarily academic? Do I want to volunteer, do an internship or community service while abroad?
  • How will my term abroad complement my course of studies here on campus?
  • Do I want to take my language skills to the next level? Is my goal to become fluent in another language?
  • How do I envision yourself spending my days? Who would I most like to meet?   In some programs, you may get to know a number of community members, while others may offer more opportunities to meet college students.  
  • How important is it for me to be involved with local culture and people?
  • How will study abroad impact me?  
  • What will be most challenging for me about studying abroad?


  • Where do you want to go? Why?
  • Do you want to study in a less-developed or more-developed country?
  • Do you want to be in a big city or a small town/rural area?


  • What do I want or need to study to meet academic objectives?
  • Are there specific academic requirements that I need to fulfill during study abroad?
  • Does my major require me to enroll in a particular type of program?
  • Am I fluent enough in a foreign language to take classes, write papers, and take notes, or will I need to take some or all of your coursework in English?
  • Am I interested in taking courses on the language and culture of the host country?
  • What kind of language-learner am I?
  • Do I want to focus on my current major interests from a different perspective?
  • Would I like to explore a new subject for a semester?
  • Do I have research interests I’d like to explore in a foreign setting?


  • Do I want to be in a university setting? directly enrolled into a foreign university?
  • Do I want to be on a field-based or experiential program focused on a particular theme?
  • Do I feel more comfortable with the services of a resident director or am I confident I can handle enrollment, sightseeing and travel on your own?
  • Is class and university size important to me?


  • To what extent do I wish to integrate myself into the host culture?
  • Do I want to live in a university dormitory? an apartment?
  • Do I want to live with other Americans or with local students?
  • Do I want to live with a local family in a homestay? A combination of the above?


  • How long do I want to study abroad (academic year, semester, summer)?
  • When do I want to go? Fall ? Spring? Full year?
  • Are there courses here that I need to take on campus in order to graduate?


  • Is cost a factor?
  • How much money can I spend on the study abroad experience? Consider not only tuition and fees, but also housing and food, personal expenses, and international travel.
  • Are there scholarships that I might be eligible for?


  • Does my GPA qualify me for Colby approval (2.7) or for the program (Minimum GPA requirements vary from 2.5 - 3.0 depending on the program)?
  • Do I have the language skills required for the program?
  • Do I have time to apply before the application deadline?
Other considerations: Be sure that you are mentally and physically prepared for an unfamiliar environment or culture. If you have a learning or physical disability that could affect your participation, we would be pleased to help you identify viable options. Remember that the environment, facilities, and legal requirements will vary greatly in different countries and programs.

How not to choose a program: In all of this please remember to make your academic and personal needs your first priority, so that you do not waste energy on an unsuitable idea. Do not choose a program (or a semester) because that is where or when your friends are applying; find the best program for your own individual needs, and avoid the insularity that would make you spend much of your time away with people you know well.

Remember, finally, that it is perfectly fine to remain here. Deciding to go abroad because your friends are going, to escape from an unsatisfactory campus or home situation, or get away from a personal relationship or other problems are not always good reasons to go. The difficulty with these latter reasons is that study abroad may not be an answer at all and, indeed, could make matters worse. There are other and usually better ways of resolving some of these issues: taking time off altogether from studying, seeking counseling, or directly confronting the problem. In short, study abroad is not for everyone, and should not be entered into lightly, with no forethought as to how it fits in with your personal, academic, or career goals. You may have to make some hard choices; but remember that there are many other study abroad opportunities, including summer, JanPlan, and graduate study, if a semester or year abroad is not feasible.

Back to Getting Started                                                 Back to Choosing Your Off-Campus Program