Doing a year abroad is a fantastic experience, not just from the point of view of being able to travel and explore new cultures, but also for your CV – with employers valuing your international outlook, language skills and confidence.

However, what do you do if your university/ course doesn’t offer a year abroad program? As a student who recently completed a year abroad completely independently from my degree at a university (the University of Cambridge) which didn’t offer any study abroad support, I wrote an article addressing this situation for the website Third Year Abroad, which you can read in full here.

As a summary of the (admittedly slightly long and detailed) article, here were my main points:

Finding opportunities:

  1. Double check with your university’s international student centre/ language department/ erasmus coordinator if there are any opportunities you simply weren’t aware of
  2. Look into non-degree programs at universities abroad (short-term programs where you are not awarded a full degree but can study a year of a degree program/ a range of degree modules/ language courses). I’d recommend avoiding English speaking countries like the USA/ Australia due to the high costs involved…
  3. Investigate scholarships for particular countries/ institutions – e.g. my year abroad was partially funded through the British Council Generation UK-China program.
  4. Pay a fortune to a private year-abroad provider (not recommended), or use the info on their website to identify institutions where you could study a similar program for cheaper.

Preparing to go

  1. Get permission from your home university
    • For some universities, this is simply ticking a box online asking for a gap year, for others it is more complicated
    • Cambridge required me to explain why I wanted to go, some suggestions:
      • Improving career prospects
      • Becoming more independent and confident
      • To study other areas/ aspects of your degree
      • To study a completely different subject that will help you in the future
    • In addition, they wanted to know why NOW, not after graduation, some suggestions:
      • Having a non-delayable job offer for after graduation
      • The opportunity not being available to graduates (particularly the case for some scholarships)
      • The skills learnt during the year abroad will help you in final year (e.g. if it involves studying stuff relevant to your degree subject)
      • It is harder to apply for jobs if you are currently abroad, so if you go abroad straight after graduation and want a job for when you get back the next year you may find it difficult to attend interviews, and won’t have completed the year abroad so it is harder to reflect on what you have learnt in it (a common interview question)
  2. Getting everything for your year out sorted (foreign uni should be able to advise)
    • Accommodation
    • Tuition fees/ deposits
    • Visas
    • Exchanging money
    • etc.
  3. Cancelling third year plans in the UK
    • Student finance – phone them up and say you are taking a year out (NOT quitting)
    • Cancel accommodation – potentially requiring finding a replacement housemate/ losing your deposit

If you are unfortunately unsuccessful in your year abroad plans, all is not lost – don’t forget it is possible to do summer programs abroad, study for your masters abroad or intern abroad too!


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