Off-Campus Study Semesters: A Discussion Guide for Families

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Studying off campus for a semester can be immensely rewarding and life-changing. But it can also be a challenging process that requires patience and mentoring — and will impact the family, as well. If your student is interested in studying off campus, there are some important conversations that families should have. There are also ways that families can help their students decide what program to apply for and how to prepare for the experience.

The long winter break is an ideal time for a family to discuss their student’s off-campus study plans. Here is helpful information to consider, based in part on class year. 

    First-Year Students 

    Review the options and requirements together

    The first year, when students to begin to identify their academic interests, is a good time to consider how a semester off-campus study would dovetail with their interests. 

    Students at Colgate have many options for studying off campus — in more than 50 countries, with more than 120 international programs to choose from, as well as several programs within the United States. Colgate professionals will serve as important resources for your student in exploring their options and making plans, from their academic adviser to staff members in the off-campus study and registrar’s offices. There will be multiple opportunities to learn about programs from us as the experts and from students who have already participated. 

    You can help your student prepare for those conversations by going to the Off-Campus study web page together to explore programs and countries of interest, as well as learn about important planning and timeline considerations

    Suggest they outline their goals for off-campus study, to include academic, personal, and practical goals. Identifying their goals can help students stay on track in their research and planning, as well as during challenging times abroad.

    Ask them about their academic goals and make sure they take note of the Grade Point Average requirements for admission to programs of interest (most require a 3.0 Grade Point Average or higher).

    • Talk about their personal and practical goals, which ideally would fall under the following categories:

    • Improve language skills

    • Live like a local

    • Meet and make friends with someone in a new place

    • Develop independence — see what you are capable of

    Encourage your student to talk with a range of people to get academic, logistical, and personal advice as part of their exploration. They could make a list of people on campus who know them, such as their academic adviser, administrative dean, FSEM adviser, or their coach (if they have one). An online folder and, closer to departure, a journal or notebook would be great ways to keep track of what they are learning. 

    All Colgate students studying abroad in a non-English–language setting are required to take one of their courses in the local language. Especially in less-commonly taught languages, these courses tend to focus on conversational language, especially the ability to speak phrases necessary to living in that location. Use of the local language can lead to greater intercultural interactions and self-sufficiency.

    Determine and discuss any perceived barriers 

    As your student considers specific programs of interest, be sure to discuss whether your student and/or family has any restrictions. Finances, your student’s health or mental health needs; independence and life skills; distance; language; and any family issues are all important factors. The following information will help guide you in those considerations.

    Colgate charges regular tuition for all off-campus, semester-long programs (Colgate study groups and non-Colgate approved programs). Colgate charges housing and other fees separately (in addition to tuition), at the individual program cost. 

    Financial aid is available for all programs approved for credit. Students who qualify for financial aid can also receive additional aid if the program costs exceed a normal semester at Colgate. This additional aid practice is in effect for one semester and one extended study program.

    Costs and Aid For Off-Campus Study

    How will your student maintain their health while away? For any pre-existing medical and/or mental health conditions, review the Self-Guided Healthcare Action Plan found on the Off-Campus Study Health Insurance and Emergencies page. The plan is designed for students to share with their healthcare provider(s) in preparation to continue treatment, and to create an action plan should symptoms worsen.

    Health Insurance for Overseas Study

    All students on Colgate University-sponsored programs are covered by CISI insurance, which costs roughly $160 per semester and is expressly for U.S.-degree students obtaining medical care outside the States, including routine visits. There is no deductible, and students can consult lists of known providers abroad. Students may need to pay up front and be reimbursed. 

    Approved Program providers normally include international travel and health insurance. In cases when the provider does not provide insurance coverage, Colgate adds CISI insurance charges to match the standards of coverage (medical and security) that all other CU students have.

    Off-Campus Study Health and Safety

    For those going abroad, challenges are frequent. Students must adapt to another culture, often to another method of learning and success, sometimes to a different language, and also to a new set of rules.  

    This requires students to step out of their comfort zones. Talk with them about how they can navigate that environment without the support they normally have at Colgate or at home.

    Work on Life Skills

    Life skills become particularly important during off-campus semesters; living independently and managing healthcare in a new setting can be stressful. Students should know how to shop for themselves and cook a few meals; create and follow a budget; manage their own healthcare, including making physician or psychologist appointments; and navigate public transportation and other travel logistics. Winter break is a great time to learn and practice their skills.

    Many students will live in housing without a meal plan — they should work on mastering three or four different meals and develop a food budget based on those meals.

    Gather physician and other practitioner names and contact information. Obtain the chemical (not just brand) name of each medication. Know triggers that worsen symptoms. 

    If you live in an area close to public transportation and your student hasn’t ever used a bus, make it a family outing. Buy a guidebook to the country they will be living in (Rough Guide or Lonely Planet, e.g.). If your student is transitioning to a big city, examine maps of the area online to discover local attractions around them. Watch a film set in that country.

    Agree on a reasonable communication plan. 

    Maintaining frequent contact with peers or family can cause additional stress to students, and expectations for communicating across time zones can interfere with students’ ability to set up a structured schedule in their new location. We recommend that you try to limit speaking to once a week. If the student needs support from home, this can be amended.

    Be Cognizant of the Location and Distance

    Will your family be in a position to visit your student at their off-campus location? If yes, you should plan to wait to visit until the end of their semester. The beginning of a program requires them to focus on adaptation — learning how to navigate a new location, language, or academic style takes a lot of concentration and energy. 

    Please note: study abroad is not an opportunity for students to frequently travel independently, which would disrupt their academic program and add to the student’s stress. Make sure that academics and cultural exploration come first and that tourism comes second. 


    Most Colgate students plan to study off campus during their junior year; therefore, all application deadlines take place during the sophomore year. (Sophomores may in some cases be eligible to study off campus, which takes lots of advance planning.

    Seniors can study off campus as long as they go in the fall; otherwise, they face a delay in graduating.)

    Be Mindful of Deadlines: the Academic Credits and Application Process

    Colgate must first grant approval to all students wishing to earn credit abroad toward their degree through an off-campus study semester. 

    Students receive residential credit for Colgate-run, faculty-led programs and transfer credit for Approved Programs.

    Non-Colgate Approved Programs (there are more than 107) are determined for approval toward a Colgate degree by relevant academic departments, and there are offerings for most of the 56 majors.  

    Application deadlines for Colgate-led groups during an academic year take place in early November of the previous academic year.

    For example, the deadline for 2020–21 groups was November 6, 2019. That said, several 2020-21 Study Groups are still accepting applications during December 2019 — so if your student still wishes to be considered for one of these groups, there is still time to apply.
        1.    Arctic Russia — Russian Language & Culture (Russian immersion) or Environmental Studies in English 

        2.    Santa Fe, New Mexico — Native American Studies; English literature; Women’s Studies; Education Studies.

        3.    Venice, Italy — Music. Interdisciplinary (courses in English) required (Italian 122 or its equivalent).  

        4.    Washington, D.C. — political science. Courses on site, with internships on Capitol Hill.

    Learn about deadlines and the online application process

    For Colgate clearance to study off campus on an Approved Program in 2020–21, the internal deadline is February 5. There are 107 non-Colgate–administered programs approved by individual departments for credit toward the degree. 

    Once students are approved to apply to a non-Colgate approved program, they can begin to apply to the specific program they are interested in. Note that deadlines and requirements differ from program to program. All information is available through links on the off-campus study site. Scroll down for the different types of programs along with full instructions. 

    Learn about deadlines and the online application process


    Preparation is Key

    To ensure that students going on Colgate-led study groups are ready for the experience, the Office of Off-Campus Study, along with the faculty director, operates four to five formal pre-departure sessions about the location. We also work with students to promote sensible behavior in new locations and to learn personal safety skills.

    Students on non-Colgate programs receive pre-departure information provided by the organization sponsoring the program. All students taking approved programs are also invited to a pre-departure session (repeated four different times) together with previous student participants.

    The following are actions the students can or must take themselves.

    Valid and current passport; VISA/IMMIGRATION applications to foreign governments (provided after students are admitted).

    Prior to departure, medical, psychological, vision, and dental visits are important. Students with pre-existing conditions should speak to their healthcare practitioners to discuss their plans and ways to maintain their health abroad.

    Transitioning to life in another city or country can be challenging, from adapting to apartment living or other different housing arrangements, to meeting people from another culture and learning to respect different beliefs and values as we respect our own.

    Disengaging from social media is a key strategy, because dependence upon social media for connections to home can delay a student’s successful transition to another culture and make them unhappy.

    It’s also a good idea for your student to learn about the country prior to departure, and to practice the life skills mentioned in the section above for first-year students. 

    A Note About Returning Students

    For students returning from a fall semester off campus, their transition home after a challenging semester might be difficult. If your student has just returned, ask them to consider attending our off-campus Re-entry program in early February to “unpack” their experiences, learn how to apply them to their future careers, and discover ways to engage with future international opportunities.

    Wherever your student is in the process, don’t worry about trying to master all of this information — after all, it’s theirs to learn from. By knowing these key points, you’ll be able to help guide them through it.


    Joanna Holvey Bowles is director of the Office of Off-Campus Study



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