Guide to Work, Study, Travel and Living Abroad    

Study Abroad Increases Professional Job Prospects

IES Study Abroad Student in Luxembourg
IES Abroad European Union student Sam Holden visiting the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg.

Economic crises, changing exchange rates, high travel expenses…all of these are some of main reasons why the previously meteoric rise in the rate of students studying abroad has been decreasing. Not only are expenses associated with study abroad increasing, but at the same time, scholarships, financial aid, grants, and fellowships that used to be available to study abroad students are thought by some to be less easily obtained. In addition, there are the national economic cuts and often shortsighted politics that ensue. Some students can’t help but wonder: “Is study abroad really worth it?” The truth is that not only is it worth it to you in the long run, much work is being done to help students out financially to allow them to go abroad, and for very good reasons.

"International experience is one of the most important components of a 21st century resume." — Dr. Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO, Institute of International Education.

Looking at the big picture, the Open Doors 2019 data published by the Institute of International Education (view the yearly .PDF reports for interesting details by region and country), indicates that 341,000 U.S. students received credit for study abroad during 2017-18, an increase of 2.7% percent over the previous year. Approximately a 25% of these students majored in STEM fields, 20% in Business, 17% in Social Sciences, with others concentrating on subjects such as language and the liberal arts. The Open Doors findings reflect that students very often study abroad to gain international experience that can be applied in their careers, and data also show that an increasing number of U.S. students — 38,000+ — participated in non-credit work, including some paid and unpaid internships, and volunteering abroad in order to gain practical skills and broaden life experience.

Nevertheless, the 2.7% increase year-over-year represents a relatively small amount of growth relative to increases over the past 30 years. The White House Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship under the Barack Obama administration announced many promising initiatives, among whose goals is to substantially increase study abroad among all ages as well as underrepresented members in American society. As Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan strongly affirmed at the Summit, "At the Department of State, we want to increase the overall number of Americans studying abroad, and do so by better reaching parts of American society that are currently underrepresented. We desire to see more young people travel to destinations where fewer Americans have studied, and to learn critical languages like Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, and Russian."

The Institute of International Education, via its Generation Study Abroad initiative has set as its goal to double the quantity of study abroad participants by the end of the decade.

Yet changes in the economic climate often means that students must be creative and resourceful when answering the question concerning whether study abroad is a good "investment" in every sense of the word.

At the White House Summit, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker reinforced the value of an investment in study abroad at this time by citing that "a MetLife survey found that 65 percent of Fortune 1000 executives identified global awareness as 'very important' or 'essential' in order to be ready for a career." Penny Pritzker also noted that "it is in our national economic interest to be fully engaged and knowledgeable about cultures and people across the globe," which was a sentiment echoed strongly by all White House administration speakers at the Summit, including the Chief of Staff.

For more information about the historic White House Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship, please view the full conference video.

Is Study Abroad Always Worth It?

“Yes” would be the answer of any study abroad aficionado, including myself, a Student Advisor columnist for Transitions Abroad. While I used to have to present arguments for the many reasons in favor of study abroad, there is new data to support my thesis.

In March 2012, IES Abroad surveyed 1,008 study abroad alumni to “assess the impact study abroad has on a recent graduate’s prospects in securing employment and/or attending graduate school directly after earning a degree from a four-year college or university in the U.S.” Elaborating on an earlier IES Abroad survey investigating the benefits of study abroad and published by Transitions Abroad, the key findings of the survey showed:

  • Nearly 90% of study abroad alumni secured a job within the first six months after graduation
  • 50% felt the overseas experience helped them acquire their first jobs
  • 84% felt that studying abroad helped them develop valuable job skills such as foreign language knowledge, cultural training, tolerance for ambiguity, adaptability, communication, and more
  • 90% were admitted into their first or second choice graduate or professional school

Studying Abroad builds job skills

Study Abroad develops confidence
Graphs courtesy of

Why is Study Abroad Such a Resume Builder?

“Studying abroad really tests your understanding of the world, your adaptability, and opens your mind to new ways of approaching everyday problems and situations; it makes you a better learner and a better critical thinker.”  
— Samantha Lockhart, College of William and Mary | IES Abroad Delhi

“Ready, set, build your resume!” Although this is no official slogan for study abroad, it could well be. Already in the planning stage, study abroad helps you build valuable skills, which are then strengthened while you are abroad. If that were not enough, once you return home, you will learn even more as you reflect upon your experiences abroad and adapt to life back home.

Here are just a few of the skills strengthened by study abroad:

  • Foreign language fluency. Whether you are translating archives at a museum or plan on corresponding with businesses worldwide, being fluent in languages other than English can be very useful
  • International knowledge base. Your acquired knowledge is especially useful for careers in international affairs, government service, or international business, but can apply to any field
  • Cross-cultural communication. In addition to speaking the actual language, study abroad can help you hone in on other communication skills
  • Analytical skills. As you interact with locals abroad, you will learn to analyze situations with more precision
  • Teamwork. Chances are you will have to interact with all kinds of locals and fellow foreigners abroad, strengthening your ability to work as a team player and even take on leadership roles where appropriate
  • Flexibility. Study abroad involves adapting to new circumstances, which is often critical when you have to solve problems back home
  • Ability to manage finances. As a study abroad student, you will have to manage your money effectively, which includes understanding the financial aid process and how best to reduce your general expenses abroad
  • Independence. When living on your own, you will have to learn to become independent. As you mature in the process, you will also learn to become more self-confident

The IES Abroad study reaffirms that both employers and graduate schools value all of the above skills.

IES Study Abroad Student in Luxembourg
IES Abroad Buenos Aires student Jonathan Blakely volunteering in the Guaraní community.
IES Abroad Tokyo Teaching Placement
IES Abroad Tokyo student Leah Weintraub at her teaching field placement in Tokyo.

Study Abroad Gives You a Competitive Edge

“I have definitely matured due to my experience studying abroad. I feel more confident and ready to take on the world.” — Rishi Sethia, Indiana University | IES Abroad Santiago

The economic crisis is resulting in more and more job layoffs. While it is impossible to generalize that less qualified staff is laid off first, it is valid to conclude that having a competitive edge will increase your job prospects. Studying abroad, increasing your cross-communication skills, and becoming fluent in a foreign language will make you stand out from many other candidates applying for any open position.

Therefore, on your resume, be sure to indicate your international experience and the skills you have acquired while abroad. Similarly, during an interview, you may wish to highlight some specific instances of how you effectively adapted to challenges abroad (see Jean-Marc Hachey’s article on “Marketing Study Abroad”) for more information. If employers see that you can adapt to difficult situations in a foreign country, chances are you can solve problems back home, and problem solving has become a more treasured skill in almost all professions.

Study Abroad Opens Up Options Abroad

“Studying abroad redefined my life by allowing me to apply a broader mindset to daily life. It allowed me the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and experience an independence that can only be found while studying in a foreign country.” — Elizabeth Goodrich, Wittenberg University | IES Abroad European Union

In addition to increasing your chances of getting a job when you return to the United States, study abroad can also open up options in your host country. I have known numerous students who stayed in their host country for the summer following a spring semester study abroad. Others decided to come back after graduation. While the reason could certainly be “because they liked it so much in X [insert host country here],” there is often more to it than that motivation. Host countries often offer a springboard for professional opportunities abroad.

A Great Way To Increase Your Job Prospects In A Host Country Is To Volunteer Or Intern

“Through IES Abroad, I was set up at a local school for children with Down’s Syndrome, working alongside the music therapists on staff. I had a unique chance to practice my Spanish, witness a slice of Chilean culture I would have otherwise missed, and also familiarize myself more with the profession. As a result of the incredible experience, I decided to pursue music therapy as a career.” — Caitlyn Bodine, Southwestern University | IES Abroad Santiago

By leaving a positive impression on possible employers abroad, you have one foot in the door already. Make sure to keep in touch with them while you are finishing up school in the U.S. By maintaining contact, employers abroad will remember you when you come back.

Similarly, even if you do not intern or volunteer, you might be able to find a job via the locals you befriend abroad. Again, be proactive while you are in another country, tell them your interests in and keep in touch. The fact that you have been to the host country and have perfected your fluency in the local language will only increase your chances of getting hired. In either case, be sure to inquire about the visa and work permit requirements that apply in the respective country.

Speaking English is an advantage in many destinations, too, and teaching English is more popular than ever. In fact, in Madrid, I am noticing that the ones who are suffering the least from the economic crisis are those who teach English in Spain; with everyone out of work and wanting to increase their competitive edge, learning English is in great demand.

Study Abroad: A Vital Step In Long-Term Career Planning

“It is important to study abroad not only because it allows for great linguistic improvement, life-long international friendships, amazing additions to your resume, and greater cultural understanding, but most importantly the semester or year abroad allows for the practical application and global perspective of everything we learn back in the classroom state-side.” — Jake Joseph, Grinnell College | IES Abroad Nantes

To further substantiate the findings of IESAbroad, the Erasmus Student Network out of Europe has also found that study abroad increases job prospects dramatically. A thorough analysis authored by Marty Tillman explores in-depth the connection in a .pdf file at AIFS Student Guide to Study Abroad and Career Development.

In sum, study abroad is much more than just a junior semester abroad, or summer language program. It is a vital step in long-term career planning. You might not think of it as such at the time, but when you look back, try to recall how many times your study abroad experience has proven useful in your current  job or career. You might wish to emphasize the experience on a resume and mention it in an interview, but the times that study abroad really reveals itself most significantly are during those international interactions you will have throughout your life, both on the job and off.

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