Short vs. Long Term Study Abroad: Choosing the Right Program Length for You


One of the first and most important decisions you will have to make when embarking on your study abroad journey is deciding whether to do a short or long-term program.  No matter how you look at it, neither one is better than the other in every case, or for every person. Deciding whether a full semester, a 2-3 week January term, or a 1-2 month Summer term is the best option is completely up to you. Being someone who has studied abroad 3 times for different program lengths (1 semester and 2 summer terms), I can personally attest to the fact that there are strengths and benefits to each duration.

We all have our different circumstances, be it money matters, relationships, or being only 4 credits away from graduating, so the right term abroad for someone else may very well not be the right term for you.


To make things easier, I’ve made a list of a couple pluses for each side.


Short Term Study Abroad (Summer/J-Term):

  • Can be taken between regular full semesters at your college.

  • Has a lower sticker price than a full semester abroad.

  • You’re only gone for 2-6 weeks.

  • If the courses don’t fit within your degree requirements, it’s easier to justify 2 fun classes than it is a full course load of them.  (Though I’m sure a full course load, if fun enough, is still very justifiable!)


Long Term Study Abroad (Semester/Academic Year):

  • There’s enough time to really understand and become part of the culture.

  • Generally speaking, the longer the term the more cost-effective it is.  You can usually use some or all of your financial aid for semester or year-long programs, and you usually get the hang of how to find savings the longer you are there (at-home cooking skills, expert weekend travel booking techniques, etc.)

  • More time to explore and see everything your host country has to offer.

  • Universities offer more classes during a regular semester, increasing your available transferrable courses.


Now, choosing the right term is kind of like shoe shopping. You have your own preferences for the styles of shoes, the color, and their use. Obviously not everyone wants to own a pair of red stilettos to go clubbing in or a pair of steel toed boots to work in.

Just the same, not everyone is going to want to go to Dublin for the Fall semester and take Journalism classes, or even to go to Barcelona for the Summer for International Business classes. Different terms, just like different shoes, fit different people.



Breathtaking Barcelona is a student favorite!


All that being said, before you can really set your mind on what best suits you and your needs, you need to really understand what each type of term has to offer.


Within the “Short Term” category lies two different types of terms. There’s the “Summer Terms” that usually happen in the months of June and July, and there’s the “January/Winter Terms” (otherwise known as J-terms) that start the end of December to the beginning of January, and end mid to late January. Summer and J-terms are designed to fit within your breaks between semesters, and what better way to celebrate these breaks than to explore a foreign country?


For the “Long Term,” you can do a full semester abroad, or you may even be able to seize the opportunity (most times) to do a full school year abroad as well, meaning two consecutive semesters.



As I said before, everyone has different circumstances that can make one trip preferable to another. Some of these circumstances that apply to most people, need to be seriously considered before deciding what program is best for you, be it long term or short.


1. Money: Duh, right?  Hear me out. When considering your study abroad, you need to keep in mind what you can afford. I mean this not only as paying the cost up front, but also as, when you’re abroad you might not have that job to help keep paying for your costs.


That being said, since you’re planning to study abroad, you should also plan for the costs that come with it and try to save up money for these costs ahead of time.


And please, please, PLEASE don’t forget that there are TONS of scholarships out there that can help with all of that. Not to mention studying abroad helps you out in the job market in the future, so you can view it as paying for itself in the long run.


2. Dependents: Not every person that wants to study abroad is a single 18-22 year old with no kids and no one depending on them.


When I went to Kyoto, Japan in the summer of 2013, one of the other students that went with us was both a mother and a wife. We were there for three weeks, which was hard on her to be away from her family, but at the same time, it was manageable and she got the opportunity to pursue her dream of going to Japan.


If you have someone depending on you, like a child or another loved one, it’s still not impossible to go, you just have to work harder to be able to. Also realize that it may be easier to be away at certain times more than at others.


3. Strength of Will: Not everyone is used to being away from their friends and family for long periods of time, and not everyone wishes to be. Homesickness is something that can happen to anyone, and gets much more likely the longer the trip is.


All that being said though, it shouldn’t keep you from going. If it’s something you’re sincerely concerned about, consider a shorter trip. If you have faith that you’ll be able to persevere just fine, maybe consider a longer trip.




Students at Athena’s program in Cusco, Peru

Taking a break from the serious, just take a moment to think about all the fun you can have abroad. New experiences, new friends, new foods, excitement! Yeah, you’ll be taking classes, but you’ll being doing so in a different country with another culture. I guarantee you have never learned like this!  You’ll be given opportunities to grow as a person, to change some mindsets, to open up, and to view the world differently.


Will three weeks be enough for you? Will three months be too long? You need to ask yourself these questions, and think about your own personal circumstances.


I personally think (and tons of studies back me up on this) that going abroad and experiencing more of this world can be advantageous to anyone, and if you can make that trip about learning with taking college classes, all the better. So don’t question “Should I?” any more, but decide how long is best for you, then where, when, and how, and just GO!

“So, young person, travel. Travel wide and far. Travel boldly. Travel with full abandon.” -Jeff Goins

*Article by Bethany Tuttle, three-time Athena alum (Japan, Germany, and Greece)

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