Study Abroad Essay Questions

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For some students who wish to study abroad, the statement of purpose can be one of the most daunting components of the program application. The good news: it’s not as difficult as it may seem at first! After all, you’ve come this far in the study abroad research process, so chances are you’ve already given thought to what the essay requires you to write about. As long as you don’t rush and take the time to create a solid outline, your study abroad application statement of purpose will truly shine.

Common statement of purpose requirements

Although each program application may have program-specific essay requirements to address, most will ask students to address the following two components:

  1. Goals for studying abroad (i.e. academic, career, and personal) – Most likely, you will have to briefly describe your goals, outlining specific ways in which studying abroad will help you achieve these goals.
  2. Reason you chose this program/location – This aspect of the statement of purpose is more specific to why, out of all the programs and locations on Earth to study, you’re applying to this one.

Creating an outline

Before rushing into writing out your statement of purpose, make sure you’ve carefully read the instructions and prompts for the essay. The worst way to sabotage an otherwise excellent essay is to miss a key requirement outlined in the instructions. To help keep essay requirements fresh in your mind, consider copying and pasting the requirements at the top of essay document so that they are there for quick reference.

After you fully understand what points you are required to touch on in your statement of purpose, drafting an outline will help keep your essay organized, clear, and succinct. Consider following the steps below to help make this process easy and straight-forward.

Open up a blank Word document, and get down the general essay components:

Introduction

Paragraph 1

Paragraph 2

Paragraph 3

Conclusion

Now that you have the foundation laid out, you can complete your outline by creating a couple compelling sentences for each paragraph. Having these sentences drafted will help you quickly move forward after your outline is complete. Let’s take a look at each paragraph, and sample sentences for each.

Introduction – Create a strong thesis sentence that sums up your overall purpose for studying abroad.

  • Example: Studying abroad at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid will be a monumental step in realizing my personal, academic, and career goals to my highest potential.

This thesis sentence portrays to the reader that you have identified personal, academic, and career goals in relation to studying abroad in a specific program, and will describe them below.

Paragraphs 1-3 – Draft a sentence that sums up your response to the each point, then a second sentence that provides a specific outcome that this study abroad program will provide.

Paragraph 1 (e.g. personal reason/goal for studying abroad in this program):

  • Example: My grandfather migrated to the United States from Madrid, and since an early age I’ve wanted to see and experience the city and culture he grew up in. By the end of my study abroad program, I plan to have developed a deeper understanding and appreciation for my family heritage by becoming more fluent in Spanish and familiar with Spanish customs and cultural practices.

Paragraph 2 (e.g. academic reason/goal for studying abroad in this program):

  • Example: As a history major, I plan to utilize my time in Spain to contribute to my overall academic success and focus within the history program at my home university. Throughout my time studying abroad, I will visit historical sites around Spain relevant to my intended topic for my graduate thesis topic: Moorish architectural and cultural influences in modern Spanish society.

Paragraph 3 (e.g. career reason/goal for studying abroad in this program):

  • Example: I plan to one day teach Spanish history and culture at the college level, and this program will give me the first-hand experience I believe necessary to be qualified and successful in this position. By being completely immersed in the Spanish culture, and by having access to a large number of relevant historical sites and resources, I will enter this study abroad experience with my career development in mind.

For the conclusion, come up with a strong sentence to sum-up (again) why this program and location is the best choice.

  • Example: After extensive research of all possible programs, I am convinced that studying history and Spanish culture at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid is an ideal match for my personal, academic, and career goals outlined above.

Drafting suggestions

Now that you have a strong outline, filling in the rest should come easily and naturally. As would be normally expected in college-level essays, it’s important to make sure that each sentence you write relates directly to the main sentences in its respective paragraph you came up with in the outline.

After you’ve written your completed first draft of your study abroad application statement of purpose, save the document and take a break for a week. After you’ve had some time to clear your mind, you’ll likely come back to edit your essay with a fresh perspective and as a result more easily catch mistakes you may not have otherwise caught!

Finally, before you send it off, double (and triple) check to make sure that you haven’t overlooked any requirements for the statement of purpose. Also, consider having at least one other person look at your essay – your campus’s writing center is a great resource you might consider utilizing!

Congratulate yourself

After you’ve sent in your essay, congratulate yourself! You are well on your way to one of the most exciting journeys of your life, and you certainly deserve to be proud of this accomplishment.

The Study Abroad Application

While not every school will use the same study abroad application, I am willing to bet that most applications will have pretty similar components. Based on my own experience with the study abroad application process, I’ve compiled a few helpful hints to get you thinking on the right track, as well as provide guidance in case you run into some difficulties.

The study abroad application will look almost like a regular college application. Remember how much work you put into those? Put the same amount of effort into your study abroad application. Unlike the college selection process, there’s no back up or safety net… you only get one shot at this so you need to do it right.

More than likely, it will consist of the following: A personal statement, letters of recommendation, possible course selections, health clearance forms and a general information form.

General Information Forms

This will probably be just a generic form requiring the basics like personal information, emergency contacts, degree information, etc. Nothing complicated. Just fill in the blanks.

Study Abroad Health Clearance Forms

You’re going to need to get a complete physical, and the doctor will have to confirm that you’re fit enough to go abroad and that you’re up-to-date on all of your vaccinations. Understandably, no country wants a foreigner bringing in diseases. Your doctor will have to fill-out the forms after your physical and send them to the school study abroad office or wherever instructed, so don’t procrastinate on these! Doctors are always busy, and it could be a while before they get yours done.

Possible Study Abroad Course Selections

This may be called either a home approval form, or course approval form. Make sure you’ve looked at your progress toward graduation. Compare classes from your host school’s course catalogue with those classes you’ll need to complete your major/ minor and fulfill general requirements, and also identify classes that just generally seem interesting.

Letters of Recommendation for Study Abroad Applicants

Depending on how many are required, ask your favorite professors and mentors if they would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation. If you don’t have a close relationship with any professors, it’s ok to choose a few that may have liked you, or in whose class you did particularly well. If they don’t really know you, don’t worry. Professors are used to writing recommendation letters, and will probably have a generic letter that they can use. In this case, if your personal statement is already done, give them a copy along with anything else you think might help them get a better picture of who you are and why you want to go abroad.

Personal Statement - Study Abroad Essay 101

This is the part of the study abroad application that some people dread, and some people love. Don’t worry; I’ll break it down step by step. You already know the reasons you want to go abroad, now you just have to put them on paper to try and convince your school that you should go. Here’s writing your study abroad essay 101:

First, in a nice intro paragraph, explain your reasons for studying abroad. If you're still deciding your best course of action, review some of our deciding to study abroad resources. Just give a general overview since you’ll be getting into the specifics later in the essay. Include why you want to go abroad, what originally interested you in going abroad, what school you plan on attending, along with anything else that seems relevant.

Academics are always going to be number one in the minds of your deans, advisors and faculty, so it’s not a bad idea to go there next. Explain how going to class in a different culture will expand your capacity to learn and interpret new information. Let them know if by going abroad, you’ll be able to complete certain requirements for your major or just make progress toward your degree in general. Be sure to mention if there are classes offered abroad that aren’t available at your home school.

Next, go into depth about why you chose the location and the school that you did. Does the school have a great reputation internationally? Do you have family roots in a particular country? Really get into the fact that you want to explore the specific culture of that country or region. The more sincere and direct you are about why you want to go where you’re going, the more likely the study abroad admissions staff will approve your application.

Don’t forget to include personal reasons and interests as well. You still need to be selective in what you write – the study abroad admissions office will need to see that you’re mature enough to live in another country, but don’t be afraid to go beyond academics. One of the biggest reasons I went to Scotland was because of golf, and I wrote that in my essay. I didn’t say I wanted to wake up and be lazy on the golf course every day. I explained that golf is a huge aspect of Scottish culture; it holds a different place over there than it does in the States, and it would greatly help me integrate into the local culture.

Writing Tips for Your Study Abroad Application Essay

Sentences like, “I am excited to learn about the culture of Scotland through golf,” are a good start, but something even better might be, “It would be the pinnacle of my golfing career to experience the game of golf in its finest form in its birthplace of Scotland. There, golf is not just considered a sport, but also a vital element of Scottish culture.” Make the effort to write with quality in mind and of course honesty.

End the essay with a strong closing paragraph. Express interest in learning about local culture, such as in Japan where you’ll enjoy both the historic artistry of the culture and the modern amenities of the country. Talk about getting an education, not only in terms of academics, but in life as well. Be specific and explain your desire to pursue those interests and hobbies that you’ve picked up in college, and earlier, in a foreign country.

This is just as important as any other admissions letter you’ve ever written. Use correct grammar and avoid spelling mistakes. Write multiple drafts and have someone competent edit it for you. Better yet, have two. And of course, get it in on time!

Be sincere, be honest, and be smart.

There you have it. Those are my suggested ins and outs of the study abroad application… not as scary as you may have thought.

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