Are you a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) student who wants to study abroad but aren’t sure how to fit it into your program schedule? One of the challenges that STEM students face is a demanding, highly-structured curriculum, and it may seem that there is no way to fit in study abroad.
As a matter of fact, there are many opportunities for students in these fields to gain international experience — including study abroad programs, international internships, research abroad, and even participating in humanitarian outreach or field study opportunities — while fulfilling their degree requirements. There are also interesting ways to fund research and learning around the world. So what are you waiting for?
6 Tips for STEM Students to Study Abroad
1. Start during the college application process.
Before selecting your university, investigate which study abroad options are available to STEM students. Check with professors in the appropriate departments to ask whether they are involved in international education. Ask college student-advisors about opportunities for undergraduates in your field to study abroad — and be sure to mention research abroad! Ask to speak with STEM students who have pursued these opportunities to learn about their experiences.
2. Already in college?
It’s not too late! Ask your professors whether they participate in international educational opportunities through your university, or ask them for recommendations about programs applicable to your field. Definitely visit your school’s study abroad office to determine which options are available to STEM students.
3. Complete non-major requirements while abroad.
This is an efficient way to fulfill your general education requirements — and can be much more fun and adventurous than sitting in a classroom on campus! You’ll be exploring a new culture while completing coursework outside of your STEM major that your university requires. Many general education study abroad programs run in the summer, so you won’t be missing any STEM courses that are only offered during the academic year.
4. Take core major courses while studying abroad.
This is another smart way to fulfill core STEM courses — organic chemistry and math are the same around the world — and you’ll be connecting with international students and faculty, increasing your global knowledge and potential employability.
5. What if my university does not offer any STEM study abroad programs?
Don’t worry! There are lots of ways to study abroad, including going through independent study abroad providers, like API and IES. From there, you can typically transfer credits you earn back to your degree-granting university.
You could also do a student exchange to another university for a year. This would give you the opportunity to work and learn with global faculty, many of whom are leaders in their fields. It would also grant you the ability to attend universities that are on the cutting edge of STEM research and to connect with students and scholars from around the world.
6. Directly enroll in a university overseas for a degree.
This is a great idea if you’ve always wanted to study at an international university, or if a professor you’d love to work with is based outside the United States. It's a bit more difficult than going through the traditional American college system (finding the right university, living in an unfamiliar place, dealing with possible language barriers, and not being eligible for U.S. financial aid), but the lifelong benefits are enormous. It's also worth noting that it can be very cost-effective to earn a degree internationally — much of the time it is cheaper than a degree from an American institution.
There are also other ways for STEM students to gain international experience beyond studying abroad. Here are a few:
IASTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experiences) offers paid internships for STEM students in universities, companies, and research organizations around the world.
DAAD Rise (Research Internships in Science and Engineering) is a summer internship program for students who wish to work with research groups at top universities in Germany — and it’s offered in English. A stipend and housing assistance is included.
Prime (Pacific Rim Experiences for Undergraduates) is another UC San Diego program, offering research internships for science and engineering students to UCSD undergrads only.
A student exchange with Tohoku University, Japan offers special research programs for STEM students who wish to work directly with Japanese researchers or participate in cooperative laboratory study (COLABS).
Check whether your university offers partner exchanges, such as this interesting one with the Technical University of Denmark.
The University of California Education Abroad Program offers many study abroad, research abroad, and internship abroad programs around the world for STEM students. Scholarships are available to some UC students.
The Center for International Studies (CISabroad) offers study abroad (for both fall and spring semesters, plus shorter programs over summer and winter breaks) to STEM students spread over about 20 different destinations. The company also organizes various international internships. CIS will work with your university to help you earn and transfer credits.
Funding Your Study Abroad Experience
Sometimes, study abroad can be less expensive than studying on your home campus! But it still costs money, and many students are unaware that extensive resources exist to help them.
Study Abroad Scholarships for STEM Students
Boren Awards: This U.S. government-based scholarship program funds study abroad for STEM students, each of whom may be granted up to $8,000 per summer!
Gilman Scholarships: This congressionally-funded program offers study abroad and intern abroad scholarships for students with limited financial means.
The Fund for Education Abroad offers scholarships to students participating in high-quality, rigorous study abroad programs (STEM counts!).
IES Abroad offers many study abroad programs for STEM students — and merit-based scholarships as well.
API Abroad also offers many study abroad programs for STEM students — and a wide range of scholarships. They have an excellent list of external scholarships that are worth reviewing as well.
The Fulbright program from the U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs funds many types of international education programs, including doctoral funding for STEM students studying for up to three years in Canada.