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Hot Topics: Study Abroad

By Tom Nicholas

September 20, 2013

Over the past decade, study abroad has become somewhat of a given among selective colleges (and somewhat of an expectation among students applying to those colleges). You’ll hear about study abroad at almost every college you visit, and you’ll find that some pretty high percentages of students are studying abroad.

It’s tough to stand out in area that everybody is talking about – but the University of Richmond does. In the realm of international education, Richmond has long been seen as a nationwide leader, going all the way back to the 1980s when we were among the very first colleges to begin investing heavily in direct exchange programs. Here are a couple of reasons Richmond is different and (I would contend) a cut above many of our competitors:

1. Richmond students often study abroad more than once.

During their time at Richmond, around 60% of students will study abroad. This is, to be sure, a large percentage – but what’s truly amazing is how many of these students have more than one experience abroad. Richmond provides a variety of avenues for study abroad (semester/year exchanges, summer programs, classes with a faculty-led international travel component, living-learning communities, internships, and grant funding for independent projects), and between all of these options it’s not uncommon for students to have both shorter (summer/faculty/grant-funded) and longer (semester/year) experiences.

2. The majority of Richmond students spend a full semester (or year) as an exchange student.

While 60% of our students study abroad, what’s far more compelling is the depth of their experience. Most colleges that send large percentages of students abroad do so via short-term summer programs, winter terms, or faculty-led excursions. We provide many of these options, but at Richmond, we send the vast majority of our students on semester or year-long exchanges. They live with local students (not on American campuses) and take classes from regular faculty at a partner university (not U.S. faculty who have accompanied them). This model of study abroad takes a much larger investment of resources (staff, money, support services) from a U.S. college, which is why so few schools make it the centerpiece of their international program – but, ultimately, the rewards are that much greater for the student. You gain so much more from a three-to-nine-month immersed living experience – in terms of cultural exposure, global awareness, academic caliber, and personal growth – than you ever could from a four- or six-week trip with other U.S. students (or even a full semester on a U.S. campus abroad).

3. Richmond students truly study abroad.

Another reason it’s easier for many colleges to run short-term programs rather than immersive exchanges, aside from the huge investment of resources, is the academic factor: it’s much easier to accredit classes when your faculty (or another U.S.-based source) are the ones teaching them. It’s a lot harder to manage the process of transferring credit from partner schools in 45 different countries, but that’s exactly what we do at Richmond. The ease with which our students’ credit transfers means that most Richmond students are continuing to pursue their major field(s) of study while abroad – they’re not taking a semester off or just pursuing elective courses – which makes for a much more engaged and meaningful experience abroad and allows them to graduate without extra semesters of study. It also means that students in certain majors such as business or the natural sciences, where it’s traditionally harder to leave campus for a semester and stay on track academically, study abroad from Richmond at almost the same rate as the rest of the student body. At Richmond, you can be a biology major on the pre-medical track, study abroad for an immersive semester, and still be ready for the MCAT and on-time graduation in four years.

4. Richmond helps cover many of the unforeseen expenses of studying abroad.

It’s becoming more commonplace for colleges to tell you that financial aid and scholarships go abroad with you (though be warned that this is rarely true for short-term programs, which often carry significant additional expense). But what often prohibits students from studying abroad (or makes it a much more expensive proposition than families expect) are all of the additional costs that pile up. What are the fees for a spring break excursion or short-term program? At Richmond, many of these short-term opportunities are subsidized by the University, and scholarships and grants are widely available. What about general fees for a semester abroad, transfer of credit, etc.? There are no additional fees for any of Richmond’s 75+ exchange programs. Have you thought about room and board? If you receive financial aid or scholarship for room and board, Richmond will give you that money to apply to your living expenses abroad; in destinations where the cost of living is significantly higher than Richmond’s room and board, we generally procure housing subsidized at Richmond rates, so costs are comparable to a semester here. Does your health insurance cover you abroad? Richmond pays for comprehensive international health insurance for every student studying abroad. What about airfare? Every Richmond student going on an exchange program gets a travel stipend ranging from $600-$1200, depending on where you’re headed. Passport and visa fees? It costs $165 to get a U.S. passport, and some countries’ student visa fees can run as high as $800; Richmond covers these costs for all students. And field trips or cultural opportunities abroad? While Richmond won’t pay for you to backpack across Europe (or any other continent), we do have the funding to reimburse every student for up to $500 in academic or cultural experiences per semester abroad – this can cover anything from field trips to museum visits to performing arts events.

When you consider all these extra expenses, you’re typically talking about thousands of dollars that many people don’t realize will part of the cost of studying abroad. One reason so many Richmond students are able to study abroad for a full semester or year is that many of these costs are, in effect, covered by the University.

5. Richmond is focused on international education, not just study abroad.

As a Richmond student, you’ll receive a global education, whether or not you actually go abroad. Your professors will bring global perspective to your major field (in fact, we have international scholars, both tenured and visiting, that teach in a majority of our academic departments). 1 in 10 of your classmates will be an international citizen. You’re virtually guaranteed to take at least one class in the Carole Weinstein International Center, which is the hub of globalization on campus – and if you don’t, you’ll still enjoy global cuisine in the Passport Café. At Richmond, international education is woven into the fabric of the university – academically, residentially, socially – and for this reason, along with the unique strength of our study abroad programs, Richmond provides one of the most powerful global experiences you’ll find among U.S. universities.

Tags: Why Richmond? Hot Topics

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Tom NicholasTom Nicholas
Senior Assistant Director of Admission 


A Richmond alumnus (Class of 2007), Tom has been working and blogging for the Office of Admission since he graduated. He loves his alma mater and the city that shares its name.

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Beth Anne SpachtBeth Anne Spacht
Assistant Director of Admission


Beth Anne was a double major at Richmond (English and Latin American & Iberian Studies) and now enjoys helping prospective students discover the best of her alma mater.

Learn more about Beth Anne

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