Skip to main content

Studying Abroad: Conclusions pt. 2

Alvin discusses tradeoffs between off campus studies programs.

Alvin discusses tradeoffs between off campus studies programs.


Hello everyone!

Last week, I wrote the first part of my conclusions from studying abroad, in which I gave a brief summary of my off campus studies program. This week, I’d like to talk less about my personal experiences and more about the general structure of off campus studies programs, by comparing the typical Carleton-sponsored program to studying abroad as an exchange student (not a Carleton-sponsored program).

There are a wide range of Carleton programs, and countless non-Carleton sponsored programs listed in Carleton’s OCS portal. While some of my observations may be slight overgeneralizations, I hope to shed some insight into the differences that might be helpful to consider when thinking about how you might want to study abroad.

One of the most important components is time. Carleton programs typically replace a Carleton term, which is 10 weeks long, but Carleton also offers several shorter programs that take place over school breaks. As the vast majority of university students operate on a semester system (Carleton’s is technically the quarter system, but we call it trimesters since we don’t have a summer term), almost all non-Carleton programs run for a semester, which usually range between 14-17 weeks. While this wouldn’t make too big of a difference in the fall, many programs only operate for the spring semester, meaning you would miss both winter and spring terms at Carleton. So no matter what your preferences are, thinking about the ideal length of time you’d like to spend abroad compared to how much time you’re willing to spend away from Carleton is important to consider.

As far as I’m aware, Carleton programs are usually quite small (don’t quote me on this, but my sense after speaking to people about their programs is that they typically range from 15-30 students). They are usually led by Carleton faculty and teaching will be carried out by Carleton professors with the potential addition of other university lecturers/researchers in the program’s country. Studying abroad at a foreign university as an exchange student on a non-Carleton program is fairly self-explanatory, but there are many critical differences that are important to think about.

The first is the difference in people that you meet. I believe that university-style living allows much more interaction with different groups of people, as opposed to a Carleton program where you (for the most part) stick with the people on your program. As an exchange student in Singapore, I was not only able to meet countless Singaporean and Southeast Asian students through coursework/group meetings/university life, but also other exchange students from all around the world, which I found to be particularly valuable. Studying abroad on a Carleton program will no doubt allow you to meet lots of new people in your country of study, but the majority of time will still be spent with other Carleton students. This once again comes down to preference; I believe studying abroad on a Carleton program makes it easier to make lasting friendships and likely makes the transition to living in a foreign country smoother.

The second major difference is schedule. Exchange students get full control of their schedule, and can choose when and where to travel. Due to virus concerns, I spent most of my time traveling around Singapore instead of going abroad, but I had friends that were pretty much on a train or plane to another Southeast Asian country every other weekend! On the other hand, Carleton programs are highly structured and students go along with whatever the program does. That said, many Carleton programs visit numerous cities (and countries in some cases), whereas that is obviously not the case for a university exchange student. Furthermore, the structure of Carleton programs may be a benefit if you don’t know exactly where you would like to travel and would like to learn about places from faculty. So once again, choosing between full control of your schedule and following along a structured schedule is an important tradeoff to consider.

The last point I’d like to talk about is the educational structure, and this is the biggest difference. Studying as a university exchange student allows you to choose whatever classes you want, giving you full freedom over what you learn (it is important to note, however, it can be hard for exchange students to get the classes they want, as they are typically given last priority. It took me a while to get the classes I wanted in Singapore). Exchange students will also be able to take many classes that are not offered at Carleton, and this allows students to try new things and experience subjects they would not be able to otherwise. Learning through a brand new teaching style under faculty from a different country can also be valuable. While many Carleton programs have various modes of instruction, Carleton professors still play a very prevalent role. Paired with the small program size, this can offer much more of an interactive learning experience than taking classes at a university. Carleton programs are also quite subject specific, offering a unique, detailed learning experience that is tailored to a subject that students are passionate about. This results in much more in-depth and hands-on learning in a particular subject, as opposed to simply taking a wide variety of courses on a university campus.

Taking all of these things into consideration was important for me when making my decision to go abroad. I chose a non-Carleton program (exchange student at the National University of Singapore) for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I wanted to be able to study computer science when I was abroad, which immediately eliminated the vast majority of Carleton programs. Secondly, I knew I wanted to study somewhere in Asia and studying computer science in Asia would only be possible through a non-Carleton program. Lastly, I felt that a 10 week Carleton program was a little too short for me, as I wanted to maximize my time abroad.

Apologies for the long read, but I really hope I was able to provide some insight to you all! Studying abroad can be an extremely valuable aspect of your Carleton experience, and hopefully you can take some of these differences into consideration when choosing the perfect off campus studies program.


Alvin is a west coast kid at heart (coming from San Jose, California), but is loving his time in Minnesota. He plays for the soccer team here at Carleton and loves exercise. If he’s not on the soccer field, in the gym, or out on a bike ride during his free time, he can be found in one of the lounges playing Exploding Kittens, or in the music building playing piano. He is a Computer Science major with an interest in Economics and StatisticsMeet the other bloggers!