The first semester of college is an exciting yet anxiety-ridden time for most incoming freshmen, but some are feeling more stomach butterflies than others—a growing number of colleges and universities are requiring freshmen to study abroad if they wish to attend the school. Students are accepted for admission that is contingent on spending their first semester or year abroad.
It’s not uncommon for elite colleges to accept incoming freshman for the spring semester rather than the fall, which is when most students prefer to begin their first year of college. Northeastern University is allowing some of those students to enroll in the fall after all, provided that they spend their first semester abroad, explains Bloomberg News.
“Students want to start in September. Any college wants to fill the beds,” is how Mary Lou Bates, dean of admissions and financial aid at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, defended the practice. About 40 Skidmore freshmen go to London for their fall semester.
Both Northeastern and New York University, which have annual attendance costs of more than $50,000, are two popular schools with freshmen abroad programs. NYU offers freshmen programs in Florence, Italy; London; Paris; and Shanghai while Northeastern has programs in five partner cities including London, Dublin and Melbourne.
In addition to Skidmore College, Northeastern, and NYU, many other colleges have similar programs. Syracuse University sends about 30 students to Florence, Italy for the fall semester and lorida State University offers freshmen the opportunity to spend 12 months studying abroad at International Programs in London, Florence, Panama City, and Valencia, Spain.
Freshmen study abroad programs are essentially “strings-attached” acceptances for students, explains Bloomberg. One student was thrilled to learn she had been accepted by NYU … but then found out that she is required to spend her freshman year of college studying in Paris if she wants to attend the prestigious university. The student, who does not speak French, accepted the offer but told the media “I have no idea why they picked me. There’s so few of us, and I feel like it will be hard to transition back.”
These freshman-abroad programs generally charge full tuition even if the overseas campus is cheaper. The cost of living in cities like Paris is often much higher than it would be in the United States. In addition to the hefty annual tuition and fees that students are required to pay, these special programs require additional fees as well as the students’ own travel expenses to get overseas.
Costs can escalate even further because students who agree to spend half or all of their freshman year abroad may become ineligible for federal financial aid if the overseas program is not run by a branch of a U.S. university. However, students may still be eligible for aid from the school itself.
Although spending a semester overseas is an enriching experience for most students, being required to do so before joining the rest of their freshman class on campus can be disenchanting. “I was kind of bummed, you could say, to have to go abroad,” one student told Bloomberg. “Some people were, like: ‘Oh, we’re the rejects of Northeastern.’”
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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