10 Steps to Increase Study Abroad Participation

Studying abroad has been shown to give students invaluable learning opportunities that aren’t available in a traditional classroom setting. International education also opens doors to increasing cultural awareness and better career opportunities after graduation.

In 2000, researchers assessed the impact of studying abroad on students across Georgia, and found that students had “improved academic performance upon returning to their home campus, higher graduation rates, and improved knowledge of cultural practices and context compared to students in control groups”.

The study also showed that student learning outcomes were unique compared to the classroom. According to the research, students who studied abroad gained more than just fact-based understanding of the course material. With their international experiences, these students were able to conceptualize the material to come to big-picture conclusions, which resulted in students better understanding and internalizing the knowledge. These experiences gave them a firsthand global perspective on the topics, something unattainable back home.

Studying abroad is becoming more and more popular every year. According to the 2018 IIE Open Doors report, more than 332,000 US students studied abroad during the 2016–2017 academic year, an increase of 2.3% over the previous year.

However, despite the overall trend upward, students studying abroad still only account for a small percentage of total US students.

So what steps can you take to increase participation at your institution and offer these life-changing experiences to more students? We’ve created a list of 10 easy-to-implement techniques that have proven to increase participation in colleges and universities we have worked with all across the United States.

1. Plan Ahead and Start Early

Planning and preparation are the first and most important steps to creating your program. Ideally, program selection should be finalized and promotion begin between 1–1.5 years before the program.

Promoting early provides students the opportunity to save for their trip abroad. Many students live on a tight budget and cannot afford to pay for a study abroad program just a few weeks or months before it takes place. Additionally, breaking the cost into payment installments across several months makes the program more affordable for them and less intimidating of a purchase. Saving $140 a month for 10 months makes paying for a $1,400 trip more feasible and budget-friendly.

Planning this far in advance also provides a buffer for any unexpected hiccups that occur in the program creation progress. Common issues include getting the program approved by the appropriate office or board at your institution, ensuring sufficient contact hours are being satisfied, and making early reservations for accommodations and airfare.

After internal approval at your school (if required), SAA is with you every step of the way helping with the logistics of the program to ensure you receive the best airfare and accommodations rates, as well as providing your students a pre-trip orientation packet that includes all the relevant information they need to stay organized and safe on their trip abroad.

2. Study Abroad Fair

Study abroad fairs are a great way to spread awareness of study abroad opportunities at your campus. Many schools offer fairs during the fall and spring semesters. Each fair brings awareness to the programs offered during upcoming semesters, such as the spring fair providing information for programs that take place in the summer, fall, and spring semesters of the following year.

Student engagement is important and helps build a community for travelers at the school. Those who studied abroad in the prior semesters can share their stories and photos to other students looking to participate in upcoming programs. Faculty can share their stories as well, giving students information they need about how the programs can help further their education. If there are international students on your campus, get them involved in a multicultural fair!

Study abroad fairs allow students to come to one central public location on campus to receive information and ask questions about upcoming programs, which increases the chance of students signing up for a trip.

3. Study Abroad Table

We recommend setting up a study abroad table in high traffic areas such as the student union to increase awareness of upcoming programs. Your table can have handouts, trip details, and directions on where to receive more information.

4. Campus-Wide Email

At the beginning of the semester, send a campus-wide email with information on upcoming study abroad programs. Students are frequently coming to and going from campus and might not see or hear about promotion elsewhere, so sending this email ensures that the entire student population is reached through this readily available resource.

5. Organize a Faculty Development Workshop

Faculty development workshops are for professors who are interested in learning more about organizing and leading their own study abroad programs. This provides a great opportunity to bring professors together to discuss past and future programs at your institution.

Workshops are a great first step to customizing a new program, or to establish study abroad at your institution. They offer direct, tailored education to best suit the needs of your goals.

SAA’s free workshops and webinars have resulted in increased participation in colleges across the country. We have presented on a variety of topics, and our most popular workshop teaches faculty how to build, customize, and prepare for top-quality, faculty-led study abroad programs while increasing and diversifying participation.

Read at the end of the article how SAA can help facilitate and lead your next faculty workshop.

6. Scholarships and Fundraising

Scholarships and financial aid are valuable tools to provide study abroad opportunities to your students. Many schools offer an annual study abroad scholarship. Check with your institution’s foundation to see whether this is possible.

In addition, there are creative alternatives to raise funds that are engaging for the students. The following are methods that were all used to fund SAA programs:

  • Bake sale with a theme on the program’s destination (eg. crêpes for a trip to France).
  • Craft fair for students to sell drawings, paintings, and more for their art-focused trip.
  • Art students taking commissions for work to be created during or after their program of the destination they visited.

There are countless opportunities to raise funds for programs with a little creativity. Get your students involved to get them excited for their program, and this extra exposure can bring additional sign ups for your trips.

7. Offering Courses that Students Need and Choosing the Right Destination

Offering courses in your programs that a large percentage of students need creates a higher chance that students sign up for the program. Many colleges craft programs based on general education courses that most students have to take, opening up the opportunity to a wider variety of students.

Additionally, it’s important to choose a destination that is best suited for your program. Although we encourage diversifying your destinations for unique and authentic experiences, we also suggest that you keep in mind the popularity of your chosen destination and if it best suits your academic area of study.

8. Marketing

The key to successful marketing of your study abroad program is to promote it in as many places as possible. Successful marketing strategies include:

  • Creating a page on the college’s website with detailed information about the program, such as dates, price, itinerary, contact information, etc.
  • Placing eye-catching posters in high traffic locations across campus with basic program information and contact information. If your campus has television screens, place advertisements that students can quickly get information from.
  • Publishing posts on the college’s social media pages to reach students who do not see the marketing elsewhere.

The more awareness that is brought to your institution’s study abroad opportunities, the more likely you will increase the number of participants on your trips.

To get started, SAA can provide you with attractive posters to begin promoting your program. Additionally, any programs with external sign ups through SAA will have their own landing page on our website for students to browse the itinerary and sign up.

9. Regular Information Meetings

Schedule regular informational meetings throughout the semester to build excitement for the program. These short meetings should cover basic study abroad trip information, and include a Q&A session. The meetings can later be offered as webinars, so students can attend without having to be on campus.

10. Affordable Programs

Offering affordable programs is key to success. Offer programs that are financially within reach of a large percentage of the student body. Oftentimes, students will decide what program to go on based on price alone. Affordable and authentic programs can be organized for any destination around the globe.

To expand on #7, an easy way to increase affordability of a program is choosing a destination that is lower cost but still appropriate for your academic field. Excellent programs can be crafted for any area of study in destinations around the globe, but oftentimes you can build a program in a country closer to home that is highly educational, but much cheaper for the students as airfare and overall program cost will be much lower.


Creating and customizing your own study abroad program is an exciting process, and these 10 steps are straightforward and simple solutions to increase engagement for international education at your institution.

Since 2009, SAA has been working with colleges and universities across the country to help build fully-customized short-term faculty-led programs. From our experience, we guarantee that if you follow these steps, your programs will be more successful, helping you grow your institution’s study abroad opportunities.

Want more help? SAA offers many resources to assist you in this process!

We can help plan, organize, and host your next faculty development workshop.

You can view our most popular presentation and easily sign up for your workshop here.

For additional information, contact Christian Alyea, SAA Program Director, at christian@localhost, or (202)910-6176.

In addition, SAA membership offers over 20 free benefits and services that in some cases have increased participation by 100%. Become a member today and we’ll help you get started building your own authentic and affordable study abroad experience!