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Planning Study Abroad

Explore the sections below for an overview of the study abroad process and experience.

In order to participate in the Semester/Year Abroad program, students must be in good academic and conduct standing as determined by the Dean’s Office (note that this normally includes no outstanding incompletes), must have a zero balance on their student account, and must meet the eligibility requirements of the program to which they apply.

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Planning for study abroad should begin as early as the freshman year. Students can study abroad in the spring of the sophomore year, during the junior year, or fall of the senior year, for one or two semesters. Some students choose to spend an academic year abroad in one location, and others spend two semesters abroad, on two different programs; these can be consecutive or non-consecutive semesters.

Students who plan to study abroad spring of their sophomore year must declare their major during the fall semester of the sophomore year. Note that study abroad in the fall of the senior year requires permission from the student’s major department(s).

Many students choose to study abroad in the summer. This is an independent activity; students are not registered at Swarthmore and Swarthmore financial aid is not available. Several academic departments at Swarthmore maintain information about summer opportunities and funding possibilities. For further information see Summer Study Abroad and Other Short Term Programs.

With proper planning, any student, no matter their major, should be able to participate in a study abroad experience. Some study abroad programs require a certain level of language proficiency or pre-requisites in major subjects. Most Swarthmore departmental websites include information about study abroad. Some factors to consider are the timing of study abroad in light of the sequencing of courses at Swarthmore, required courses for the major, and the twenty-course rule. Students should discuss their interest in pursuing study abroad in their meetings with their academic advisor and later with their major advisor(s).

Pre-Med and Pre-Law

Premedical students should not take any of their required pre-med coursework abroad. For more information about scheduling required courses to free up a semester to make study abroad possible, consult the Guide to Premedical Studies on Swarthmore's Health Sciences Office website.

Both pre-med and pre-law students should think of study abroad as an opportunity to immerse themselves in another country, and learn about the people, the culture, and the language. Gigi Simeone, Health Sciences/Pre-law Advisor is available to chat if you have questions or concerns.


With early and careful planning it’s possible to do an honors program along with one semester abroad during the junior or senior year, but it must be planned out in advance. It is sometimes possible to do an honors preparation based on work done abroad, but this can only be done with the approval of the sponsoring Swarthmore department, and the specifics must be worked out in advance. The chair of your actual or prospective major department will be the main advisor for this.

By College regulation, to receive credit for college level work done elsewhere, domestic or abroad, it must be evaluated upon completion by the appropriate Swarthmore academic department(s) or credit granting program(s) to determine how much Swarthmore credit it may receive. The only exception is work done at Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and the University of Pennsylvania under the four-college agreement.

Students must take all courses abroad for a grade; pass/fail grades are not permitted. To be eligible for evaluation for Swarthmore credit, a course done elsewhere must receive a grade of straight “C” or better. The grades earned abroad will be entered on the Swarthmore transcript but will not be part of the Swarthmore GPA. The transcript from the program is the official record of the work completed on the program.

Before departure, students must get their proposed courses pre-approved for evaluation and pre-estimated for credit. When selecting a program students must keep in mind that each academic department or program at Swarthmore has its own rules concerning granting study abroad credit. Usually these policies are available on the department or program websites. If not, it is important to consult with the designated department or program representative to understand credit-granting considerations (e.g., total amount of transfer credit allowed, pre-requisites, etc.).

In some cases students submit their coursework to the appropriate department(s) or program(s) for the final evaluation of their work. With proper planning, most Swarthmore students get full credit for the work done abroad upon return from abroad. The Off-Campus Study Office instructs students throughout the pre-estimation of credit and the final course approval process.

When appropriate, credit for work done elsewhere counts toward completion of specific requirements for the degree (e.g., major, distribution, twenty course rule) as well as towards the thirty-two credits needed to graduate.

Students must keep in mind that in almost every case, the academic environment will differ from what students are used to at Swarthmore. Students must comply with the practices and standards for the production and assessment of academic work as specified by the program or university attended. Usually there will be no flexibility regarding extensions or incompletes.


Students who receive accommodations at Swarthmore to support their individual needs should discuss their study abroad plans with a study abroad advisor in Off-Campus Study and with the Office of Student Disability Services. It is important to know that the Americans with Disabilities Act is a U.S. federal law and does not necessarily apply abroad. That being said, many international universities and programs do have disability services and at times can provide accommodations. You must research and follow their particular processes. It is important to discuss your program's requirements with the Student Disability Services office at Swarthmore early in the application process, and should it be necessary for the office to compile materials and send them to the proposed program, at least two weeks notice must be given.

If you receive accommodations through Swarthmore's Student Disability Service and are trying to determine whether you might be eligible to receive accommodations on your Study Abroad program, please contact Student Disability Services at 610-328-7358 to discuss your needs before the end of your pre-departure semester.


There are many useful resources through Mobility International USA (MIUSA):

A comprehensive guide for students with disabilities studying in the UK:

A comprehensive guide for students with disabilities studying in Germany:

Students should consider their own physical and mental health needs when reviewing study abroad programs. When under the care of a physician or mental health professional, it is important to determine if adequate care will be available at the proposed site and to discuss your plans with your health care provider.

All admitted study abroad participants are required to have a travel health consultation at the Worth Health Center. This session will include information on any required immunizations and travel medications. Also, by appointment, students can arrange for a physical, or to have additional health forms completed, if required by their study abroad programs. Appointments should be made as early as possible in the semester prior to going abroad.

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Intercultural Understanding, Social Identities, and Personal Growth

The choice of study abroad destination and specific program can seem daunting. There really is literally a world of opportunities – all waiting for you. Of course, your first considerations when thinking about study abroad will be academic. A conversation with your academic adviser is a good place to begin formulating which locations and programs will best contribute to your undergraduate education.

In addition to academic considerations students should explore the day-to-day realities of the life of a visiting student in each locale. There are so many variables, and one of the most significant of them is you! Living abroad requires a high level of openness and resiliency. Many students feel newly liberated by the way they can express themselves in the host country. Other students may find restrictions, based on the host culture’s norms, that they may find confining at times. Most students report that some of the most important learning that occurs abroad is what they learn about themselves.

Therefore it is important to do as much investigation regarding the host environment as possible. In many cases there will be members of the Swarthmore community who are either from the host culture or who have lived and studied there. Take advantage of these opportunities to ask questions and to explore what it might be like to live in the host environment and what challenges might present themselves. Will you be in a linguistic, religious, or ethnic minority or majority? What should you know about what it may be like to be a member of the LGBTQI community there? What are gender roles like? How might you be seen as either a US student or a student who studies in the US? Finding your individual answers to these and other questions will help guide you toward a study abroad journey that best serves your goals and your capacities for entering another cultural and educational context.

Students should keep in mind that there might be ways in which their social identities, faith-based practices, and personal needs may affect their experience. For example, it may not be possible to change an exam date that conflicts with the student’s religious practice. Another example is that it may be difficult if not impossible to maintain food requirements or preferences at the abroad site. Therefore students are encouraged to explore early on whether or not their needs can be accommodated at the host site.

With proper planning many Swarthmore athletes are able to participate in study abroad. Students should work with their coaches to determine the best time frame in which to study abroad, and how to network with athletic programs while abroad.

International students at Swarthmore may be subject to different travel requirements for leaving the US, entering their destination countries, and re-entering the US, than those to which US citizens are subject. International students must consult with the Director for International Student Services about their plans well in advance of their scheduled travel.  International students must explore what the student visa requirements are for their destination country (if any).
 F1 regulations require students to be enrolled in a full course of study in the US for at least two semesters prior to the study abroad experience [8 CFR 214.2(F)(10)]. During study abroad students must registered as full time students.  Students who intend to be outside the US for more than 5 months are strongly encouraged to review their plans with the Director for International Student Services. Students will not be considered enrolled at Swarthmore College during a non-Swarthmore sponsored study abroad experience. All F1/J1 students must be enrolled full time in order to maintain their student status.  There are some rare exceptions to this regulation however, please talk to the Director for International Student Services before you drop below full time enrollment or take a leave of absence.
Transit Visas/ Direct Airside Transit Visa (DATV):
You may need a Direct Airside Transit Visa (DATV) if you’ll be changing flights without going through immigration control. If you are planning to transit through certain countries, make sure to check if you are required to obtain any type of airport transit visa well in advance based on your country of citizenship.  It is crucial to check the relevant web site of the embassy for each country that you are traveling through before you depart the United States.  This is your responsibility to research this concern in advance. This type of visa requires a processing fee and may take weeks to receive your visa.  Travel Agencies and Swarthmore College are not responsible for transit visas.

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