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Student Exchange Programs 101: A Complete Guide 

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There are many ways for students to broaden their horizons during their time studying at college, whether it’s by joining a club, playing sports, studying abroad, or taking a gap year. Another way to ‘see the world’ is to take part in a student exchange program. If you’re not familiar with student exchange programs, Collegeboxes is here to help you understand the ins and outs, so you get the most out of your college experience. Use this guide to learn more about student exchange programs.

What is a Student Exchange Program? 

A student exchange program is an arrangement between two institutions that allows a student to travel aboard and study at a local university for academic credit. It’s a terrific way for students to gain valuable life experience away from their home country and immerse themselves in a completely new culture in the process. It can also be a useful educational opportunity for students who want to learn another language, develop new specialty skills, or broaden their understanding of the world. 

How Does a Student Exchange Program Work?

As a student, you apply for an exchange program with your current university, usually with the global education office. If accepted, you will get to travel to a partner institution and take courses there or participate in some sort of organized learning activities, often tuition-free, anywhere for several weeks to a year. You stay with a host family at their home, giving you the opportunity to learn directly from locals and step away from your comfort zone. 

Types of Student Exchange Programs

There are three common types of exchange programs: 

Short term exchange – Students study abroad for anywhere from one week to a full semester, though it may be an entire academic year in some cases. This type of student exchange program usually places more focus on homestays, cultural activities, language skills, and other areas that don’t require study at an institution. Thus, it’s a shorter stay.

Long term exchange – Students study abroad for six months to an entire year. This type of exchange program involves studying at a university in the host country through a student visa. Students taking part are often expected to become near-fluent in the host language; they may even be expected to be proficient in the host language beforehand. 

Domestic exchange – Not all exchanges are abroad. Domestic exchanges will help you find an opportunity to study at a school stateside and earn academic credit. For example, Spelman College® has an extensive domestic exchange program that features dozens of prestigious institutions around the country. Collegeboxes offers services at all the schools listed here and can store your items locally, ship domestically or internationally.  

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Difference Between Student Exchange Programs and Studying Broad

You may be wondering what exactly the difference is between studying abroad and taking part in a student exchange program. The main difference is a student exchange revolves around a partnership between two institutions. Because of this partnership, tuition at the home university counts toward the time abroad. Conversely, when you study abroad, there is no formal partnership, so you may need to also pay your host university tuition fees in addition to tuition payments at your home institution. 

Why Take Part in a Student Exchange Program?

There are plenty of good reasons to take part in a student exchange program. Some of the main reasons include: 

  • Affordability vs other study abroad programs 
  • Experiencing student life in a new country 
  • Networking opportunities with other students 
  • Honing new skills and language fluency 

How to Become a Foreign Exchange Student

Starting this journey often starts with talking with your global education office at your university or institution. Your school advisors will help place in the best program for your needs. There are different applications and qualifications you must meet before you can be accepted. This process could take months, so it’s best to start early if you can. You may also find outside student placement programs – such as the National Student Exchange – that you can work with to find an exchange opportunity. Keep in mind there are typically eligibility requirements as well, like language proficiency, academic, performance, prerequisites, and more.  

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