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How international student exchange programs work

If you wanted to study abroad, you could do it in more ways than one. Yes, the traditional international university application is the more common route to experience learning in a foreign land.

However, there are other avenues to get a taste of the foreign culture in parallel with education, as well. These are the lesser known, but nevertheless long standing, avenues of international education through Student Exchange Programs.

Student Exchange Programs are usually short-term programs lasting a summer, a semester, or sometimes even a whole year, where students travel abroad to study in a host country, while still being enrolled in their native country.

Unlike the other traditional degree abroad courses, all credits earned in these exchange programs are ultimately transferred towards the completion of the degree in your home country. Though this largely depends on whether your university is partnered with a foreign one, or whether you are seeking a degree course, as you will find out later in this blog.

In this article, we will discuss the why, where, and how to engage in these short-term international exposure programs.

Benefits of International Student Exchange Programs

The answer is simple. Such programs provide a window to life as an international student, living independently in a culture unlike your own. These are available to not only university level students, but also high-school students, or working professionals, who want a global experience.

Besides the obvious, there are a few other advantages.

  • You get to learn new languages, work with a whole new set of faculty, researchers, and peers.
  • They are often the cheapest, and usually funded means to get international study exposure. More on that later.
  • They add that touch of global initiative that many employers are seeking these days.
  • The free mobility of students, and often even teachers, helps to promote advances in education, supporting the spirit of flow of knowledge without the bars of borders.

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How do international Student Exchange programs work?

There are three main aspects to choosing to study abroad in an exchange program. You should have a clear motivation before committing yourself to the time and cost associated. Here are a few reasons why.

  • Not all exchange programs are useful, or count towards your home degree. If you are looking to study abroad, make sure you have complete clarity of the course goals and the quality of the program.
  • Not all exchange programs are covered financially by the host/home university. Research your financing options. Do they provide scholarships? Can I get a fellowship from the government? Would I be able to work for living expenses? How will I finance my day to day expenses?
  • Do I have the clearance, all required documentation, and the time, to obtain a host country Visa? What do I need to do get a visa? What kind of visa do I need? What are the work permit terms and conditions of the visa?

International student exchange programs are not necessarily sponsored, or linked, via your enrolled university. Here are a few common ways to access an opportunity abroad. We have listed them below.

  • University Exchange Program: As the name suggests, if you are currently enrolled in a university which has ties and collaborations with a university abroad, you might be able to participate in a student exchange program, if there is one between them.

    The advantage of such an exchange arrangement is that the student most likely ends up paying the usual tuition fees of his native university. The rest of the costs are usually taken care of by the program itself.

    The application is generally handled as per the student exchange rules whereby both the host and the home universities agree upon an arrangement for the student. Upon clearing some documentations, the host university sends over papers required to apply for a short-term exchange visa. In USA, this is usually the J-1 Exchange Visa.

It is also possible to apply directly to the foreign university exchange program, in the event that your native university is not a partner with any international university. The funding, in such a case, has to be arranged by the student or by any form of financial aid provided by the host university.

Here are some examples of Universities, across the globe, participating in International Student Exchange, not necessarily in fully funded or credit earning programs.

University College London (UK) Kyushu University (Japan) Brown University (USA)
CUHK (China) Butler University (USA) New York University (USA)
University of Texas Austin (USA) Yale University (USA) University of Alberta (Canada)

For a few more in USA, refer to US News’ study abroad list here.

  • Government or Private Exchange Programs

You can also avail of independent government schemes, or private organizations, that arrange for students to receive a short-term international education. These are either sponsored, as in the case of government aided programs, or may require self-financing to burden the costs.

You can explore your options, here too, but be advised that not all of them necessarily count towards a degree. In fact, quite a few are aimed at some form of professional or non-degree training.

Make sure you are aware of the commitment, given that it may either take time away from your native degree schedule, or from your busy professional regiment.

Here is a representative list of government or private exchange programs.

International Student Exchange Programs (ISEP) Fullbright Visitor Scholar Program Fullbright Foreign Student Program
H.H.Humphrey Fellowship Program for non-degree graduate study Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (Global UGRAD) IES Abroad



Tips for International Student Exchange Program

International student exchange programs Isabel Gonzalez Diaz coordinates HEC Paris MBA’s student exchange. Here are her top 5 tips on how to make the most of the international MBA exchange program:

  1. Discover as much as you can about your preferred exchange institution (its areas of expertise, ranking positions, course content and schedules)
  2. Consider the ease of access to student accommodation on campus or in the local area
  3. Find out whether the partner university will offer you complete access to its career services
  4. Get in touch with students who have previously benefited from an exchange with the partner university and ask for their feedback on the experience
  5. Consider your career goals when choosing your exchange university


Cost of International Student Exchange Programs

It is hard to summarize costs of all countries in one bracket. However, it can be roughly estimated to be in the range of $3,000 to $8,000 for one semester, including airfare, program fees, rent, and other miscellaneous costs. That being the average, some high end involved programs can even go in the range of $20,000.

Now, these numbers obviously vary on what program you choose, accommodations you are provided, how meagerly you want to live, and of course which country you choose to exchange study in.



Scholarships for International Student Exchange Programs

As mentioned before, most university exchange programs are designed such that you are expected to only pay for the home university tuition, which is usually within your expected budget. Often such exchange programs include a small stipend or scholarship for the period of stay.

These schemes are subjective to the partner universities and the program.Even if your university doesn’t partner with foreign universities for exchange studies, it may have internal scholarships. Those are best reserved for your independent research into such facilities.

The best way to explore scholarships is to look into native or host country government financial help schemes, or independent scholarships provided by private organizations. Independent organizations arrange for scholarships based on financial need and/or merit. Though absolutely not exhaustive, the scholarships below show a range of available funding options.

  • ISEP Community Scholarship for ISEP member institutes
  • Massey University (New Zealand) Scholarship
  • Annette Kade Scholarship for studying in French or German at an ISEP member institution (more here).
  • Government Scholarships like USA’s Fullbright or H. H. Humphrey fellowships also provide financial help for exchange programs.
  • Diversity Abroad Scholarships
  • Links to scholarships and search engines here

Related articles:


Examples of Exchange Programs by Field

Here are a few examples of exchange programs by popular field.

Engineering Vanderbilt School of Engineering – International Exchange NUS Engineering – Student Exchange University of Michigan – Exchange Programs ISEP’s list of Engineering Abroad Programs
Architecture TU Delft Architecture and the Built Environment Exchange Program The University of Sheffield Study Abroad Program University of Hong Kong –International Student Exchange Program University of Washington – International Study Program
Medical New York Medical College International Exchange Program Johns Hopkins Medicine – Exchange Programs Asian Medical Student’s Exchange Program (AMSEP) American Medical Student Association (AMSA) – International Exchanges
Law American Bar Association – International Legal Exchange Program (ILEX) NYU Law – JD Students Exchange Program National Law School of India University Bangalore – Student Exchange Program Queen’s University Law – International Exchanges
Business SDA Bocconi MBA Exchange Program Northwestern Kellogg MBA Exchange Program Chicago Booth – International Business Exchange Program USC Marshall – International Exchange Program

Read Summer Programs for International Students in Business Schools

There are a multitude of options to explore for International Student Exchange Programs.It is recommended though that you research the pool thoroughly for the most reliable program pertaining to your situation. After all, if it clicks you will see far more than a teaser of life and education abroad.

A great international experience can steer your goals to possibilities that you may otherwise not be aware of from the comforts of your native land. On the other hand, a namesake program, with no credible benefits may end up being an exercise in futility, too hard on your finances and too frivolous for your time.

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Good Luck!
Sources:1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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6 thoughts on “How international student exchange programs work”

  1. Hllo
    I m harshita. I want to know that which subject should we opt to do master of science in US. We should opt maths science or bio science??

  2. Hi,

    I have 4 years of experience in IT company – Bangalore. I want to pursue MBA from abroad however I have a gap of 9 months in my job career. I got married and moved to Mumbai. I couldnt find a good job in Mumbai as I was looking for product based companies only. Now I have moved back to Bangalore and got a new job. I have started working again.

    Would this break be justified?

    At the time of justifying during MBA admission:
    a) Should I explain it that I took a volunteer break for my marriage
    b) Should I say that my husband was going to get transferred in few months to a different city so thts why I didnt join the job.
    c) Should I get an experience letter to cover this gap so it doesnt effect my admission?

  3. Hi
    I am a chartered accountant having 2 years of work experience in corporate finance. Am also attempting for CS professional.I am preparing for GMAT. Pls guide is ISB is right choice if i want to pursue my career in finance or please suggest some good foreign universities where i can get scolarship.

  4. HI, I have bachelor degree in business administration,and i am looking forward to apply for masters major,i am really confused How can I decide a major
    between masters in management engineering or masters in business administration (in Europe)??
    however, i have official Technical baccalaureate(3 years) in mechanical industrial.
    Which field should i choose for my masters? thanks in advance

  5. Hi
    I am Surya , i have completed B.E E.C.E in a affliated college of anna university in tamilnadu in 2013, and have started up a business and leading that till present. Now i am planning to do an MBA program in abroad, i need your valuable opinion of the following
    — which country will be cost efficient
    — what are the procedure to get a admission
    Thanks & regards
    M Surya Narayanan

  6. @Harshita: We’ve written about how to select an MS specialisation here:

    @Dhillon: Best to be honest in justifying career breaks. For that reason, points ‘a’ and ‘b’ are ok, but ‘c’ is a completely no-no.

    @Ayushi: Whether it’s ISB or any other top bschool, your pre-MBA experience will play in how easy or tough it is to get your post-MBA job. Here’s how you can select the right bschool:

    @Mido: We’ve written about choosing the right specialisation here:

    @Surya: This should get you started:


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