Dearth of Information Keeps Many Students From Studying Abroad, Survey Finds

March 06, 2013

A lack of fluency in a foreign language or a reluctance to leave family and friends have often been seen as hurdles to studying abroad. But a far greater deterrent, according to a survey of more than 10,800 British and American students, may simply be a lack of information about overseas study.

Just 24 percent of American and 22 percent of British students said they had enough information to make a decision about studying abroad.

By contrast, 82 percent of British and 79 percent of American respondents considering study in another country said they felt confident speaking a foreign language (although, at the same time, the Americans included lack of language ability among their top reasons for sticking close to home).

The findings are part of a study of perceived barriers to study abroad, conducted by the British Council, Britain's educational and cultural-relations agency, in conjunction with the National Union of Students in the U.K. and Zinch, an online network of college-seekers in the United States. The online survey was conducted from October to December 2012.

Some 20 percent of British respondents and 56 percent of their American counterparts said they were considering study abroad, whether for short-term programs or as part of a full academic degree, according to a report on the survey. For American students a primary draw was travel and experiencing another culture, while British students said they wanted to go overseas because they were interested in living and working in a foreign country.

Yet if history is a guide, just a small share of those students will actually go abroad. Only 9 percent of American undergraduates studied overseas in 2010-11, according to the Institute of International Education.

For both groups of students, cost is likely to be a big deterrent. More than half of British students and nearly three-quarters of Americans said the expense was a likely obstacle to international study. That's despite the availability of financial support for study abroad, like the American Gilman program for low-income students or Chinese-government scholarships for foreign students. Indeed, nearly 40 percent of Americans interested in going abroad said they were unaware of aid programs for overseas study.

Such a lack of awareness may come as a surprise to campus study-abroad offices, which regularly hold information sessions and open hours to get the word out about international study. But the survey indicates that students are turning to other sources of information. Half of the respondents identified the Internet as their primary resource, above college professors and study-abroad offices. Other research suggests that peers have an outsize effect on students'—particularly male students'—desire to go overseas.

While the British Council's report notes "growing drive and ambition" to study abroad, it concludes, "access to and information about the options available are the first barriers that students face."