4 Study Abroad Tips for STEM Students

안녕하세요! Hello! My name is Briyanna Moore and I’m a sophomore student at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. I’m majoring in biology with a concentration of pre-physician assistant studies, and minoring in Asian studies so I can pursue my interests in Korean culture and language. I’m currently attending Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea with USAC. I’d like to share my experience abroad to help inquiring and future study abroad students with their international journey.  

An intern in Chiang Mai learns traditional Thai medicine.

In high school, you’re taught that choosing your major is the most important aspect of attending college. It’s what essentially shapes your college academic experience, of course! And depending what major you choose, some of your required classes might be very inflexible. For some degree plans, you have to take the exact course at your specific university in order for its credit to count for any post-bachelor degree opportunities such as graduate school. This is often the case for a wide variety of STEM majors, especially for students who are on any pre-health track. Because of this, some students may shy away from the idea of studying abroad in a foreign country, as the schooling system in another country is unknown territory. 

Fear not! As a biology major on the pre-physician assistant track, I have a few tips on how my fellow STEM students can also study abroad. 

Students studying abroad in Valencia, Spain can take chemistry classes and learn in labs
Students listen to a demonstration in chemistry lab.

1. Choose your major and minor wisely 

If you’re like me, and you love STEM but also have an affinity for other languages and cultures, then you should consider majoring in the STEM field of your choice and minoring in your international interest. This gives you the opportunity to fulfill your future STEM dreams as well as your desire to study abroad. 

This is the route I took. It was really important I took culture and language courses, and dedicate a chunk of my college academics to it, so minoring in Asian studies with a concentration in Korean studies was the perfect fit for me. 

I’d also note that the easiest way to major in a STEM field and minor in a non-STEM area is if your selected major has minor-credit space within it. For example, in order to successfully graduate with a bachelor’s degree in any field, you have to take at least 120 credit hours of college courses. Some STEM majors, such as allied health science, can take up that entire amount of credits, so if you were to minor in any specific topic (especially if it’s not related to your major), you would most likely have to be in school for at least an extra semester. 

However, in my case, my minor is factored into my major, which means that I have space within the required 122 credit hours for my bachelor’s degree to minor in anything that I want. This is what helped me to choose my major, and is allowing me to kill two birds with one bachelor degree. 

A student works at a local chemistry department in Costa Rica.

2. Save those elective classes 

Most U.S. colleges and universities require students to take general education courses and electives that may not necessarily fit your STEM major requirements. If you can, save these classes for your future trip abroad! With how particular higher level STEM course credits can be, if you’re not minoring in something general or culture specific, then your gen-eds and any other elective classes will likely be easier to transfer over. 

To ensure that those credits transfer over, please talk to the office that handles transcript and credit evaluations on your home university’s campus. 

A USAC professor speaks to students during an environmental studies course.

3. Take your STEM classes abroad 

This point may seem bewildering to some STEM students, but there are plenty of programs where you can take some of your STEM classes abroad. Please note, this may vary depending on what part of the STEM field you’re majoring in. For example, some of my friends studying abroad in Korea are taking computer science and engineering courses, which will transfer over and give them credit toward their majors. However, some STEM classes, such as anatomy and physiology, may be more variable in terms of transferring back as the right credit. 

A USAC New Zealand student works in a technology lab on campus.

4. Work with your academic team 

Continuous communication with your study abroad advisors and academic credit evaluators is essential when taking core STEM courses abroad. I’d suggest you get as many credits as you can approved at your home university prior to departure, so you have an abundance of options in case classes you were planning to take abroad fills up. The more classes you get approved, the more backup options you’ll have which will ensure your studying abroad process is as smooth as possible.  

I also believe you should turn your course evaluation sheet in as early as possible. This will help you find transferable courses if some classes you thought you could fit into your major aren’t approved for credit. 

I hope these tips are helpful, and good luck on your study abroad journey!  

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