Parents: How To Help Your Student Choose A Program

We talk to students daily about their study abroad dreams, but we don’t often get to connect with some of the biggest decision makers (or decision helpers): parents. Even though your students are in college, typically living away from home, we understand that as parents, you still play a large role in your students’ lives, and we love it!

You likely helped your student choose the right university for them, and now it’s time to talk study abroad! If you’re a parent who is unsure about how to best support your student as they make this life-changing decision, check out some of our tips below.

A USAC student smiles with locals from a village outside of Chiang Mai. Photo taken before COVID-19.

Hear Your Student Out

Whether you’re apprehensive about study abroad in general or are simply concerned about your student’s academic and personal well-being, we hear you! The first step to becoming a supportive study abroad parent is to be receptive to whatever plans your student has in mind. That includes location, housing selection, courses and internships, travel plans, and so much more. Your instinct as a parent might be to share what you think is best, but hear your student out. If they’ve done their research on locations and program offerings and have thought about their study abroad goals, they should have a thought-out plan and purpose. Once you’ve heard their ideas, chime in with any additional pieces they may have skipped in their planning excitement, such as:

  • How will your students’ identity be perceived abroad?
  • Do they have a financial plan in place to pay for their program?
  • Have they spoken to an academic advisor about staying on track for graduation?
  • What USAC support will they have pre-departure and on site in their host country?
  • Is there any family heritage or history that might be of interested when selecting their study abroad program?
USAC students explore China during a field trip. Photo taken before COVID-19.

Let Your Student Run With It

This next tip is by no means an excuse to micromanage your student until they get on that plane. Study abroad is about gaining independence and learning life skills, and your student can’t do that if you complete every step of the process for them. It might be scary to hear that your student wants to pack up their life and move to a foreign country for weeks or months, but it will be a good opportunity for growth for both of you.

Help your student by offering support and jumping in when they ask for it. Chances are, they’ll want help staying on top of deadlines or submitting their scholarship essay or even packing, but outside of their requested help, let them run with it and trust that they will take care of everything. (Hint: this includes once students are on-site).

study abroad student in Chiang Mai, Thailand
A student throws her hands in the air on a hike through the forest.

Offer Financial Support (However You Can)

In most cases, study abroad isn’t completely free, and your student is likely concerned about being able to afford everything that comes with study abroad. Fortunately, USAC prides itself on offering affordable programs around the world, so by studying with us, your student is off to a good start. However, setting oneself up for financial success abroad doesn’t end with choosing an affordable program. And as a parent, there are many ways you can help your student pay for study abroad (beyond opening up your wallet because we understand that isn’t feasible for many families), such as:

  • Proofread their USAC scholarship essay once or twice before the application deadline to ensure that their best work is submitted.
  • Help them find additional external scholarships that they are eligible for. Here is a list to get you started.
  • Work with your student to cut down on their expenses and set a budget to help save for their program.
  • Speak with them about their study abroad priorities and help them find ways to cut down on expenses while abroad. Consider things like optional tours, housing alternatives, and outside travel.
USAC Torino students smile during a walking tour of their host city. Photo taken following local COVID-19 guidelines.

Review Health And Safety Protocol With Your Student

One thing that no student wants to think about when gearing up for study abroad is health and safety. Obviously, that topic can bring up thoughts of unwelcome scenarios, but it’s important to chat about how your student will take care of themselves and stay safe during their time abroad. As a parent, that is where you come in!

The good news is that all USAC students and parents can reach out to our U.S.-based Health and Safety department for non-emergency questions before and during study abroad. Additionally, we offer around-the-clock emergency support for our students abroad just in case. But as a parent, we encourage you to sit down with your student and review our health and safety guidelines together and discuss possible needs abroad, such as making sure your student has enough prescription medication, any accessibility needs your student might have, mental health status and management, and general safety dos and don’ts. We’ll all feel better if you ensure that your student does their due diligence before departure.

Stay Positive and Encouraging

No matter where your student chooses to study abroad, they will likely be a little (or maybe a lot) nervous and will encounter a few bumps in the road. Whether they’re having pre-departure anxiety, feeling homesick once they arrive, or experiencing those post-study abroad blues that we are all too familiar with, be sure to maintain a positive attitude and help your student through these challenging experiences. In our eyes, the most helpful thing a parent can do is support their student’s decisions, no matter what they are, throughout their study abroad journey.

Looking for more parent resources? Visit the USAC website to get started.