According to the 2017 edition of Education at a Glance, an annual Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report that scrutinises worldwide education developments, over four and a half million students were enrolled in higher education outside their home countries in 2015. This represents a fivefold increase on 1975’s 0.8 million. International students mobility is an all time high with the strongest annual average growth rates coming from Asian economies, particularly in China, Vietnam and India.

If there is one thing clear from this, it’s the fact that the exposure and experience offered by foreign education is high up on the priority list of a lot of students. But is enrolling full time in a foreign university the only way to get that exposure?

The answer is no. There are many schools, colleges, and universities that offer their students a chance to experience life in a foreign country for a short duration of time. 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 whywhere, and how to engage in these short-term international exposure programs.

The Lure 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.
  • An opportunity which is becoming increasingly relevant to the fast-growing need for graduates to become globally competent.
  • 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.

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
Kyushu University 
Brown University 
Butler University 
New York University 
University of
Texas Austin
Yale University 
University of Alberta 

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
Program for
graduate study
Global Undergraduate
Exchange Program
(Global UGRAD)

Tips for International Student Exchange Program

 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

Examples of Exchange Programs by Field

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






In conclusion, here are my five personal compelling reasons why a prospective student should definitely try a student exchange program:

1. Study abroad at a fraction of the cost: The low cost of student exchange programs is perhaps their most attractive feature. Studying abroad typically costs thousands of dollars and may be beyond the economic means of many students. However, students can get the experience of studying and living in a foreign country at the fraction of that cost when they travel overseas on a student exchange program.

2. Get exposure to alternative ways of learning: Every country has its own way of instructing students. When a student from a particular country travels abroad, they are exposed to alternative approaches to learning, something that they are likely to carry back to their home country and share with their peers. The exposure, thus, not only enhances their own learning experience, but also of their fellow students back home.

3. Gateway to personal development: There is nothing like living on your own, away from home and from the protective gaze of your parents, in a foreign country for personal development. The experience will lead to improved self-confidence and self-esteem. It will also improve the students’ decision making and independent thinking skills not to mention enhance their understanding and acceptance of different cultures and perspectives. Staying abroad, even if it’s just for a semester or two, will give students a world view in the true sense of the term.

4. Prepare for the global economy: The increasingly shrinking business world is forever on the lookout for professionals who understand the global economy and are able to function in it. Since most university students who travel abroad on student exchange programs are on the verge of entering the job market, the experience of studying/living overseas prepares them to work in the global economy. They have a better understanding of the international market forces and are much better equipped to solve global challenges at their workplace.

5. Form life-long bonds: A lot of student exchange programs require students to stay with a local family in the host country. This helps students understand and appreciate the culture and way of life of the host country, turning them into global citizens. The experience of integrating into a foreign way of life comes in handy should they ever decide to work or settle abroad. Moreover, living in such close proximity with a set of people and being on the receiving end of their warmth and hospitality helps students forge life-long bonds with them.

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 home. 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.

Good Luck!

Benefits of International Student Exchange Programs

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