Go Places: Examining the Academic Returns to Study Abroad



This is a study of experiential learning of studying abroad during college and how this experience may be linked to gains on student academic achievement. Utilizing data from a national survey, this research aims to accomplish dual goals: (a) to identify the impact of studying abroad on student academic achievement and measure the effect; and (b) investigate how this impact varies by different types of program design (e.g., duration, logistics, curriculum) so as to shed light on best practice. To that end, the author applies quasi-experimental method to quantify the academic returns to study abroad at causal level. Key findings are summarized as follows: (1) studying abroad slightly increased college GPA; (2) Students can gain the same academic benefits from studying abroad, whether they are female or male, white or minority, STEM or non-STEM majors; and (3) For credit programs directly related to a student’s major, with an opportunity to work on a research project, and one semester long experience yields higher returns than other program designs. Homestay with a host family also induces marginal benefit. In this digital era, people may wonder “Is it worthwhile to study abroad when you can learn everything at home?” This research’s answer is yes.


Experiential learning College engagement Post-secondary education Student success 



This paper is part of the author’s research when she was at Teachers College, Columbia University. The author thanks the National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE) at Indiana University for the data, and appreciates support from the Department of Education Policy and Social Analysis and the Center on Chinese Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Office of Institutional Research and AssessmentCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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