Ways to Study Abroad

The desire to study abroad is there – what’s next? There are many ways to organize study abroad. Which path is “right” for you depends on various factors. In which country and at which university do you want to study? Is it a part or full course? How important is flexibility to you?

In the following, the possible ways to study abroad are explained in more detail.

Partial studies abroad

There are very different ways of organizing and supporting a partial course abroad. Depending on whether you are participating in an exchange program or whether you are taking the adventure of studying abroad into your own hands as a free mover.

Exchange programs of the home university

University exchange programs are a widespread way to study abroad. Most German universities and technical colleges cooperate with foreign universities and accordingly support mutual exchange. Participation in such a university exchange program enables an organized semester or annual stay at one of the existing foreign partner universities.


  • There are no additional tuition fees at the host university
  • Simple crediting of the courses attended abroad at the home university
  • The organizational effort for the students is low
  • If you have any questions or problems, the International Office at your home university can help


  • Limited flexibility
  • The choice of partner universities is limited
  • The collaborations do not necessarily apply to all departments
  • Due to the fixed regulations for the crediting of certificates, the choice of course is often not completely free
  • The application deadlines end early
  • The capacities of the programs are limited and not every interested party gets a place at the end

The ERASMUS + program in Europe

The ERASMUS + program is an EU-wide cooperation program for the international exchange of students. Founded in 1987 under the name ERASMUS, it pursues the goal of promoting international cooperation between European universities and student mobility. The name ERASMUS stands for European Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students. The name also refers to the Dutch scholar Erasmus von Rotterdam, who in 15./16. Century lived and traveled large parts of Europe.

In 2014 the program was given a new name, together with the previous EU programs on lifelong learning, youth and sport: ERASMUS +.

The most important innovations in the context of ERASMUS +:

  • Students can receive multiple funding in each study cycle (Bachelor, Master, PhD)
  • The total funding period may be up to twelve months per study phase
  • The program supports study visits outside Europe to a limited extent
  • New opportunities for universities to enter into two- or three-year strategic partnerships with each other and with non-academic organizations

The core of ERASMUS + in higher education continues to be the financial support for study visits to other European countries. The scholarships provide around EUR 200 per month as a mobility allowance in order to earn a living abroad. In addition, there are usually no additional tuition fees. The financial relief is particularly high through this double funding with ERASMUS +.

Requirements for an exchange via the ERASMUS + program: The home university and the foreign target university have a mutual exchange agreement and both participate in the ERASMUS + program.

The advantages and disadvantages of an exchange via ERASMUS + are similar to those of the purely university exchange programs. The organization and crediting of foreign study achievements are ensured by the existing university partnerships and the tried and tested exchange format. The organizational effort for the participants is therefore limited. The program is particularly attractive for less financially well-funded students due to the elimination of tuition fees and the monthly grant.

The limitations that a relatively rigidly organized program entails are also disadvantageous here. Erasmus + is primarily on Europe limited and thus not suitable for students who leave the continent for their stay abroad and for example in Asia, Oceania or North America would like to study. The selection of partner universities is also limited, so that not all location requests can be implemented within Europe. Especially in particularly popular countries for a semester abroad such as Great Britain or Spain there are often far more applicants than there are places available.

The fixed guidelines for the crediting of achievements mean organizational relief, but also a restriction of the choice of courses. The capacity of the ERASMUS + program is also very limited ; the places are particularly popular because of the greater financial support.

Private organization as a freemover

Of course, it is also possible to spend a semester abroad outside of university-internal exchange programs. Those who cannot get a place there or are not interested in one of the exchange destinations offered can organize their semester abroad privately. As a so-called free mover, you can choose a foreign university that corresponds to your individual wishes and possibilities. However, it is not so easy not to get lost in the chaos of information and offers.

In principle, it is possible to apply for a semester abroad at any foreign university. However, when choosing a host university, it is advisable to focus primarily on universities that offer special semester programs for international students.

These Study Abroad or Open Semester programs are tailored to the needs of freemovers and make studying abroad much easier. They offer a flexible choice of courses and the application process is straightforward. These are decisive advantages over a semester at a university that does not offer a corresponding program. Without a program, the chances of admission are significantly lower and the choice of courses is often limited. In this case, the universities usually do not differentiate between semester students and full students. In this case, you compete with all other applicants for a regular study place.

Support from private placement organizations

If you are planning your stay abroad as a free mover, there is no support from the International Office or the International Office. There are other options for support and advice. Private organizations offer various services to make it easier for free movers to travel abroad. They have a large selection of foreign partner universities that offer Study Abroad programs and support students in the application process at these universities.

This includes help with decision-making as well as with the specific application and the associated formalities. In addition, the student advisors are available as contacts for all questions, problems and ambiguities that may arise when planning a stay abroad. This is a clear advantage over the completely independent organization of a semester abroad.

Another advantage is the greater flexibility in choosing a university and course. Depending on which placement organization you choose, there is a very large selection of partner universities and study options available. As a rule, the choice is much larger than with university or ERASMUS partnerships. The competent advice and assistance also facilitates the decision-making and application process enormously without incurring additional costs. The services offered by private placement agencies are usually financed by the respective partner universities and are therefore usually free of charge for students. However, the specific modalities may differ.

In contrast to most university collaborations and the ERASMUS program, another type of study is also possible when you are abroad as a free mover. Summer Sessions offer you the opportunity to attend courses and lectures at a foreign university during the lecture-free period in Germany.

The chances of finding a place in a Study Abroad program are usually good. On the one hand, you are not competing with other applicants for a regular study place. On the other hand, due to the wide range of options for course selection, capacities are not as limited as in a university cooperation.

The disadvantage of studying as a free mover at a university abroad is the financing. Participants in Study Abroad programs pay tuition. The financial burden is usually higher here. But there are also many different ways for free movers to make the semester abroad affordable. Perhaps you are eligible for BaföG abroad or there is a suitable scholarship for you.

Full study abroad

Anyone who decides to complete a full course of study abroad also has various options for organization and support to choose from.

Binational double degrees

Some German universities, there is the possibility of an in cooperation with a foreign university double degree (double degree) to acquire. The students usually spend a longer period of time at the foreign university, usually between one semester and half the duration of their studies. At the end of the course, both universities involved award an academic degree. For this it is not necessary to study two complete courses at the same time. This is made possible by established guidelines for crediting study achievements.

A big advantage of this study variant is certainly that the graduates have two academic degrees from two different countries. You are well qualified for both the German and the international job market.

A binational double degree is a good option for those who would like to acquire a foreign degree, but do not want or cannot spend several years abroad.

Obviously, a certain amount of extra work is required to obtain the double degree. The students do not work twice as much, but they usually have more work to do than in a single course. The choice of subjects and partner universities is very limited in this type of study, so that it is not an option for everyone. And a study place is not necessarily guaranteed due to the limited capacity.

Private organization

Here, too, private organization is one way to complete a full degree abroad. This project is more complex than organizing a semester abroad and requires long-term planning. Here, too, it is basically possible to apply completely on your own.

However, the application process for a full course can be very extensive, especially at well-known foreign universities. The universities often require multi-page letters of motivation or application essays and at least two letters of recommendation. In the USA, a certain number of points is also required in admission tests such as the SAT or ACT.

Private recruitment agencies will help you keep track of things. The consultants also usually know helpful tips and tricks for applying to the individual universities. These organizations usually have a large selection of possible universities for a full degree. The advice and assistance in applying for a full-time study is also usually free. In degree programs such as medicine or dentistry, however, some agencies sometimes charge four-digit amounts for their placement services. In any case, a precise comparison is worthwhile here before deciding on a provider.

Ways to Study Abroad