6 stats that will make you think differently about study abroad

AFS-USA study abroad participant in Panama.

Myths, stereotypes, assumptions...whatever you want to call them, there are a lot misguided notions about study abroad. Inaccurate or outdated ideas about who it's for, how it benefits participants and how it relates to traditional education abound, making it difficult to get a clear picture of this unique experience. This is made all the more challenging by the fact that study abroad seems to be in a transitional phase, with new types of programs and impacts emerging all the time.

So to clear things up, here are 6 intriguing statistics that reflect today's study abroad realities:

44% is...

A map of the U.S. with the Northeast region highlighted in blue.

...how much more likely you are to study abroad if you're a student in the Northeast

According to a 2013 NAFSA study of degree granting institutions (a.k.a. colleges and universities), students at Northeast schools have a much greater likelihood of going abroad than their peers in other parts of the country. The study also found that California had the sheer highest number of study abroad participants, and that D.C. had the highest percentage of participants relative to its student population.

These eye-opening numbers should tell you two things:

  1. If you’re a student anywhere else in this vast nation of ours – in high school or college - there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be setting yourself apart by saying ‘Yes’ to a year or semester abroad. And that's a good thing!
  2. If you’re a high school student eyeing that east coast college, you’d be wise to consider studying abroad before you submit your application. Clearly, schools in the Northeast tend to prioritize international experiences for their students. By taking the initiative to study abroad in high school, you’ll demonstrate that you share that priority and are motivated to make it happen.

4 is...

An AFS-USA study abroad participant in transit during her exchange program in India.

...the number of countries where the majority of U.S. students study abroad

Yep, as unbelievable as that sounds, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and France attract 40% of U.S. study abroad participants. While these incredible countries definitely live up to their appeal, there’s something wrong with this slanted picture - there’s an entire world out there, people! Ghana, China, Paraguay, Finland, Argentina, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Brazil…the list goes on.

Plus, there’s something to be said for spending time in more “off-the-beaten-path” destinations. Generally speaking, the farther you go outside your comfort zone, the more you reap the benefits of study abroad. A recent study found that new environments actually create new neuron patterns in the brain that allow you to become more confident, flexible and able to thrive in diverse settings. So don’t be afraid to dive into the totally unknown. Your brain will thank you.


100 is...

Students working in a computer lab.

The percentage of first-year Harvard Business School students who study abroad

One of the most harmful myths perpetuated about study abroad is the notion that it’s only relevant for liberal arts-minded students, and that students pursuing business, economics or any of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields are better off staying home and logging more traditional classroom hours. But there’s far more fiction than fact to that myth, especially now that more companies are looking to hire globally competent individuals.

Harvard Business School tends to agree. All 900 of its first-year MBA students are required to complete an international field project with a partner company in an emerging market country. And if you’re still not convinced, consider the fact that 23% percent of university students who studied abroad in 2014 were STEM majors! International experience is clearly valued in all fields these days, so why not get a jump on the competition?


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1:3 is...

AFS-USA study abroad participant, Rodrigo, soaks in a priceless moment during his exchange program in Ghana.

...the ratio of men to women who study abroad

This one is particularly troubling. There’s absolutely no reason why women should prioritize international experience any more than their male counterparts, and yet females are roughly 3x more likely to venture overseas! Both genders stand to gain equally – which is to say immensely – from study abroad. So what explains the discrepancy?

Sources speculate that guys tend to gravitate towards more technical fields of study, like science, math or economics, rather than the liberal arts subjects that are typically thought to complement study abroad. But the days of schools and employers overlooking the benefits of international experience are over. So guys, get out there and starting closing the study abroad gender gap!


12x is...

AFS-USA participants on a summer language study program in China.

...how many more Chinese study in the U.S. than Americans study in China

It’s official – the Chinese are winning the study abroad race, and not just because they boast the world’s largest population. The 100K Strong Initiative reports that last year, the number of Americans studying abroad in China increased by 5%, while the number of Chinese studying abroad in the U.S. jumped up an astonishing 23%.

The U.S. government and the 100K Strong Initiative continue to try to boost these numbers in an effort to bridge the gap between cultures and strengthen U.S.-China relations. So why not help them out and open doors for yourself in the process?


70% is...

An AFS-USA study abroad participant practices his language skills in a real-life setting

...the percentage of surveyed AFS year program participants who achieved foreign language fluency while abroad

Bilingualism is one of the most beneficial skills you can acquire. It’s been linked to increased job prospects, greater intellectual focus, and even delayed mental decline. Naturally, it’s also one of the most difficult skills to acquire. Classroom study alone won’t cut it when it comes to language fluency, so unless you live in a bilingual household, you’ll want to pursue cultural immersion at some point.

Living with a host family is by far the most effective way to immerse yourself in a new language and culture, which is undoubtedly why AFS study abroad returnees boast such a high rate of foreign language fluency. AFS programs prioritize host family living, which helps you to truly become part of a new community and make the most of your time abroad.