Seeking A Career Boost: What Is The Best Study Abroad Experience?

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Previously in this blog, I have highlighted often quite surprising findings from the UK and also the European Commission, giving evidence about the various career advantages one gets from studying for some time abroad. A lot of research has been done about these benefits.

Recently an American survey of 4500 graduates, conducted by the Institute for International Education (IIE) in Washington DC was published. It addressed this question: how much more do you benefit from a long (typically a year) study period abroad than a short one (typically 8 weeks)? The conclusions are interesting.

After all the other reports, nobody will be surprised to hear that the great majority of both those who went for a study period abroad and their potential employers conclude that studying abroad makes someone much more employable – and boosts their subsequent career progression.

On that broad conclusion, the American, British, and European research are fully aligned. Two interesting new elements have been added by the IIE’s study, Gaining an Employment Edge: The Impact of Study Abroad on 21st Century Skills & Career Prospects.

First of all, the American research spelled out the 15 features that employers value which are stimulated by doing part of one’s study in another country and culture. The top skills learnt by higher education students who have enjoyed the opportunity to study abroad are: intercultural skills, adaptability, curiosity, confidence, self-awareness. These are an excellent match with what employers are looking for.

The other element that emerged from the American research was the different benefits one gets from a short and long time abroad. Of those who went abroad for a year, over two thirds said this was a major factor in getting a job and/or a promotion. For those who went for a shorter period, just under half made the same observation.

That is in itself not very surprising. But the outcome was unexpected: those who went for a shorter period reported much improved team working skills. This is probably because short term programmes tend to be more structured and team oriented than longer term programmes, where students might pursue more independent experiences.

The survey also showed the importance of looking beyond one’s academic field of study, especially for those studying science. Of those who did a STEM focused programme, 28% reported a positive impact on their career whilst 47% said the same about the impact of study abroad outside the STEM study area. The reason is that science studies can be quite insular, but students need a wider range of soft and intercultural skills for their careers.

This finding illustrates the importance of adding that broad, international experience to your study specialisation in order to have the wider qualifications that employers want to see in graduates.