Study Abroad vs. Intern Abroad: What are the similarities and differences?

Top Articles on Studying Abroad from Students and Experts

story by Trixie Cordova

At Diversity Abroad, we emphasize the value of going abroad when you’re an undergraduate student. Going abroad NOW, while you’re in school, affords you so many opportunities that are often lost once you graduate. From smaller deals such as student discounts for flights or museums, to the possibility of getting fully funded with scholarships such as the Gilman Scholarship, there’s no better time to experience living in another country than while you’re a student.

Although there are many types of international opportunities that exist, the two most popular program types for students are study abroad programs and international internships. If you are interested in pursuing one of these two opportunities abroad but don’t know how they differ, we’ve outlined the similarities and differences between them below.

Study Abroad

I. Academic Credit

The very definition of “study” abroad means that you’ll be taking courses that can be applied towards your undergraduate degree program. Whether the courses are directly aligned with your major, or satisfy one of your general education requirements, these credits can contribute to the overall total credits you need to graduate. Just be sure to ask your study abroad advisor, and make an appointment with your academic advisor or counselor to ensure program credits can transfer successfully.

II. Financial Aid/Scholarships

It’s so important to check with various offices before finalizing which program you’ll ultimately choose. In addition to visiting the study abroad office and speaking with your academic advisor as we mentioned earlier, check with your financial aid office on campus to understand a) which parts of your financial aid package can transfer or be applied to a study abroad program, and b) what scholarships you may be eligible for. Some scholarships or funding are very strict about what and how they’re being used, so make sure you understand fully what you’ll be responsible for paying out of pocket (if any at all!).

III. Daily Schedule/Lifestyle

Studying abroad means you’re taking classes, just like you would at your home institution. That means having a weekly class schedule, making time to study outside of the class, forming study groups, attending office hours, and submitting homework or assignments on time. Keep this in mind when you start planning any side trips or adventures before, during, or after your program, because you don’t want to use all that “free” time being a tourist when you have an exam coming up!

Additionally, you’ll likely be living as a student does -- in a dorm, a homestay, or with other students in a shared environment (e.g., hotel). This could mean meals are provided, as are other amenities you may be used to having if you lived on campus. Be sure to know what’s included in your program costs so you can budget for meals that aren’t included!

Who is Study Abroad ideally for?

Students enrolled in a college or university, regardless of academic field of study. Every school varies regarding how early students can go abroad, but students typically go abroad between their Sophomore or Junior year.

Intern Abroad

I. Academic Credit

As we mentioned earlier, it IS possible to earn academic credit for an internship. If you CAN earn academic credit, you’ll want to consider if the number of credits you can earn are flexible. In some cases, the more hours you spend interning, the more credits you can apply towards your degree. However, if you independently research an internship opportunity outside of school, know that academic credit may not be available.

Consider what type of experience you want abroad to determine the appropriate number of academic credits, if any, that suits your needs.

II. Financial Aid/Scholarships

Just as internships often are here in the U.S., most internships abroad are likely to be unpaid. For this reason (especially if you’re on a tight budget), getting academic credit is ideal, since you can try and transfer some financial aid to help with costs abroad.

Research what scholarships you would be eligible for when choosing an international internship. You can start right here at Diversity Abroad! Check out our Scholarships page for more information.

III. Daily Schedule/Lifestyle

Interning abroad means your schedule will reflect an internship or work schedule at home, which means you could be busy anywhere from 20-40 hours a week, working in a field ideally aligned with your career aspirations. Unlike studying abroad, however, you won’t be spending your free time studying or preparing for exams. Instead, you have more flexibility to spend time exploring local neighborhoods or building professional connections through networking.

Additionally, you may need to be more independent than when you study abroad, since you may be responsible for finding your own housing, or making your own meals. These are also important factors to take into consideration.

Who are International Internships for?

Undergraduate students seeking international professional/work experience and potentially academic credit. But this is also a great alternative for those who have graduated, or are simply looking for more direct field experiences professionally. This is especially valuable for students interested in careers with an international focus (e.g., international relations, business, engineering) , or developing language skills.

It’s worth mentioning that there ARE some study abroad programs that offer BOTH a mix of classes and internship opportunities. So if you find yourself really struggling to decide between the two, sometimes you may not have to!

Ultimately, it’s important to reflect on the type of international experience you want in order to make the best choice for you. Whether you want to study or intern, volunteer or teach, Diversity Abroad has the resources to help you decide!
Trixie Cordova


Trixie is the Student Outreach Coordinator at Diversity Abroad. She travels across the country during the Go Global Tour to promote international opportunities for underrepresented students. Stay in touch and e-mail her at! 

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