Will Study Abroad Happen in 2021?

Will Study Abroad Happen in 2021?
portrait of Anne Dennon
By Anne Dennon

Published on July 15, 2021

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The universal cancellation of study abroad last spring sent American students home in droves. Now, as many top study destinations reopen to American travelers, some colleges plan to send students back. According to a survey by the Institute of International Education (IIE), almost half (49%) of institutions plan on in-person study abroad for fall 2021.

Also, more than half of institutions are offering some manner of global education experiences this summer. Other colleges don't plan to offer study abroad until January 2022. For example, Columbia University extended its suspension of undergraduate study abroad programs through the fall semester. Columbia anticipates sending students abroad next spring, along with over half of colleges surveyed (54%).

Between lingering travel restrictions and attenuated demand, colleges' study abroad options may be pared down. The same goes for typical study abroad experiences and activities. Depending on the country and program, students may face restrictions when it comes to public transport, restaurant dining, and extracurricular travel.

Most of Europe Is Open to Americans This Summer

Travel restrictions are lifting in many of the countries that attract the most American students, just in time for students to study abroad this summer and fall. Europe hosts over half of all U.S study abroad students. As of June, the European Union is allowing Americans back in.

Currently, visiting Americans must either be vaccinated or present a compelling reason to be in Europe. (Being registered for classes counts.) The European Union is expected to recommend that member countries further lift restrictions on U.S. tourists.

The EU uses a traffic light model that labels green, orange, and red countries based on risk factors. The U.S. is classified as orange. If it switches to green, all U.S. travelers, including those who are not vaccinated, will be allowed in.

Travel restrictions are lifting in many of the countries that attract American students, just in time for study abroad this summer and fall.

Restrictions vary by European country, and are likely to continue to shift. Most ask for proof of vaccination or immunity, or a negative COVID-19 test. Some instruct travelers to quarantine upon arrival, but more countries are dropping their quarantine requirements for some visitors. Even in locations with travel bans still in place, there may be exceptions for students.

Meanwhile, some popular study abroad destinations, including Costa Rica, remain on the U.S. State Department's "Do Not Travel" list. Countries rated as "Level 4: Do Not Travel" by the State Department may still host American students.

A survey of colleges found that just 18% will not send students to Level 4 countries; 39% said they will send students to these countries after a review and approval process.

Study Abroad, Post-Pandemic

Before the pandemic, study abroad had been growing steadily larger and more diverse. The IIE estimates that about 11% of all undergraduates study abroad during college. While last year saw a dramatic reduction in study abroad opportunities and interest from students, both were trending upward before the pandemic.

Educators anticipate the pent-up demand for study abroad could help programs return to full-steam operations as early as 2022. In the meantime, college students eager to travel and gain new perspectives can fill out their applications starting now.


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