In 2016, San Diego State University ranked ninth among all U.S. universities for the percentage of students studying abroad, according the Institute for International Education's (IIE) Open Doors 2014/2015.

Over 2,400 San Diego State students studied in a foreign country that year, more than seven percent of the campus's total student body.

Spending a year, semester or summer abroad does more than just expand students' horizons, though: There's evidence that it can help them graduate sooner.

Deemed one of the  "high-impact practices"—meaning practices and techniques that are linked to measurable student success—study abroad can actually reduce the time it takes students to earn a bachelor's degree, provided students and faculty advisors plan well.

"Study abroad is a high-impact practice in many ways. Preparing to go abroad engages students in critical inquiry and active learning," says Katie Roller, Ed.D., ‎associate director of International Programs at California State University, at the Chancellor's Office, in Long Beach.

Well before a student gets on the plane, a great deal of planning takes place, often in their freshman year of college. That process helps them organize the rest of their college career—all the way through to commencement. Students also "develop a sense of themselves in the wider world [that's] mind-boggling," notes Dr. Roller.

Results like these, says Roller, make study abroad programs a systemwide priority: "I think the CSU's support for international education is impressive and can stand as a best practice model for other large, public institutions of comparable size, student population and mission."

Each of the CSU's 23 campuses offers an international study program, with options throughout the world.

The Impact on Graduation

International study programs supplement and support on-campus undergraduate experiences, says Roller, who conducts research on student learning outcomes associated with international education.

In international program offices across the CSU system, she adds that "my colleagues and I help students make sure all of their classes fit into their degree requirements. Our goal is to work in concert with faculty and academic advisors, but sometimes study abroad professionals are the only advisers that a student will work with on campus because of the rapport that's built when selecting a location and courses abroad to study."

More students seem to be pursuing global programs these days; Roller says she's seeing the number of students studying abroad growing and numbers from IIE bear this out: According to Open Doors 2016, more than 313,000 American students received credit for study abroad in 2014-15, an increase of nearly three percent over the previous academic year.

More Citizens of the World

"One of our goals at the CSU is the internationalization of our students. We want them to be global citizens," Roller explains. "That means we desire for our students to be socially responsible, globally aware and civically engaged."

Here are some more ways study abroad can make you a well-rounded student:

  • It enhances your education. "We make sure that when students come back, we close the learning loop," Roller says. "They have intellectual conversations about what they learned and how it can be practically applied to coursework, senior thesis projects, graduate school applications and employment."
  • It builds your résumé. "We work with career services [on campus] to help students develop an 'elevator pitch' from their study abroad experience," Roller explains. "And they also develop a statement of purpose for graduate school."
  • It develops self-awareness. Getting a passport for the first time, navigating an unfamiliar environment, learning to become more self-sufficient—these are experiences that lead to increased knowledge of the world and yourself.
  •  It deepens your understanding of another culture. Living and learning in another country and society gives you a perspective that can't be gained any other way.

Funding a Year Abroad

The Chancellor's Office administers the CSU system-wide international study program, all of which last a full academic year. Individual campuses have their own programs as well.

If you're considering studying abroad but feel it's beyond what you can afford, that may not be the case.

"Lack of finances is often cited as a reason a student opts out of study abroad, but scholarships for international education are available and often selection committees are unable to award all the funds available due to a lack of applicants," notes Roller.  

"Students should talk to their campus study abroad coordinator for specifics to determine which program and model best suits their academic needs and wanderlust."

Learn more about the CSU system's international programs.