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FAQs for Outbound Students

Jump to answers to some of the most frequently asked questions from outbound students, organized by topic:

Pre-departure Requirements

1. I know I need to complete Northwestern pre-departure requirements. Where can I find an overview of what I need to do?

Visit the Pre-departure Requirements page. 

2. What is the Program Confirmation form? When do I need to submit it?

After receiving Northwestern approval to study abroad, the Program Confirmation form lets the relevant study abroad office know if you plan to move forward with your study abroad plans, including your final program choice, or if you are withdrawing your application.  You must submit your Program Confirmation form to the relevant study abroad office by the deadline specified in your approval email. 

3. How do I know if I have completed my Northwestern pre-departure requirements?

The status of your Northwestern Application will change to reflect that you have successfully completed your Northwestern pre-departure requirements. You can also contact your Study Abroad Adviser to verify that you have completed your requirements.

4. Do I need to complete any pre-departure requirements for my program?

In addition to your Northwestern pre-departure requirements, students must also complete specific requirements with their program to maintain admission. Check with your program to make sure you are completing their requirements in a timely manner.

Passports/visas

1. I don’t have a passport. How do I get one?

If you do not already have a passport, you should apply for one as soon as possible.  Visit Passports and Visas for information on the application process.

2. I have a passport, but I’m not sure if I need to renew it.

Your passport must be valid for at least six months after your return to the U.S.  If your passport will expire prior to this time period, it must be renewed. Visit Passports and Visas for information on the renewal process.

3. What is a visa? Where can I find information about how to obtain a visa?

A visa is a permit issued by a foreign country allowing an individual to travel to the issuing country. The visa is generally issued in the student’s home country by the embassy or consulate of the country to which the applicant is traveling. Each country that requires a visa has its own requirements, fee, and application forms.

Contact your program to find out if you need a visa and how to go about obtaining one.  Most students are required to obtain a visa in order to study abroad for a summer, semester, or year.  Most students must apply directly for a student visa, either by mail or in-person at a consulate. It is your responsibility to verify the visa requirements of your host country, and if necessary, to obtain your visa.

4. I’m planning to travel prior to the start of my study abroad program. Is this a problem?

If your country/program requires that you obtain a student visa, you will need to give your passport to the relevant consulate in order to obtain your visa. International travel during the months before your departure is, therefore, not recommended. Get in touch with your program to discuss the implications of your travel plans.

health insurance and conditions

1. Am I required to purchase GeoBlue Global Health insurance even if I already have other health insurance from my program and/or family?

Northwestern University requires all study abroad students to obtain GeoBlue Global Health insurance coverage for the period of time they are studying abroad, regardless of any other coverage you have from your parents, Northwestern, or your study abroad program. For more information and a list of exemptions to this requirement, visit the Study Abroad Health Insurance page.

2. Why should I disclose my condition(s) to Northwestern and/or my program before I go abroad?

We strongly encourage all students with routine or chronic health conditions, especially those on prescription medications, to touch base prior to departure with a study abroad adviser, program director or Northwestern's Director of the Office of Global Safety and Security.  They can work with you and GeoBlue prior to departure to discuss managing your condition(s) abroad.

Changes in air quality, elevation, diet, climate and geography/topography, as well as stress factors related to culture and language, can exacerbate symptoms.  Students who require regular medical care, including counseling, blood work, physical therapy, allergy shots, etc., can continue such treatment abroad, but GeoBlue staff needs to know this in advance of departure to locate the most convenient and reputable clinic.  Furthermore, certain prescribed medications may not be available in some foreign countries, and in some locations are even considered illegal. GeoBlue can help to determine whether or not medications are available (and legal) in any country. For more information, visit the Health Abroad page.

money matters

1. Who pays my study abroad deposit?

If your program requires you to pay a deposit to confirm your participation, you are responsible for paying it directly to your program sponsor by their deadline. Northwestern cannot waive or pay deposits for students.

Note: Northwestern students attending Northwestern-sponsored programs are not required to pay a deposit, but will be charged a cancellation fee for withdrawing from a program after confirming participation.

2. How does study abroad billing work?

When you study abroad, you will pay your program's costs, not Northwestern tuition. You will receive an invoice from Northwestern each quarter you are abroad, and your program sponsor may bill you directly for some charges.

Review the Billing & Payments page for more information, and review the cost information on your program page.

3. I'm receiving financial aid from Northwestern.  Does my aid transfer to my study abroad program? What are my next steps?

Students attending Northwestern-sponsored or affiliated programs during the regular academic year can use their Northwestern financial aid for study abroad. In addition, study abroad will not change your expected family contribution; it should cost you the same out-of-pocket to study abroad as studying in Evanston. Keep in mind that financial aid is based on your study abroad program's costs, and will not cover the cost of your housing in Evanston while you are abroad. The aid application is no different than that for regular campus study. For study abroad during fall or full year, submit your completed financial aid application by April 1st. For study abroad during winter and/or spring quarters, submit your aid application by May 1st.

For information about Northwestern financial aid for summer study abroad, review the Summer Aid & Scholarships page.

Students attending unaffiliated programs are not eligible for any assistance through Northwestern.

For more information, review the Financial Aid section, including the Need-Based Financial Aid page.

4. I think I'm eligible for a financial aid refund. How/when do I get that?

If your financial aid is greater than the amount billed to you by Northwestern, you may be eligible for a financial aid refund, which can be used toward your other study abroad costs. This is particularly relevant if your program will bill you directly for your housing or other charges. If eligible, you may request your financial aid refund through CAESAR on the first day of the Northwestern quarter in Evanston. If you need to access your aid refund sooner, you should complete the Study Abroad Release of Funds form and return it to Krista Bethel.

5. What pre-departure expenses should I anticipate as I prepare to go abroad?

Some expenses related to study abroad occur far in advance of the start of your program, so careful financial planning may be necessary in anticipation of these charges. They include: application fees, program deposits, renewing your passport, obtaining a visa (and related consular fees), airfare, and health insurance and immunizations.

If you are a financial aid recipient, your financial aid will be available at the beginning of your study abroad term, but you may need to pay out-of-pocket for pre-departure expenses before your aid is available. Students with high financial need may be eligible to apply to the Bridge Builder program for assistance with many up-front costs.

For more detailed information, read through the Pre-Departure Expenses page.

preparing to go abroad

1. How/when do I need to book my flight?

Contact your program to determine if you are responsible for arranging your own round-trip airfare to your program location, or if they will arrange a group flight. Your program can also provide you with more details about when you should purchase your airfare or when you will receive information about the group flight (if applicable).

2. Where can I find a more specific packing list?

A general packing list is available in Canvas.  We recommend that you check with your program to see if they have a packing list specific to your program and location.  Northwestern returnees from your program are also a great resource! In addition, consult websites that give information about the weather in your host city/country during your term abroad.

3. I need to store my stuff while I’m abroad. Any suggestions?

If you need to store items that you will not be taking with you, review the Housing and Storage page.

4. Do I need to do anything about my housing in Evanston?

Leaving campus for study abroad is considered a legitimate reason to cancel your housing contract. Visit Cancel On-Campus Housing for information on next steps. 

If you need to sublet your off-campus housing, review Sublet Off-Campus Housing for suggestions to advertise your space.

Keep in mind that financial aid, including all scholarships and loans, cannot cover the cost of your Evanston housing while you are abroad.

5. I want to talk to NU students who have participated in my program. How do I get in touch with them?

Visit the Student Voices page, and see under "Contact Returnees" to access contact information from recent Northwestern returnees. Or contact a Study Abroad Peer Adviser

learning about your host country/city

1. Where can I find information about my specific program and/or location?

The best resource for up-to-date information about your specific program and location are through your program. Also, talk to Northwestern returnees from your program! If there are no recent Northwestern returnees, contact your program to be put in touch with returnees from other colleges or universities.

2. Where can I find tips and advice on traveling while I’m abroad?

Northwestern returnees may have specific advice for traveling based on their own experiences in your host country and studying on your program. In addition, many websites, such as “Lonely Planet”, host travel tips and other helpful travel information.

3. What are some sights to see in my host country?

Consider visiting your local library or bookstore to consult their “travel guides” for your host country. In addition, there is a great amount of information on “Lonely Planet” and other similar sites online.

Read through the Learn About your Destination page for tips on ways to learn more about your host country and program.  Also, contact Northwestern returnees!

communication while abroad

1. Do I need a separate cell phone in my host country?

We strongly encourage all students to have a working cell phone in the event of an emergency. In addition, some programs require that students have a cell phone abroad.

One of the easier and more cost effective cell phone options is to purchase a pay-as-you-go phone in your host country. These phones are generally inexpensive and provide you with a local phone number. These local cell phones, however, likely do not offer good rates for international calling. Another option is to take your current phone with you, as long as it is a global phone.  Note that this will entail changing your calling, text, and data plans. The international plans offered by many US carriers tend to give good rates for making or receiving international calls (e.g., calling the US from the UK), but not for making local calls while overseas (calling someone in the same city as you).

Talk to Northwestern returnees and your program to learn about what other students have done recently with phones in the host country.

Review information about CAESAR and Multi-factor Authentication before you depart.

2. How can I communicate with my family/friends at home while I’m abroad?

Email access, Skype and social media allow students to maintain more regular contact with family and friends back home than ever before.  Remember – it is possible to overdo communication with family and friends at home so that you focus too much on home to the detriment of the immersive aspects of your experience abroad. 

Set up a schedule with your family to be in touch, keeping in mind time differences and (your) busy schedules.  Don’t let feeling like you’re missing out at home get the best of you; otherwise, you’ll end up missing out on the exciting things happening on your program and in your host city.

academics abroad

1. How does credit transfer back to Northwestern for courses I take on my study abroad program?

You must enroll in transferable courses and take your study abroad courses for a letter grade (not Pass/Fail) and earn a "C" or above. If these Northwestern policies are met, you will be eligible to earn a range of credit toward the Northwestern degree as detailed on the Credit Transfer page. 

2. What grades do I need to earn abroad in order to be eligible for credit transfer?

You must take transferable courses for a letter grade (NOT pass/fail) and earn a C or above in order to be eligible for units at Northwestern. 

3. Will my study abroad grades appear on my Northwestern transcript?

For most programs, study abroad grades will *not* appear on your Northwestern University official transcript or figure into your cumulative GPA. For a list of exceptions, visit Grades, GPA and Transcripts.

4. Will the academic expectations in my host country differ from what I'm used to at Northwestern?

One of the benefits of study abroad is experiencing an academic culture that is different from the US. At some foreign institutions, learning is self-directed. Students attend weekly lectures and keep up with reading assignments listed in the syllabus in order to complete one final exam or written paper at the end of the semester. For other study abroad programs, coursework and academic expectations mirror what you are used to in a US classroom, with lecture, discussion, and regular homework assignments and assessment.

Talk to Northwestern returnees about their experiences with coursework and the academic culture of your host country and/or program.  You can also read more about the academic culture of your program in online Program Evaluations, located on each program page.

culture shock

1. What cultural/societal differences may I encounter in my host country?

The number of differences you may encounter while abroad varies greatly from country to country. However, you may want to consider the following factors when preparing for cultural differences abroad:

  • What greetings (physical and verbal) are typical?
  • How do people my age interact with adults?
  • What are typical mealtimes?
  • If I am interning, what does the workplace culture look like?
  • What are the expectations of being a “polite guest” in someone’s home?
  • What does the drinking culture look like?
  • What are the racial/ethnic tensions? How might my own race and ethnicity interact with these existing tensions?
  • What are perceptions of Americans?
  • What are the typical gender roles in my host country? How do men and women interact in public and private spaces?
  • Is there a predominant religion in my host country? How are different religious beliefs viewed?
  • What is dating like?
  • What kinds of food are typical for breakfast/lunch/dinner? Is snacking common?
  • Is tipping expected? For what services, and how much?
  • What is the social perception of members of the LGBTQ community?
  • How are pre-existing mental and physical conditions viewed?

2. How can I prepare for culture shock?

It is always helpful to research your host country, its culture, and traditions before going abroad. However, cultural differences may affect you regardless of any preparations. Culture shock is typically only the first phase of cultural adjustment – for more information on how to identify each stage, and methods for managing stress, visit Tips for Cultural Adjustment while Abroad.