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Choosing Courses to Take Abroad

With proper program and course selection and planning in consultation with study abroad and academic advisers, students can earn credit toward requirements for most Northwestern degree programs.

Northwestern Academic Requirements

When selecting courses to take abroad, you must:

  • Enroll in a full-time course load, as defined by your program.
  • Enroll in a sufficient number of credits abroad to maintain full-time enrollment at Northwestern (the equivalent of 3 units at Northwestern per quarter) during the term(s) you are abroad.
    • If you participate in a program that requires enrollment during 2 Northwestern quarters (Fall+Winter or Winter+Spring), you must enroll in a minimum of 15 semester credits or the equivalent thereof. If you enroll in fewer credits--or if any of your courses do not transfer back to Northwestern--you will not earn 6 units at Northwestern, which could prevent you from meeting the Undergraduate Registration Requirement or maintaining satisfactory academic progress for  financial aid eligibility.
    • If you plan to study abroad for the full year and need to earn 12 units at Northwestern (4 units per quarter), you will need to enroll in a minimum of 31 semester credits or the equivalent during the year. 30 semester credits translates to approximately 11 units at Northwestern.
  • Complete at least one quarter of language instruction in a language of your host country either before departure or while abroad. Many study abroad programs have their own language requirements above and beyond this Norhtwestern Language Requirement; check your program's website for more information.
  • Complete all academic requirements for your school. The downloadable School Letters explain the study abroad policies and procedures for each school. Read your School Letter carefully, and contact your School Representative (primary school adviser) if you have any questions.
  • Complete all academic requirements for your program; review your program's website for details.

courses eligible for transfer

A course taken abroad is eligible for credit transfer as long as:

  • Northwestern teaches its general subject at the undergraduate level. For example, an Irish literature course is eligible to transfer because Northwestern offers literature courses.
  • It is taken for a letter grade (not on a "pass/fail" basis).
  • You earn a grade equivalent of a C or above.
  • It is worth at least 2 semester credits or 2 ECTS. Refer to Earning Academic Credit Abroad for more information about study abroad credit conversion.

Non-transferable courses

You will not receive credit at Northwestern for the following types of courses, which are deemed non-transferable:

  • Courses covering subject matter not taught in Northwestern's undergraduate curriculum (e.g., wine tasting, cooking, fashion design, etc.).
  • Some business and law courses: Since Northwestern does not offer undergraduate majors in Business or Law, taking these courses for credit abroad can be tricky. See the Taking Business and Law Courses Abroad page for more information.
  • Courses taken abroad on a "pass/fail" basis.
  • Courses for which a grade equivalent to a C- or below was earned.
  • Courses worth less than 2 semester credits or less than 2 ECTS.
  • Online courses taken abroad at a foreign institution.
  • Duplicate courses (meaning, they duplicate courses for which you have already received credit at Northwestern).

Taking non-transferable courses may cause you to drop below minimum full-time enrollment at Northwestern (the equivalent of 3 units at Northwestern), which could prevent you from meeting the Undergraduate Registration Requirement or maintaining satisfactory academic progress for financial aid eligibility. Only consider taking a non-transferable course if you can manage this course in addition to the full-time course load for your program.

Preliminary course plan

All students will be expected to research course options when selecting a program abroad, and will discuss their preliminary course plan with the academic adviser(s) as part of the Northwestern Study Abroad Applicaiton process.

Changing courses while abroad

While abroad, you may decide to register for different courses than those you reviewed with advisers before departure. Before registering for an unanticipated course:

  • Contact your Northwestern advisers to discuss potential changes.
  • If applicable, read Northwestern policies about research abroad or internships and service learning and discuss them with your School Representative.
  • Be aware of the way course changes (such as reducing credit hours, earning an incomplete or a grade lower than the equivalent of a C) could cause serious problems with your financial aid eligibility or Undergraduate Registration Requirement. Contact your study abroad adviser to discuss these issues.

Important Reminders about credit transfer

  • Be sure to review information about earning academic credit abroad.
  • Northwestern does not guarantee credit for courses taken abroad. Final course approval, for any kind of credit, will be determined after you return and upon review of an official study abroad transcript and course descriptions.
  • Bring back with you as many of your course materials as possible, regardless of what type of credit you are seeking for your courses. If the Office of the Registrar has questions about the credit-worthiness of a course - even one for which you are only seeking elective credit - they may ask a professor in the appropriate field to review your course materials.