What Is A Year Abroad?

14 May, 2024Blog Articles, English Language Articles, Humanities Articles

One of the great opportunities offered to UK university students is taking a year abroad. But what does this involve? Who can do it? What are some of the pros and cons? In this guide, we’ll explain some of the things to bear in mind when considering this exciting option.

What does ‘taking a year abroad’ mean?


Taking a year abroad simply means spending one year of your University degree studying or gaining work experience in a foreign country. 


Who can take a year abroad?


According to a 2019 University UK report, 8% of UK undergraduates take a year abroad. The most common subject for taking a year abroad is Languages (33%), followed by Medicine and Dentistry (31%).

Business, Social studies, and Creative Arts and Design are the next most popular subjects, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

In the UK, most Languages students have to go on a year abroad as part of their undergraduate degree. This usually takes place in your third year, although it’s sometimes your second (e.g. at Warwick University). 

For the majority of other subjects, students still have the option of taking a year abroad.


What can you do during your year abroad?


Most students choose to study their specific subject at a foreign university. For example, UK Business students would normally study a business-related subject on their year abroad.

Sometimes, students use their year abroad to gain work experience in their specific subject. This is often the case with more ‘vocational’ subjects, such as Medicine or Law, where experience is especially important.

Language students typically have a choice of three options: working, studying, or teaching. Because their main objective is to become fluent in their language, they often have more freedom than other students to choose what they do. 

Learn more about the benefits of attending a summer school abroad

year abroad adventure

What are the benefits of a year abroad?


1. Employability

In today’s congested job market, having a year abroad can make you stand out. To start with, it shows great determination and independence. Throwing yourself into a new life abroad takes courage, and makes you more of a well-rounded person. Additionally, employers are always looking for your ‘wow factor’ — a year abroad is a great conversation starter!


2. Language skills

The United States and Australia are the most popular year abroad destinations for UK students, but France (13%), Spain (12%), and Germany (7%) are popular too. Even if you aren’t a Languages student, you’ll have no difficulty picking up the lingo, or at least some of it, if you are living in a country where English is not the first language.


3. Try out your sector

Your year abroad may well be your first opportunity to get a job in your chosen sector. You might dream of becoming a lawyer, and use the year abroad as a first step towards landing your perfect role. Or, you might discover it isn’t for you after all! In either case, it is useful to test the water before you graduate.

foreign students studying abroad together at a table

What are some of the disadvantages of a year abroad?


1. Cost

There’s no getting around it — living abroad can hurt your wallet. Accommodation, transport, food… it all adds up. Also, you will want to make the most of the experience by visiting museums, sampling local food, and exploring new places, all of which bring costs of their own. On top of this, your UK university will probably still charge you a small proportion of tuition fees for the year. For example, Cambridge University charges its students 15% of their normal tuition fees during their year abroad, even though no teaching takes place.


2. Loneliness

A year abroad is a very exciting challenge, but it is still a challenge. Family and friends will be hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles away. Different time zones can make it hard to catch up, especially if you’re tied to the hours of a regular job. You will make new friends, but bear in mind this takes confidence and some persistence. 


3. Accommodation

Foreign universities don’t tend to provide accommodation for their students the way UK universities generally do. This means it’s your responsibility to search for a place to live. This can be tricky, especially in cities where demand is high, such as Paris and Berlin. On a student budget, accommodation can be cramped, a bit rundown, and sometimes located in areas with higher crime rates.


Travel grants for students


The Erasmus Programme is a European Union (EU) initiative that gives grants to students taking a year abroad in any EU country. Grants range from around 250 euros to 450 euros per month, depending on the country. 

Bear in mind that Erasmus funding is not available outside of the EU. However, some universities might be able to provide funding for students visiting specific countries. Others might have links with specific foreign universities, who might offer accommodation free of charge. 

University of Paris year abroad

My year abroad — an honest review


Tom studied Modern Languages at the University of Cambridge, and spent his year abroad in Paris. Below, he shares his experiences of what his year abroad in France was really like! For more insight into Tom’s experiences, read this blog on the daily life of a languages student.


For the first term of my year abroad, I studied History of Art at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS). I found French universities to be more flexible with study options, and I ended up going to lectures on Film, Literature, Spanish, Italian, and even French as a Foreign Language.

I had a vast amount of free time, which was both a blessing and a curse. I spent a lot of time in art galleries, museums, theatres, cinemas, bars and parks. Never before or since have I had such a chance to explore a whole new way of life.

However, I soon found myself to be lacking a purpose, and not speaking enough French. It’s very easy to find other English-speaking students abroad because it is a constant effort to make other friends speaking a different language. On top of that, I was quickly running out of money.

My year abroad improved dramatically when I got a job as a Communications Assistant. Of course, sitting in an office for eight hours a day is not for everyone, but it forced me to speak French and, as a result, make French friends.

The highlight of my year abroad was when a French colleague invited me and another friend to his parents’ house for the weekend. They lived in the middle of nowhere, and we spent the weekend looking at castles, picking mushrooms, and eating dinners with several courses! 

A year abroad can be a lonely experience, but it can also be the most exciting time of your life! My best advice: don’t try to plan everything before. Keep your mind open to new opportunities, and try to recognise your progress from time to time.


Next steps for students looking to take a year abroad


Looking to improve your English skills?

All of our Oxford summer schools are taught in English, allowing you to hone your written and spoken English skills, while building your technical, subject-specific vocab. This is particularly valuable if you’re planning to study that subject at a UK university!