When is the best time to study abroad?

September 19, 2022

Two people taking a selfie at the Municipal Market of São Paulo, BrazilStudying abroad in undergrad is an incredibly special experience. But when is the best time to go? This article highlights some options and some considerations so you can make the best choice for you. 

Freshman or Sophomore Year

Because of the L&S requirements to study abroad, it's not common for students to study abroad early in their academic career but certainly not impossible! Plan to satisfy your Reading and Composition requirement before you go (unless you plan to study abroad in the summer after your freshman year) and be on top of your major prerequisites and planning. 

This could be a great time to study abroad if you're eager to explore another country or if you're planning to pack your junior and senior year with other opportunities (maybe even a second study abroad experience!). 

If you're in an exploratory stage with major, this may not be the best fit for you as you'll need to demonstrate the ability to declare your major by your third year as part of your application. 


Worried about disrupting a regular academic year with study abroad? Summer might be the right fit for you! Summer abroad programs often allow you to stay on track with even the most structured majors. 

Also, if you're interested in combining career prep with studying abroad, the UC Berkeley Global Internships program is only offered in summers. 

You can consider studying abroad for any of the summers during your time at Cal as long as you meet the L&S requirements to study abroad. You can even move your Expected Graduation Term out to summer to have this experience after your senior year. 

Junior year

Junior year is a popular time to go abroad, particular for students who started as a freshman. This could be a perfect choice if you have a solid plan with how study abroad fits in with your major plan. Then you can enjoy your time abroad having already settled into your major and knowing you still have your senior year for capstone experiences like a thesis or for career preparation. 

That said, junior year isn't for everyone! This may be a less than ideal choice if you're a transfer student. You'll not only be getting acclimated to your first year at Cal, but it may be challenging being on top of application deadlines to fit it into your second semester. 

There also may be obstacles if you're in a highly structured major with courses offered in specific semesters. Planning with your department's Major Adviser will help you be aware of any challenges related to being away for a semester or year on campus. 

Senior year

Senior year is another popular choice to study abroad, especially for transfer students. Being abroad during your senior year can be a fun way to end your undergraduate career. If you're done with key graduation requirements by the time you go, you will also have flexibility in the coursework you take. 

When studying abroad in your senior year, you'll need to make sure your plan will satisfied a degree requirement called senior residence. Senior residence says you need to take 24 units at UC Berkeley after reaching senior standing (90 units). Students who study abroad through a UCEAP or UC Berkeley study abroad program will be eligible for a modification to their senior residence to make it easier to satisfy. With this modification, if you take 12 units at UC Berkeley after reaching junior standing (60 units) and 12 units at UC Berkeley after reaching senior standing (90 units), you will satisfy the requirement. Note that independent study abroad programs aren't eligible for modified senior residence. 

If planning to graduate abroad, make sure to go over your plan with both L&S College Advisers and Undergraduate Major Advisers in advance. We also recommend meeting with career services with enough time to plan your career prep before going abroad. While there are alumni-oriented career services, having a game plan will help you enjoy your time abroad without worrying what's next. 

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