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Education Abroad

The Study Tour

Every faculty-led program combines two essential parts: an academic course and a short-term study tour abroad. This distinction is important for a variety of reasons. Each part is built separately, for example, and has different application and enrollment procedures, financial policies, challenges, and opportunities. 

The study tour for a faculty-led program is the period during which the leader and participants travel to, within, and back from a host country or countries. Although some programs travel during the semester or for an entire semester, most tours travel over one of the following school breaks:

  • Winter Break (including Winter Intersession)
  • Spring Break
  • Summer Break (including May Intersession)
  • Fall Break

For the purposes of Education Abroad, “intersession” is a problematic term, as the university only awards credit during Fall, Spring, or Summer semesters. As a result, it’s important to distinguish between the course’s term (when you award credit) and the study tour period (when you travel abroad).


A study tour itinerary is as essential to your program as a course syllabus. As part of your program proposal, you must submit a complete study tour itinerary. That said, you certainly are welcome to make reasonable changes to the itinerary after program approval and, if finances permit, changes while abroad, provided that these edits do not compromise the program’s academic integrity. Your itinerary should include departure and return dates, site visits, excursions, and relevant academic content. Your study tour itinerary should be clear, realistic, and as detailed as possible. If your program is visiting multiple cities or countries, it is important to indicate how specifically your group will travel between locations. Education Abroad will review the itinerary from feasibility, cost, and risk management perspectives. 

Tour Dates

You are free to choose the tour start date and end date depending on your needs. Tour dates must match or fall within the course start and end dates; a tour cannot begin before the course starts or end after the course concludes. For a start date, select the day when you expect to leave the United States, which may not necessarily be the date when you arrive in the host country. For an end date, select the day when you return to the United States, which again may not necessarily be the date when you leave the host country. Tours typically range from one to four weeks, although faculty may organize tours for any length of time.

Official versus Free Time

Any of the time that you dedicate to a program’s structured course activities and excursions may account for the program’s contact hours and thus comprise its official time. That said, free or unstructured time is a necessary part of every study tour. Too much free time may result in too few contact hours for credits earned and compromise the program’s academic integrity, whereas too little free time may exhaust students and participants and hinder instruction.

All program participants, including the faculty and students, need free time to rest, process their experiences, and complete course assignments. You should build free time intentionally in your tour itinerary to ensure its overall health (and that of you and your participants). The amount of free time that you schedule depends on your overall model, location, and SLOs. We strongly recommend that you clearly denote which time is official and which time is free in your final itinerary. We encourage that you provide students and participants with a list of suggested activities to do or sites to explore during their free time.

You are welcome to include longer periods of free time, like free days or weekends, to allow students to travel independently during the study tour. If you do so, we recommend that you ask students to provide you with their itineraries for this independent travel, including contact information, lodging, transportation, and emergency plans. Faculty leaders also should clearly identify their expectations for students, such as preparation for their return to course activities during official time. Students are fully responsible for themselves during free time.

Designing a Marketable Tour

We encourage faculty to design tours with attention to several different factors. A tour that is too long, in an expensive host country, or far from the United States may be prohibitively expensive, whereas a tour that is too short or in a location unattractive to students (or their parents) will not generate enough applications for the program to make. Avoid countries that the U.S. Department of State or Centers for Disease Control consider risky or unsafe. Consider locations that facilitate your course’s Student Learning Outcomes, keep costs low, and drive student interest.