On Tuesday, February 12, students who applied to study abroad on approved programs in the spring of 2020 received an email from the Office of Off-Campus Study saying that too many students have applied for the spring abroad term, and asked for volunteers to apply to change their abroad plans and travel abroad in the fall of 2019 instead.

Semester-balancing has taken place every other year since 2013 to regulate the number of students off-campus and to maintain the integrity of the on-campus academic program, housing and student activities. Historically, more students have preferred to study abroad during the spring semester than the fall semester.

“Our office makes every effort to try and accommodate students for their preferred semester abroad. The application does ask students to give reasons for choosing one semester over another, and for students to have to have a viable option to study abroad in the fall, should balancing need to take place for spring semester programs,” Associate Director of the Office of Off-Campus Study Cas Sowa said. 

Sowa said her office works hard to balance semesters fairly.

“If balancing does need to take place, our first step is to ask for volunteers to consider switching from one semester to another. Off-Campus Study will work with students to find alternative options since many approved programs are offered both semesters.”

Director of Off-Campus Study Joanna Holvey Bowles stated that semester balancing was not implemented last year, as off-campus study applicants were equal across the semesters. However, an imbalance is projected for next year, prompting Off-Campus Study to email all approved program students.

“We were very encouraged by the large number of applications we had for all Colgate’s off-campus study programs for the 2019-2020 semesters,” Holvey Bowles said. “We had 386 applications for the 18 study groups offered for next year, by the November 7, 2018 deadline. By the February 6, 2019 approved programs deadline, we received an additional 371 applications, 2/3rds of which were submitted in the last 6 business days before that deadline. As a result, it was only when reviewing those hundreds of applications which we shared with campus leadership, that we learned that we had more students applying to the spring than in the fall semester.”

Studying abroad is a big part of the Colgate student experience. The university offers over 100 approved programs to approximately 50 countries. The Institute of International Education ranks Colgate as having the highest percentage of undergraduate students enrolling in semester-long abroad programs for a liberal arts college.

As the university begins to manage the number of students planning to study abroad, priority is given to those whose programs only occur in the spring. Off-Campus Study, though, emphasizes that simply picking two program options that only occur in the spring will not guarantee spring travel. For this reason, Off-Campus Study requested that all students provide an option for the fall semester. Students will be notified of their admission prior to March 1, allowing them time to apply directly to these fall programs.

At this stage of semester-balancing, some students are worried about how their abroad plans could change if there is a shortage of volunteers.

Sophomore Risako Yang was planning to study abroad in the spring, but said his plans may now be affected.

“Logistically speaking, switching semesters is unideal because foreign schools don’t operate on a semester system—I would get six months abroad in the spring versus three months in the fall,” Risako said.

Risako also prefers the spring for more personal reasons.

“Also, personally, it just makes more sense that I start my semester at Colgate before leaving. Studying abroad feels more a part of my junior year that way.” Sophomore Leila Ismiao said she understands why the university undergoes semester-balancing but thinks it could be managed more efficiently.

“I would be upset if I got moved to another semester, especially if my program was only offered in the spring,” Ismaio said. “The process for getting approval for your abroad program should be done earlier so that this doesn’t happen so late in the semester. People are already forced to think about Colgate housing, so the timing just isn’t great.”

Holvey Bowles said that the Off-Campus Study office will meet with other campus authorities in the next few weeks to continue to plan for semester balancing.

“It is our hope that enough Colgate students will volunteer to change their plans to fall instead of spring,” Holvey Bowles said.

Contact Jake Gomez at jgomez@colgate.edu.

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