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Direct enrollment provides students an individualized option for study abroad

Students can design a global education program to fit their unique interests and academic needs.
MIT junior Emily Mu welcomes her father to St. Peter's, Oxford, during her study abroad program.
MIT junior Emily Mu welcomes her father to St. Peter's, Oxford, during her study abroad program.
Photo courtesy of Emily Mu.
Junior Riley Quinn studies in one of Oxford University's many libraries.
Junior Riley Quinn studies in one of Oxford University's many libraries.
Photo courtesy of Riley Quinn.

Each year, MIT students engage in study abroad with assistance from MIT’s Global Education Office (GEO). In addition to the Imperial College London Exchange Program and departmental exchange programs with other international universities, including in Japan, Switzerland, South Africa, and France, students can create their own personalized study abroad program through direct enrollment. 

Direct enrollment is a student-initiated global education option that allows students to apply directly to an overseas university. With direct enrollment, students have the opportunity to tailor an international academic experience to match their personal intellectual interests and academic needs. For this option, students work closely with a GEO advisor as well as their departmental academic advisor to select an appropriate university and program, and to prepare for the experience.

Most students choosing direct enrollment coordinate their global studies to occur in a semester during their junior year, but some decide to embark on a course of study during the spring of their sophomore year or fall of their senior year. The timing depends in part on a student’s particular academic plan and progress towards their degree.

Because direct enrollment is flexible and individualized, students can use it in a variety of ways. They may select to dive deep into restricted electives or other subjects related to their major, minor, or HASS (humanities, arts, social sciences)-elective requirements, or they may use their time abroad to explore other areas of academic interest. In addition to academics, students have the opportunity to become involved in an array of extracurricular activities and university clubs.

While studying abroad, students earn transfer credit towards their MIT requirements. This arrangement begins with students bringing a curricular proposal to their department’s faculty transfer credit examiner for pre-approval. Junior Emily Mu found the transfer credit examiners at MIT to be “very open and willing to discuss your options with you.” Mu, who enrolled at St. Peter’s College at Oxford University, notes, “I’m a double major in computer science and math and I’m taking courses that will count towards both of those degrees back home. I wanted to experience a significantly different academic experience and challenge myself. It’s been really rewarding to meet so many new people of such different backgrounds — I hadn’t really spoken to a theology major before coming here!”

GEO staff recommend that students interested in direct enrollment start planning at the end of their freshman year or beginning of their sophomore year to allow time to consider options and share their academic study abroad plan with their MIT departmental advisors. Starting early also allows students adequate time to meet external application deadlines, as international universities differ in their deadlines and academic calendars.

MIT students have directly enrolled in universities around the world. While Oxford University in the U.K. remains a popular choice, students have recently spent semesters at University in Edinburgh in Scotland, University of New South Wales in Australia, University of Hong Kong (HKU), and — thanks to the Chinese Government Scholarship program — Fudan University in Shanghai. “I have learned very much about how the world works outside of a western perspective,” observes civil and environmental engineering junior Grace Melcher, who spent a direct enrollment semester at HKU.

Courses are offered in English in many non-English speaking countries. If students have the appropriate foreign language skills they can also take classes in the host country’s language, or take a combination of classes in English and a foreign language. Students typically enroll in four classes while doing a semester abroad.

Although they may be the only MIT student at an overseas university during their semester there, students who participate in direct enrollment do not have to fear social isolation. Upon arriving on campus, they participate in an international orientation program with other foreign students and have the opportunity to meet and make friends with exchange students from around the world. “I met a lot of international students and had interesting conversations about politics, culture, and more,” says civil and environmental engineering junior Christine Langston who studied last fall at the University of Edinburgh.

Direct enrollment offers motivated students the chance for both intellectual and personal growth by giving them the freedom to design their own academic experience in the country and school of their choosing. Students who participate in direct enrollment speak of discovering new passions, rekindling existing interests, and returning to MIT with a better sense of what they hope to accomplish on campus and in the future.

“I’ve learned so much about the world, myself, and so much more through studying abroad,” affirms electrical engineering and computer science junior Udgam Goyal of his time at St. Catherine’s College at Oxford University. “Studying abroad has been one of the best experiences of my life.” Junior Riley Quinn, who majors in finance and also studied at “Catz” echoes these sentiments: “I have loved challenging myself in a new academic environment and immersing myself in new cultures. I 100 percent recommend that every MIT student should study abroad in some capacity.”

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