Preparing your learners for university study abroad

prepare learners for university success

Whether your learners are going for a single semester, academic year or entire university course, studying abroad is a great opportunity for them. They’ll have the chance to discover a new culture, develop new skills and make new friends along the way.

University study in another country also poses a number of challenges. But as a teacher you can equip them for this experience and prepare them for future academic success.

Why study abroad?

Most people think that studying at university is hard enough, without the added difficulty of doing it overseas. But that doesn’t stop hundreds of thousands of university students leaving the support of family and friends and relocating to a foreign country. Last year saw a total of 443,375 European and international students chose to study at UK universities and the US hosts more than double that figure.

Explore the flow of tertiary-level students to and from your country with this interactive map.  

There is a range of reasons why people apply to study in another country. A university program abroad might offer the student better tuition, a greater promise of future employment, or it might simply represent better value for money. And in the case of very specialist university courses, perhaps studying abroad is the only option.

Whatever the reason, the decision to study in a foreign country is likely to involve a high level of proficiency in another language – and more often than not, that language is English.

A move towards English language in higher education

In the last ten years, there has been a significant shift in Higher Education, as many European institutions look to internationalize their programs. As a result, all across Europe, we have seen sharp growth in the number of university courses being taught in English.

A paper by the European Association for International Education (EAIE) reports that English-taught bachelor’s programs offered by universities in the European Higher Education Area have gone from 55 in 2009 to just under 3,000 in 2017.

The number of English-taught bachelor’s programmes offered by institutions in the EHEA, 2009–2017. Source: EAIE/StudyPortals

What challenges do learners face?

Academic skills

There are a whole range of academic skills which students are expected to know when they start university. From research and evaluation, to note-making and referencing, many learners will enter higher education lacking many of the essential skills they require.

Studying in a foreign language

Not only will they have to master new skills, but they may need to do them in a second language. What’s more, even everyday things that native speakers may take for granted, such as understanding lectures, reading academic papers, writing essays and even socializing with new friends, will take a lot more effort if English isn’t your first language.

Administrative issues

There are many potential pitfalls for a student in a new academic setting. From the administrative process and campus regulations to the types of lessons and assessment, there may be a lot of differences to deal with. Even understanding the etiquette of addressing and interacting with professors can be daunting.

Problems integrating

Another challenge is integrating into another culture. Even if the host country is culturally similar, it’s not always straightforward to adapt to the new surroundings. There can also be a certain amount of ghettoization, where international students might stick together and remain isolated from the local student population.


Feeling homesick can be difficult for international students to deal with. Depending on how far they travel to study, your learners may not be able to return home easily, visit their families and alleviate their homesickness.

Money worries

Without a grant or a scholarship, studying abroad can be very expensive. If your learners currently live at home with their parents, the cost of accommodation may be formidable. In fact, the higher cost of living could mean they have to look for a part-time job to supplement their income.

What can you do to get your students ready?

All of the challenges mentioned above have one thing in common. If a student isn’t able to communicate effectively, these situations can be exacerbated. Whether it’s accessing support, communicating with professors or getting to grips with a new culture, language is key.

Here are some things you can do to help your learners prepare for university life.

1) Put them in touch with past students

It’s important that your learners have a clear idea of what university study abroad entails. Creating a chance for them to speak to other students who have already gone through that experience can be extremely valuable.

Students who have returned from study abroad can help with any doubts your learners have and put their minds at rest. They might be able to provide essential advice about a specific country or university, or they might simply tell their story. Either way, it’s a great way to reassure and encourage your learners.

2) Use appropriate authentic content

In preparation for your learner’s time abroad, the language course that you teach should align with their future linguistic needs. One of the main aims should be to develop the language skills required to be able to perform successfully and confidently in their new context.

A course like University Success contains authentic lectures from Stanford University professors that provide real-life learning experience, alongside reading and writing strategies. This kind of content provides your learners with the same challenges native speakers face at university.

3) Teach them academic study skills

Think back to when you were at university and what you struggled with. Group work, presentations, critical thinking and exam skills are all things which your learners will need to be proficient in, so the more you practice them in class the better.

University Success provides you with the materials to do this, while also working on the social and linguistic skills students will require.

4) Promote autonomous learning

Success at university is deeply rooted in a student’s ability to work independently and develop effective self-study skills. Giving your learners more choice in the language learning process is one way to encourage autonomy.

Think about how you can make time in your course for learners to try out useful online tools and resources. Here are some examples to get you started:

Prepare for University Success

University Success is a three-level academic course designed for English language learners preparing for higher education.  

There are three distinct strands: Reading, Writing, and Oral Communication, which include a variety of authentic content relating to the Human Experience, Money and Commerce, the Science of Nature, Arts and Letters, and Structural Science – all popular fields of study among English language learners.

The three strands are fully aligned across content areas and skills, allowing teachers to utilize material from different strands to support learning.

For more information about University Success visit the website, download a sample or contact a local sales representative.

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