Requiring study abroad leads to inequalities

If you already thought the pressure of stacking your resume with awards, internships, and a sweet GPA was overwhelming, then brace yourself. There’s yet another qualification employers will want to see: experience studying abroad.

According to a study conducted at Penn State University, University of Notre Dame, University of Kentucky, and Pacific Lutheran University last year, employers rated study abroad as the third most valuable experience a potential employee can have. The only things employers rated more highly than study abroad were having the desired major and having a major or minor in a foreign language.

In a time when you can’t help hearing the world “globalization” at least 10 times a day, employers cite the ability of job candidates to adapt to and interact with foreign cultures as an increasingly necessary skill set.

While that may be true, employers must realize that not all students can afford to study abroad. In addition to the often staggering cost of study abroad programs (New York University estimates the cost of tuition and lodging for its semester in Paris to be about $21,000), U.S. News & World Report says that the weak American dollar also makes studying in popular destinations in western Europe unaffordable for some students.

To get a good job, students already need to get a college degree. Placing a high value on yet another experience that only some people can afford might further increase the inequalities surrounding the cost of higher education.

Additionally, study abroad experience might not really be indicative of a student’s ability to adapt and interact. The Institute for International Education’s latest annual survey found that more than half of all study abroad is completed in short-term programs that last less than a semester. Short-term study abroad hardly provides the cultural immersion that employers seem to be seeking.

Students are already under a great deal of pressure to have internship and work experience before getting their first jobs out of college — it’s unfair for employers to add a new qualification, especially one that furthers the economic divide.