FIE recently attended the annual Conference on The First-Year Experience and was honored to present with Dr. Bruce Fleming and Corey Chamberlain of the College of Charleston on our 10-year relationship as the founding location for their iCharleston first year, first semester study abroad program.

First year study abroad programs allow institutions to create and implement global educational opportunities for freshmen, introducing international experiences early on in the tenure of the students. Many campus administrators both within and outside of the traditional Admissions area are being asked to creatively and critically engage in non-traditional admissions enrollment, marketing opportunities for the institution, and developing new partnerships and programs.

Research shows that students involved in high-impact practices (HIPs) enjoy higher levels of learning success. High-impact experiences are active learning practices that promote deep learning by promoting student engagement. Proficiencies must achieve deep learning, significant engagement gains, and positive differential impact on historically underserved student populations. Author and researcher George Kuh recommends that to increase student engagement and student success, every student should participate in at least two HIPs during their academic career, but ideally every student should participate in one HIP each year in college.

The need for greater global competencies, intercultural skills, and critical thinking has become more apparent. Since employers place additional focus on those students with an international study experience it is vital many more of our students have access to study abroad as part of their academic experience. An attractive first year program overseas allows colleges to meet strategic enrolment management goals, improve anticipated student GPA and on-time graduation rates, and permits campuses to market the overseas opportunity as a differentiator, while also meeting future employer expectations.

The iCharleston program engages participants in non-traditional classroom experiences thereby enhancing respect for diversity and tolerance within a global community while also providing learning environments that challenge participants to engage in new ideas, issues, and situations. The program cultivates study, coping, critical thinking, logical problem solving, and learning skills in an international environment. Ultimately, participants and the College of Charleston benefit from the study abroad experience as the institution reaches new enrollment locales and the participants return to campus with a broader view of the world.

During the presentation, we shared data that showed how iCharleston participants grow as individuals, develop an affinity for the College of Charleston, and actively engage in high-impact educational experiences. We also discussed how the HIPs of “Common Intellectual Experience”, “Global Learning”, “First Year Experiences”, “Learning Communities”, and “Community-Based Learning” come together in iCharleston. The fall 2023 London cohort had 100 per cent retention and all participants achieved the necessary GPA and credit-hour requirements needed to matriculate to the College of Charleston in spring 2024.

For over 15 years, FIE has been facilitating first year student abroad programs and by working closely with our partners such as the College of Charleston we’ve learned that first year study abroad as a HIP provides higher retention rates among student participants; higher persistence/success towards graduation, and that students report being more connected to their academic experience. Our partners typically fall into one of two tracks:

Enrollment management

Under this track campuses offer places to non-admitted students. This means these applicants would effectively become historic transfer students who are committed to entering the college the following January. Like any other student transferring in January, participants in this model then occupy their bed and classroom spaces in the spring term.  Even campuses with a high fall-to-spring retention rate often have too many empty beds after the fall semester.

This is a great option if your institution has a number of applicants who don’t quite meet the rising selectivity of your entry criteria. This way you can offer a starting point abroad for a semester (or even the full first year) to a select group of applicants.

Your campus enrollment management team has complete ownership over who is offered entry into the program.  There’s scope to offer this option to your ordinarily waitlisted applicants, or, if you’re a large school looking to grow a particular program, consider offering this to applicants from a single major or department.

There’s a real financial benefit to this model: This is a group of applicants who ordinarily wouldn’t have attended your institution, paid your tuition, housing, and other fees. Consider the extra income to your college spread over the subsequent 7-or-more semesters!

Participants under this model are typically self-funded as they usually are non-matriculated students and so can’t access federal financial aid.

Differentiating your institution

If you’re looking to set your college apart from competitors and reach individuals outside of your standard demographic, then a first semester (or year) abroad is a great option. Typically, institutions offering this model will include on their Common App (or other) form an option to enroll at the home campus or at the start point abroad.

Many of FIE’s partners offer this option to in-demand applicants who may be holding admission letters from multiple peer competitors to differentiate their campus and show the commitment to career-enhancing skill development and other high-impact practices.

With each of our partners, we design a program that goes beyond the traditional model of a semester abroad. By working in collaboration with our partner institutions, we provide an experience that both delves into the riches of London or Dublin, but also fosters a student’s sense of institutional identity and an appreciation for and understanding of their home campus’ traditions and culture.

We build in university traditions, norms, institutional vocabulary, and imagery into the program delivery and see this as an important component of student development and their understanding of the college or university they will be returning to in the second semester / sophomore year.

The shape of a first-year program abroad is ultimately driven by the institutional requirements of you, our partner, who is developing the initiative.  FIE has run first-year abroad programs for state, private, large, and small institutions and in each case the final, customized models we have built with our partners is unique.

Learn how FIE can help your enrolment management strategy and your students’ development by visiting or contacting Dr. Grahaeme Hesp, MBA, FIE’s Senior Director of Institutional Relations at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Published by Dr Grahaeme Hesp, MBA
Senior Director of Instiutional Relations

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