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Rules and Policies for Study Abroad

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Once you determine that you are eligible to study abroad, you need to be aware of some important rules and procedures. You should read this page carefully before studying abroad and after you return. If you have questions, contact your College Adviser. The Study Abroad Office also maintains information about programs, rules, applications, and policies.

Approval for foreign study applies to the general program you have chosen and does not constitute advance approval of any individual course. When you have completed your studies, an official transcript should be sent to the Study Abroad Office.

Undergraduate Registration Requirement 

All Northwestern students are subject to the Undergraduate Registration Requirement (URR) and are responsible for ensuring that they meet this requirement. Most study abroad programs do not count toward the URR. The exception to this is work done on Northwestern-run programs which offer courses with Northwestern numbers and the -SA designation. If you have questions, contact your College Adviser and your degree auditor in the Office of the Registrar.

Course credit

If you attend a Northwestern-run program and take Northwestern courses with the -SA designation, the grades will appear on your transcript and be included in your GPA.

Petitioning for major, minor, distribution, or foreign language requirement credit

Eligible credits from study abroad count as electives unless they are authorized to count toward major/minor credits by the department or as distros by the Weinberg Office of Undergraduate Studies and Advising. Although students should consult their advisers during the application stage to determine the feasibility of using courses taken abroad to satisfy NU requirements, the petition itself can only go forward after the courses have been completed, the student has completed the appropriate study abroad office’s program evaluation, and an official transcript has been processed by the Registrar’s Office. Students are advised to complete the Petition for Credit from Study Abroad as soon as possible.

Retain all class descriptions, syllabi, papers, readings, and other course materials from your classes abroad; they may be needed as part of the petition process. Students can consult our checklist for transferring credit from study abroad for more information.

Distribution requirement credit

To be eligible for distribution credit, courses must be substantially similar to courses on the College’s approved list and conform to the defining language of the distribution areas.  Students can receive a maximum of one unit of distribution credit for each study abroad term, up to a maximum of two units. The two units must be in different distribution requirement areas.

Foreign language requirement credit

Students may use coursework in a foreign language taken abroad to help complete the foreign language requirement, but you should be aware that, as with any student taking language courses away from NU, you may need to take a placement exam upon return. Contact the department for more information.

Major/minor credit

Each major/minor department is responsible for decisions about how study abroad credits may be applied toward its requirements. Students should have at least one major declared prior to applying to study abroad. Contact your College Adviser if this is not possible.

Note for students on NU programs

If you study abroad on an Northwestern-run program that offers regular NU classes, you do NOT need to go through this credit transfer process. These courses are subject to the same rules and restrictions as the same numbered courses taught in Evanston. If a course with that number when taught at NU fulfills a distribution requirement it will automatically be one when taken abroad. If the course has not been approved as a distro, it will not count as one, though you may apply to use such a course as part of a 2-for-1 distribution requirement substitution. Contact your College Adviser with questions. Courses taken on these programs can be applied toward some major/minor requirements. You should discuss this with your major/minor adviser. If courses do not automatically count, the adviser may approve their counting during the petition to graduate process or through an earlier email notification to the Registrar's Office.

Registering for courses while abroad

If you study abroad, you will likely be away during registration for the quarter in which you’ll return. If you have been approved for study abroad through NU, you will still be registered as a Northwestern student while abroad, and you should be able to register normally through CAESAR (though be wary of time differences when you get your registration time!). If a course you wish to register for requires a permission number, contact the department/program office by email. If you have trouble registering while abroad, contact the Study Abroad Office.

If you study abroad without Northwestern’s approval, you are considered to be on a leave of absence. You must complete an Application for Re-Entry. The application should be received by the Registrar’s Office six weeks prior to registration.

Internships abroad 

Some study abroad programs offer students the chance to pursue an internship for credit; some students take part in extracurricular internships. The Study Abroad Office has information about options, policies, and requirements for internships done abroad. With the exception of credit earned through the Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI), for which substantial coursework takes place on the Evanston campus, such credits do not count toward the Weinberg College limit on internship-linked credit.

Research abroad 

A number of Northwestern's affiliated study abroad programs provide the opportunity to do an independent study or research project while abroad. Participating students conduct original research, often using a combination of fieldwork methods, such as interviews and archival research. This research abroad can be a good foundation for a senior thesis or post-graduate research; it also strengthens applications for post-graduate grants, such as Fulbright, Rhodes and Marshall scholarships. Consult the study abroad website for detailed information about preparing for research abroad.

Honors and scholarships

If you are interested in writing a senior thesis in your major upon returning from study abroad, you should be sure to discuss this with your major and College Advisers prior to departing, especially if you plan to be gone for the entire junior year. You should also reach out to major advisers and directors of undergraduate studies via email while you’re away so that you’re prepared to apply—even from abroad. The same is true if you want to apply for certain fellowships or scholarships whose deadlines are early in fall quarter. Stay in touch with the Office of Fellowships while away.

Graduation issues 

Studying abroad may impact a student’s ability to graduate early and the number of courses required to be taken at NU. Contact your College Adviser for more information. If you are abroad during spring of your junior year, be sure to complete and submit your graduation petition soon after your return to campus. If you study abroad during the last quarter of your senior year, your study abroad transcript may not arrive at NU in time for you to graduate that quarter. Consult your College Adviser.

International students

International students studying in their countries of permanent residence/citizenship do not need to go through the study abroad application process. Instead, they need to use the Registrar's process for transferring in non-Northwestern credits (see Section C). You should consult with the International Office about your plans to make sure you are aware of any visa considerations, consult with your College Adviser and major adviser as relevant about how such courses may count toward Northwestern requirements, and obtain related documents such as course descriptions before you complete the petition. That form should be submitted prior to taking the courses.  

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