Traditionally, higher education institutions refer to study away or study abroad as a semester-long experience taken in the fall or spring terms in a country different from the student’s own. Semester-long experiences allow you to complete one or more courses you might take on-campus at a partner institution abroad. Study-away programs, depending on their set-up, can allow for less classroom-based learning and more focused “hands-on” learning. Additionally, study-away experiences can be paired with other high-impact practices like an internship, collaborative projects, or service learning. At Elon University, the study-away experience is one of the most desired and common experiential learning programs among undergraduate students.

Study Away Scholarship between 2009-2019: A Decade of Alternatives

In the last ten years, scholarship on study away as a high-impact practice (HIP) has shifted from the impacts of semester-long programs to focusing on “short-term” study-away experiences. The duration of short-term study away programs vary by institution with the minimum time lasting ten days and the longest lasting up to four weeks. I hypothesize the emergence of short-term study-away research between 2010 and 2019 may be due to the 2008 recession, which saw the need for more financially accessible programs.

Ten Years of Short-Term Research

One factor in the debate over long-term versus short-term study-away experiences is the relative impact of the duration of a study abroad experience versus the depth of that experience (Luxton et al. 2022). Deloach, Kurt, and Olitsky (2021) examined the effect of duration on dimensions related to intercultural competencies. They hypothesized that longer programs had significant impacts on students’ dimension of “global awareness.” To their surprise, they found that while this hypothesis stood correct, many of the positive effects of study abroad were also attained during shorter experiences given proper planning for adequate depth.

Study away programs not only contribute to student development of global awareness, but also to other competencies like critical thinking, collaborative work, and empathy as found by Coker, Heiser, and Taylor (2018). In their longitudinal study of Elon University alumni experiences of study away, they compared educational outcomes across five study-away terms: no study abroad, semester, short-term (three-week), two short-terms, and semester plus short-term. This article supports the other side to the debate that traditional, long-term programs lead to better educational outcomes for students. Their findings showed that only students who participated in semester programs reported better outcomes in class discussion contribution, critical thinking, synthesis of ideas, empathy, and effectively collaborative work (Coker, Heiser, and Taylor 2018).

While the debate seems to continue among scholars in higher education, we can conclude that short-term study aways can have a positive effect on student development when done well. Sachau, Brasher, and Fee (2010) showed some evidence of the educational outcomes of an impactful program in three short-term program models. Their findings suggest that short-term programs should offer:

  • Enough length to increase confidence in students’ ability to travel and live abroad
  • Minimization of traditional lectures in favor of speakers and site visits when possible
  • Home-stay housing options
  • Cultural immersion

Outside of educational outcomes derived from the experience, short-term programs can also impact students’ chance of finding employment (Shiveley and Misco 2015). In a study of education majors, a short-term study away served to cultivate understanding of race and social justice issues and cross-cultural perspectives for the teacher licensure program. After the course, many indicated the experience led to “getting a job” and that study away was in “almost every interview.” Students determined that the skills developed through study away was a “very appealing experience to prospective employers” and it “sets them apart from other candidates” (Shively and Misco 2015).

So, Does Duration Really Matter?

Kuh (2008) stated that one of the characteristics of high-impact practices is the significant investment of time and effort by students over an extended period of time. By this logic, long-term programs will have a natural advantage over short-term ones. However, extensive scholarship suggests that, with adequate preparation, short-term experiences can provide similar educational outcomes to long-term ones.

Considering this existing scholarship, my series co-authors and I suggest faculty and staff consider the impact of different lengths of study-away experiences in the design process to enhance the desired educational outcomes. We also suggest that students choose the program that suits their educational goals. Learn more on this week’s 60-Second SoTL podcast, releasing Thursday.


Coker, Jeffrey S., Heiser, Evan, and Taylor, Laura. 2018. “Student Outcomes Associated with Short-Term and Semester Study Abroad Programs.” Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad 30 (2): 92–105.

DeLoach, Stephen, Kurt, Mark, and Olitsky, Neal. 2021. “Duration Matters: Separating the Impact of Depth and Duration in Study Abroad Programs.” Journal of Studies in International Education 25 (1): 100-118.   

Kuh, George D. 2008. High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Luxton, India, Valdes-Vasquez, Rodolfo, Ozbek, Mehmet E., and Thornes, Laura 2022. “High Impact Learning in a Short-Term Study Abroad Program.” Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad 34 (1): 97-130.

Sachau, Daniel, Brasher, Niel, and Fee, Scott. 2010. “Three Models for Short-Term Study Abroad.” Journal of Management Education, 645-670.

Shiveley, James, and Misco, Thomas. 2015. “Long-Term Impacts of Short-Term Study Abroad: Teacher Perceptions of Preservice Study Abroad Experiences.” Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad 26, 107-120.

Hao Chi (Howard) is a first-year graduate student in Elon’s Masters of Higher Education program. In his undergraduate career at Elon University, Howard served as an international student ambassador at the Global Education Center supervised by Kristen Aquilino. He seeks to better the educational and professional development for international students in American higher education.

How to Cite This Post

Chi, Howard. 2022. “Lengths of Study-Away Programs.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. February 15, 2023.