Study Abroad Program Design Guide

Programs will vary widely in structure, length and academic content, but all well-designed programs will take into account the following factors throughout the planning process:


  • Why offer this program?
  • Will this program compete with existing programs?
  • Who is your target audience and what are their academic needs?

Programs with a well-developed rationale tend to be most successful. Consider who may apply for your program and their academic requirements. Research other existing programs and see if you may be competing for a similar audience.


  • How does location help you achieve your learning objectives?
  • How many places will you visit?
  • Is this a safe and accessible location for UC students? Do I need ITOC approval?

Make sure your program location achieves your learning objectives, makes logistical sense and is safe for student travel. You should be familiar with the location and how it relates to your course content. 

While it may sound enticing to take students to multiple places, consider the logistics of daily travel. If travel lasts a week, it may be better to stay in a central location with day trips to nearby sites; programs longer than a week may find it more feasible to visit multiple locations. 


  • When will your offer your program?
  • Does the timing make sense for your target audience?
  • How long do you need to be in the location(s) to accomplish your goals?

The timing of your program first depends on your availability and teaching load. Review your department’s existing study abroad programs and consider a time when courses will not compete for the same pool of students.

Factors to consider when selecting your program's travel dates.
Location Academic Personal
  • Weather
  • Holidays / major events
  • Business Hours
  • Length of in-country time needed
  • Competing programs
  • Departmental needs
  • Availability of additional staff
  • Your availability
  • Your teaching load


  • How many credits is the course worth?
  • Will you require pre- and post-class meetings?
  • Will there be any pre-requisites or restrictions for joining the course?

Your program should be integrated into your department's course offerings. Determine if the course will appeal to all students or target a specific major or academic standing. Students must be enrolled in a credit-bearing course associated with the program in order to receive funding.

Study abroad is experiential learning, which requires intentional planning for success.

The appropriate term and need-to-know information by travel time.
Travel time Term Good to know...
Winter break Fall Students will spend fall semester completing coursework to prepare for travel at the end of the semester. Recruitment may need to happen a full year in advance due to most students being off campus in summer.
Spring break Spring The travel portion of the course is embedded in the semester. Classes can be held both before and after travel.
May travel Spring Classes can be held throughout Spring semester followed by travel. This option has fewer academic calendar constraints and allows for more flexibility.
Summer travel Summer Travel can happen throughout the summer in conjunction with coursework, but remember, some students pay additional tuition for courses in this term. You may also be competing with other opportunities such as internships or jobs.

Equity and inclusion

  • How will you make your program accessible to a diverse group of students?
  • How will you engage and make students feel welcome?
  • What steps will you take to support students throughout the program?

UC International strives to make study abroad accessible to all UC students. A wide variety of programs in diverse locations, time frames and academic areas helps dispel the myth that study abroad is an experience for a particular group of students. Just as you do in your classrooms, create an inclusive and supportive environment for your program. 


  • Flights? Accommodations? Classroom reservations? Meals? Transportation?
  • Which program provider or travel agent will you use?
  • How will you manage group cohesiveness, morale and conduct?

Coordinating the logistics of a study abroad program requires an extensive amount of work. UC International strongly recommends partnering with a third-party travel provider for some or all of the program logistics.

Consider how you will construct the program to balance both structured and unstructured time. You and the students need time for academic content and meals as well as time to decompress, process and prepare academic work. 

A 1:15 faculty-to-student ratio is required for all faculty-led programs. 

UC International strongly recommends at least two leaders for all programs, regardless of number of participants. Leaders must be UC faculty or staff and cannot be graduate assistants or individuals unaffiliated with UC.

Decide if you will travel as a group or individually to/from the destination. UC International recommends group travel whenever possible. 

Group airfare

  • Everyone arrives and departs together
  • Booked through preferred travel provider (AAA)
  • Included in program fee 

Individual airfare is great for summer programs and programs in which students may be arriving from a variety of places. Students will need assistance purchasing their flights. UC International recommends facilitating the opportunity for students to book flights with other participants.

Your location, budget and program length will determine what may be the best type of accommodation for your group.

  • Groups have used hotels, youth hostels, residence halls and shared apartments. 
  • UC International does not support students sharing accommodations with non-participants or contracting person-to-person rental services like Airbnb.

Research housing well in advance to find safe and comfortable accommodations for students. Consider the proximity to transportation, meals and program / leisure activities. Clearly communicate the amenities to your students and set expectations for each place where the program will stay.

Determine if any meals will be included in your program fee. Consider:

  • Length of program
  • Meal affordability and access to food
  • Dietary needs of students
  • Amount of time needed to dine as a group

Think about opening or closing the program with a group meal.

You are not able to sign a contract on behalf of the university. Everything requiring a signature should go through the university purchasing and contracting process. Plan ahead--it can take several months for a contract to be signed and executed.

Across campus, faculty use study abroad partner providers to organize on-the-ground logistics. The use of providers simplifies the planning process and offers additional resources:

  • risk management
  • emergency response
  • student housing, and more

Providers create a customized experience based on your vision. While they may have suggestions for academic experiences, you have full control of the content. 

UC International has experience working with a variety of providers and can assist with recommendations and program development. We recommend requesting quotes from more than one organization to assess available options and receive competitive pricing. 

UC International permits a faculty leader’s partner to travel on a UC faculty led program. Faculty are strongly encouraged to evaluate if their partner's participation is appropriate. UC International strongly discourages the participation of faculty leaders' children in a program.

Please contact your coordinator for the full policy.


  • Are you using a strategic partner or partner provider?
  • What is the minimum number of students needed in order to keep your program affordable?
  • What costs are included in the program fee? What students pay for on their own?

Generally, the program fee includes lodging, faculty expenses, health insurance and academic-related costs. Other expenses may or may not be included, but students should be informed of out-of-pocket costs. 

If using a provider, most program expenses will be covered under one all-inclusive fee. Faculty flights, accommodations and transportation should be at the same quality as students.

Include a per person contingency cost of at least $100/student depending on the variability of potential costs. If UC International is managing the budget, an additional fee to cover operational and processing costs may be included.

Expenses that are typically in the program fee or out-of-pocket.
Included in program fee Out-of-pocket 
  • Group flight
  • Lodging
  • Some meals
  • Visa (if group needs)
  • Contingency ($100 / student)
  • UCI Processing Fee ($100/student)
  • Faculty expenses and per diem (see M&IE rate)
  • Excursions/cultural visits
  • Classroom rental/guest lecturers
  • Academic-related expenses
  • International health insurance (UCI will coordinate the purchase)
  • Individual flight
  • Passport fees
  • Some meals
  • Visa (if only some students need)
  • Souvenirs
  • Immunizations
  • Excursions/cultural visits
  • International cell phone plan
  • Free time expenses

One common barrier to study abroad is cost. Keep this in mind while you plan your budget, but remember to balance cost with practical decisions. Some examples to consider:

  • A hotel outside the city center may be cheaper, but how much time will you spend commuting? 
  • An 8-hour train ride between destinations may be more economical, but would it a better use of program time and money to fly?

Activities that have elevated risk and are not directly related to course content should be left out of the program fee, for example, ziplining.

UC’s Alcohol Purchases Policy prohibits the purchase of alcohol, which includes UC faculty-led study abroad programs. Refrain from initiating, organizing, and paying for tours, events or meals involving alcohol. 

If a faculty member believes that an event or tour related to alcohol is a required aspect of the educational component directly tied to the learning outcomes in the syllabus, the faculty member may submit an appeal to the International Travel Oversight Committee (ITOC).

A preliminary budget must be submitted as part of the Block Scholarship application. 

When your program is approved, you will work with UC International and/or the appropriate representative from your department’s financial team to revisit your budget and make any necessary adjustments. The program fee must be finalized and publicly shared on the application site before any students can be accepted to the program.

Health and safety

  • How can I design the program to mitigate risk?
  • Is healthcare readily available?
  • Will my students and I need vaccines, and are they readily available?

When selecting a location, consider student travel restrictions determined by the Student Travel Policy. Research risks specific to the proposed location, including healthcare availability, vaccination requirements, and accessibility.

Keep required program activities to ones that directly relate to the course content and limit those that have a higher potential for injury. Vehicle transportation and water activities are responsible for the vast majority of study abroad related accidents. 

UC International will coordinate the enrollment of all faculty leaders and students in international health insurance for the duration that they are abroad in association with UC.