The Benefits of International Study

Survey shows students develop more than a dozen crucial skills.
The Benefits of International Study

STUDY ABROAD CONTRIBUTES to the development of more than a dozen soft and hard skills considered desirable by 21st-century employers, suggests a new report released by the Institute of International Education (IIE), a nonprofit that works with policymakers and educators to prepare professionals for the global workforce. IIE asked more than 4,500 higher education alumni at various stages of their careers how they felt study abroad had contributed to their development of 15 soft and hard skills, as well as to their career advancement.

More than 70 percent of respondents said their study abroad experiences contributed to significant improvement in areas such as intercultural skills, curiosity, flexibility/adaptability, confidence, and self-awareness. More than 50 percent noted significant gains in interpersonal and problem-solving skills. Of the competencies identified by IIE, only one—technical ability—was not viewed as being improved by study abroad.

Among the other findings:

  • STEM students valued the gains they made in skills outside their disciplines, viewing study abroad trips as opportunities to gain soft skills that some of their peers lacked. Among science majors who went on programs not associated with their disciplines, 47 percent felt the experiences contributed to their receiving job offers. That’s compared to only 28 percent who studied abroad as part of a science-focused experience.
  • More than half of survey respondents felt their study abroad experiences contributed to their receiving job offers. Even among those who were not convinced that study abroad helped them land jobs, most believed that the experience helped them gain skills that have proved useful and relevant throughout their careers, particularly in positions that required communication and interpersonal skills.

IIE surveyed alumni who have participated in study abroad programs delivered through U.S. higher education institutions since 1999–2000.

“Gaining an Employment Edge: The Impact of Study Abroad on 21st Century Skills & Career Prospects” was released at the IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad in October. The report can be downloaded at