Go Abroad Early, Go Often

The University of Pittsburgh sends freshmen and sophomores overseas to start building their global competence early in their college careers.
Go Abroad Early, Go Often

RESEARCH SHOWS THAT study abroad experiences have positive effects on students—effects that last long into their future careers. But most business undergraduates don’t travel abroad until their junior or senior years. By then, most of their college experience is over—and our window of impact as educators is closed.

Which begs the question: Should business schools encourage qualified students to study abroad earlier?

At the University of Pittsburgh College of Business Administration in Pennsylvania, we believe we should offer study abroad opportunities to students as early as possible. With that in mind, our international programs team has developed short-term early-exposure study abroad programs for incoming freshmen and rising sophomores. Each program is for-credit, course-embedded, and supported by company site visits.

Our shift in thinking began a decade ago when we created Plus3, a study abroad program scheduled during the summer between freshman and sophomore years. Since then, Plus3 has sent hundreds of Pitt Business students to study industries in other countries, from coffee in Costa Rica to international development in Vietnam. Our data show that students who take part in Plus3 are more likely to complete multiple study abroad programs in college than those who do not.

Last summer, we launched a global honors fellowship that sends students abroad even earlier—the summer before freshman year. To be eligible, students must qualify for the university’s honors college based on their SAT scores, GPAs, and high school class ranks. With these criteria, we address a central concern of early-exposure programming: the maturity and readiness of students.

Our first 11 fellows spent the last two weeks in July at our campus in Pittsburgh. In that time, they took an honors section of a core business course, Managing in Complex Environments.

In addition, they spent time engaging in cultural activities, acclimating to college life, and visiting the offices of companies such as Google, KPMG, and EY.

During the first two weeks in August, the students traveled to Dublin, Ireland. There, they visited the offices of Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Airbnb, as well as several Irish businesses. For the cultural component, they took part in historical walking tours; attended a Gaelic football game; and made excursions to the Cliffs of Moher, the Wicklow Mountains, and Irish harbor villages.

The students returned to Pittsburgh one week before orientation, which gave them time to return home, pack for college, and be back on campus for movein day. Once the semester began, they formed their own cohort, taking a special section of a required introductory business course taught by our director of academic advising. The course provided a backdrop for the students to reflect on their global experiences. Now in their second semester, most of these students live in a first-year Living Learning Community residence hall, an experience that bonds them together even more.

These students tell us that they believe the fellowship gave them a head start on their college experience, made them feel more confident in choosing an academic major, and provided a tightknit group of friends. Perhaps best of all, many of them already have applied to participate in other study abroad experiences at Pitt, including Plus3.

In undergraduate business education, study abroad is a proven way for students to develop global competence and confidence. At Pitt Business, we are committed to providing multiple pathways for our undergraduates to go abroad as early—and as often—as possible.

Audrey J. Murrell is associate dean and Bryan Schultz is director of international programs at the University of Pittsburgh College of Business Administration in Pennsylvania.