Education Abroad Policies

Penn State Education Abroad strives for excellence in academic and cultural programming and transparency of processes and policies. In keeping with our commitment to The Forum on Education Abroad’s Standards of Good Practice for Education Abroad, we publish policies and guidelines so that students, their families, and their program leaders can review expectations and policies at any stage of their education abroad path.

Penn State Education Abroad is committed to providing safe and inclusive global learning opportunities where our policies and procedures are equitable and fair. At the heart of each policy is the personal wellbeing and administrative and academic support of Penn State students. The enclosed policies apply to approved Penn State education abroad programs (opens in new tab). The use of the word “program” in this policy document generally refers to approved Penn State education abroad programs.

If any student, family member, or employee suspects wrongdoing associated with any education abroad program, employee, affiliate/representative, or policy, we encourage that person to contact EducationAbroad@psu.edu and to utilize Penn State resources for reporting suspected wrongdoing (opens in new tab).

Quick Access to Sections on this Page

Admissions & Eligibility

Education Abroad Application Requirements

Students applying for education abroad programs must complete all Penn State education abroad application requirements and any required academic recommendation by the stated deadline (opens in new tab).  A complete application includes a number of requirements that may vary depending on the program of choice and may also include completing an application for the host institution.  Students should refer to the application instructions (opens in new tab) on our website and within the application system and should consult with an education abroad adviser in advance of the deadline concerning any questions.  Note that the application timeline and instructions may not apply to short-term embedded courses (opens in new tab).

Education Abroad Admissions Outcome

A student's acceptance into a program depends on a variety of factors and Education Abroad, in conjunction with program partners when applicable, reserves the right to make admission decisions regarding all approved programs. Applicants are not guaranteed acceptance into any program. Since each program has its own set of academic and admission standards and capacity requirements, students should investigate the requirements of their desired program before applying (including their back-up program). Students who would like to appeal their admission decision may do so by submitting an Education Abroad Appeal (opens in new tab). If an appeal is denied, we recommend the student work to meet all requirements of the program and re-apply in a future semester.

Factors that may impact admissions outcome:

  • Age (all Penn State students must be at least 18 years old by program start date)
  • GPA and/or grades earned in specific courses
  • Semester standing or credits completed before the program/at time of application review
  • Pre-requisites
  • Language proficiency
  • Student conduct history at Penn State
  • Interview process (some internship or faculty-led programs require this)
  • University Restricted Travel or health and safety protocol
  • Vaccination or health requirements

Minimum Age Requirement

In consultation with University Risk Management, Penn State Global has enacted a policy that prohibits any participants under the age of 18 at the start of a program from participating in that education abroad program. This policy applies to programs of any length. There is no appeal process for this requirement and no exceptions will be granted.

Minimum GPA Requirement

The minimum grade point average (GPA) requirement for participation in approved education abroad programs is generally posted on the program information page and students are expected to achieve the minimum GPA by the time of application review and maintain it through the start of the program. Each program has its own GPA requirement so students should consult their academic record and discuss their eligibility with an education abroad adviser.  In limited cases, students whose GPAs are slightly below the stated GPA requirement for their selected program may be considered for admission in consultation with the host institution or faculty leader. In such cases, students may be required to submit supplemental application materials.

Student Code of Conduct Adherence

All students who apply to approved education abroad programs are screened for any record they might have with the Penn State Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response. If a sanction of “probation with transcript notation” is applied by the Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response, the probation cannot extend into the expected semester abroad. In such a case, the student may be denied admission to the program or have their admission revoked if the infraction occurs after admission.

Students with a history of infractions and/or sanctions from Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response may receive a specialized letter during their education abroad program application review and/or may be required to meet with leadership members from Education Abroad and Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response.

Students who incur infractions after the initial screening by the Office of Student Accountability and Conflict Response must disclose such infractions to Education Abroad as soon as possible.

Travel to a Country on the University Restricted Travel List

In order to comply with Penn State's International Travel Policy, students interested in studying abroad in countries that Penn State has designated as "restricted" for travel must submit a petition for waiver. Depending on the nature of the program, the petition for waiver may be submitted by the program/faculty leader, the student, or Education Abroad staff. If the student is required to submit the petition for waiver personally, they will be prompted to do so via their education abroad application. After submitting a petition, the student may be asked to meet with Education Abroad staff, and the petition may be reviewed by the Penn State International Restricted Travel Committee (IRTC) prior to travel approval being granted.

Academics

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is as critically important abroad as it is on campus at Penn State. Penn State Faculty Senate Policy 49-20 (opens in new tab) defines academic integrity as “the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner… [and] a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation or deception.” Students are also subject to the academic integrity policies of their host institution and/or faculty program leaders.

Grades and Credit from Abroad

In accordance with Penn State Faculty Senate Policy 49-60 (opens in new tab), “courses abroad may not be taken under the SA/UN [satisfactory/unsatisfactory] grading system except under highly unusual circumstances and then only with the advance authorization of Education Abroad.”

As such, no course may be taken as pass/fail, satisfactory/unsatisfactory, or as an audited course. Students must receive grades for courses taken abroad on any approved education abroad program, and the grades and credits for all courses taken abroad will appear on the student’s Penn State transcript and be calculated into their cumulative GPA.

Students participating in an education abroad program must be enrolled in the appropriate credit related to their course(s) abroad, during the semester or their travel.

Note that Penn State’s ACUE policy on grade forgiveness may be applicable under some circumstances, but only if the student can retake the exact same course at Penn State during a semester after the education abroad experience. Consult with EducationAbroad@psu.edu if there are questions about how this policy may apply to education abroad courses.

Faculty-led Programs

Students participating in faculty-led programs (freestanding and embedded) are enrolled in Penn State courses and grades will be assigned by the Penn State instructor of record for those courses.

Direct Enroll, Study Center, Exchange, and Other Programs

For students who will enroll in coursework at an international host institution or study center (in other words, those students not on a Penn State faculty-led program), Education Abroad and/or the program provider have grade and credit conversion scales that convert foreign grades and credit to Penn State grades and credit. If applicable, these conversion scales are usually available on the host program information website or from EAacademics@psu.edu upon request.

  • Education Abroad does not interfere with the academic judgment of professors overseas. Education Abroad does not award grades, remove grades, or “round up” low grades. Final grades and credit from abroad are simply converted to Penn State grades and credit using a predetermined scale (see the grade conversion scale for the host institution, if applicable) and then transmitted to the Office of the Registrar at Penn State. 
  • The Education Abroad Office will not mediate grade disputes between students and professors abroad. If a student has not dealt with their grade inquiry on-site, Penn State Education Abroad may assist by helping make contact with your professor abroad, but the student will be responsible for all communication and pleading their own case. 
  • Education Abroad is required to report all grades received on the international/host institution transcript. Students seeking a grade appeal or late drop from the host institution abroad must work with the host institution or faculty member directly. If a student’s efforts to work through the host institution/program’s grade appeals process do not yield the outcome sought, the only recourse would be to appeal to the Penn State Faculty Senate upon return for a retroactive late drop. These cases are taken very seriously and cannot be put forward without the support of a student’s undergraduate dean. 
  • If enrolling in courses at a host institution abroad, students must complete the Course Equivalency Process (opens in new tab) to have grades posted to their Penn State transcript.
  • If enrolling in courses at a host institution abroad, students will be assigned 'ED AB 000' and 'NG' (No Grade) as a placeholder course. Once a course is assigned a Penn State course equivalent and the student’s foreign transcript has been received, 'ED AB 000' will be removed, and the actual course and grade will be posted to the student's transcript.
  • Students cannot graduate with an 'NG' (no grade) on their transcript.

Courses and Class Schedules

General Health and Wellness (GHW) Courses

Penn State’s foundational knowledge domains for general education requirements include general health and wellness (GHW) education for students. Students are permitted to take wellness classes abroad that focus on theory, research, and wellbeing. Students are not permitted to take physical activity or sport classes abroad (i.e., sailing, bowling, yoga, running for fitness). The only exception to this requirement is if a Penn State faculty member teaches a physical activity or sport class abroad.

Dropping Courses

Semester (fall, spring, and academic year) participants are required to enroll as full-time students according to their host institution's policies, as well as meet Penn State's minimum requirement for full-time status. Dropping below full-time status may jeopardize both financial aid and academic status, as well as immigration or visa status in the program host country or in the United States. Summer participants are required to enroll in the standard credit load as defined by the program, which can be found on the program’s page on the Education Abroad website.

Students must abide by drop/add deadlines as defined by their host institution/program. Penn State late drop and course withdrawal policies and timelines do not apply to the semester or summer abroad. 

If a student believes they need to drop a course due to extenuating circumstances they must seek permission from Penn State Education Abroad via an email to EAacademics@psu.edu.

  • While abroad, students are not on the Penn State schedule for adds, drops, and late drops of courses.
  • Classes can be dropped only up to the drop deadline at the host institution (and students must check with an academic adviser at their host institution before dropping any classes).
  • Students are subject to the withdrawal policies of their host institution; if a student misses the deadline to withdraw from a course, that course will appear on their transcript.
  • Students participating in a program with a Penn State faculty leader, need to consult with the instructor and work with the Customized Programs Team to make any adjustments to their schedule. Courses required for the program cannot be dropped.

Extenuating Circumstances do NOT include:

  • Not needing the credits for the course
  • Not performing well in a course

Petitioning to Drop Below Minimum Enrollment or Late Drop a Course

Dropping below the required minimum credit enrollment is considered to be an exceptional circumstance and will require compelling justification and documentation on the student’s part.

  • The student must complete the Education Abroad Appeal (opens in new tab) stating why they must drop the course and/or below the minimum enrollment and a formal letter of support from their Penn State academic adviser.
  • Permission to late drop a course or drop below the minimum credit enrollment may only be granted by the director of Education Abroad or their delegate, in conjunction with the host institution/provider Resident Director.
  • Questions about this policy should be directed to Education Abroad: EducationAbroad@psu.edu

Online Coursework During Education Abroad Experience

Students studying abroad on fall semester/spring semester/academic year programs are required to maintain full-time status per Penn State’s definition and per their host institution/provider requirements abroad (whichever is greater). Per Penn State policy, the student must enroll in the equivalent of at least 12 U.S. credits at their host institution, but some host institutions may require a higher enrollment amount.

If a student wishes to enroll in an online course at Penn State in addition to their full-time course load taken abroad, the student should adhere to the following guidance:

  • Consult with their Penn State academic adviser about degree plans/sequences
  • Consider the time commitment of the online course and whether it is realistic to attend remote courses and/or complete assignments as required by the online course
  • Consider internet and bandwidth capabilities at the education abroad location
  • Consider the academic calendar of the host location and the online course
  • Consider whether the commitment to an online course in addition to in-residence courses abroad is reasonable given the out-of-classroom, cultural, and social activities of interest during the study abroad semester
  • If enrollment in an online course is feasible in addition to a full-time course load abroad, the student should enroll in no more than one online course at Penn State per education abroad semester.

Graduation

Education Abroad cannot guarantee that a student’s grades and credits will be processed in time for their planned graduation date. Students cannot graduate with a no grade (NG) reflected on their transcript, and it is possible, particularly when a student studies abroad in their final semester, that degree conferral will be delayed. Please review the Grades and Credits from Abroad section on this page for more information. Remember that students must formally register their intent to graduate (opens in new tab) for the appropriate semester. Students with questions regarding their intent to graduate should contact their academic adviser. Students should also consult with their education abroad adviser about the timing of their education abroad program and their graduation plans.

Student Responsibilities While Abroad

Program Participation Policy

Students are expected to participate in all required elements of their approved education abroad program as established by the host institution or program leader. Students are expected to attend and participate in all of their classes, labs, recitations, and field trips as necessary and as scheduled at the host institution or by the program leader. 

Students should complete all their coursework and final exams, onsite and as scheduled, as determined by their host institution or program requirements. 

Students are not permitted to depart from their program earlier than the designated program end date unless special permission is granted on an emergency basis, such as for health reasons, family emergency, or an unforeseen event that would require Penn State to cancel the program. Internships, weddings and special events, and other personal conflicts do not qualify as reasons for early termination of participation. Any student who believes their situation warrants a potential early departure from their education abroad program should consult their host institution, program leader, or education abroad adviser immediately and certainly before making any arrangements to depart the program early.

Program Provider/Host Policies & International Laws

Students must follow all the policies and guidelines of their international host institution, school, or program provider. Students must also follow all local and international laws applicable at their destinations.

Student Conduct

Students participating in an approved education abroad program continue to be enrolled in Penn State, and therefore are subject to Penn State policies governing student conduct to the same extent they would be if studying on a Penn State campus. Additionally, students enrolled in courses or participating in activities at a host institution may also be subject to the policies and student conduct codes of their host institution. EA advises students to familiarize themselves with the policies and procedures of the host institution in addition to local laws and regulations.

Program Withdrawal Policies

When a student commits to participating in an education abroad program, Penn State Global or the host institution may begin to make financial commitments on that student’s behalf. Regardless of the reason and effective date of withdrawal, it is the student’s responsibility to immediately notify their education abroad adviser (opens in new tab) in writing and to understand the implications of their withdrawal actions. 

Withdrawal Before Commitment Deadline

No financial penalty is charged if the student withdraws their application prior to the established Penn State Education Abroad commitment deadline.  After the Penn State Education Abroad commitment deadline may result in financial penalties including the Penn State Education Abroad administrative fee and other non-recoverable costs.

Withdrawal From a Faculty-Led Embedded Program

Faculty-led embedded programs are subject to their own withdrawal policies set by the academic unit offering the program. Program leaders are expected to communicate these withdrawal policies with student participants and the related timeline. The following withdrawal sections penalty sections and timelines may not apply to embedded programs. 

Withdrawal After the Commitment Deadline

Signing the commitment document(s) in the education abroad application is a legally binding procedure. By signing these documents, the student financially commits to their program and agree that they have read each document closely and understand the policies within them. There are financial implications if a student withdraws after commitment.

  • The Education Abroad Administrative Fee will be assessed to students' bursar bill regardless of the reason and effective date of withdrawal.
  • In certain cases, partial program expenses may be refundable but only to the extent that Education Abroad can recover expenses incurred on behalf of the student. Note: these cost commitments supersede the Penn State Bursar tuition refund policy. Costs vary depending on date of withdrawal.
  • Students participating on third-party or host institution programs should also consult the appropriate host institution's withdrawal and refund policies.
  • Any adjustment of tuition charges will be made according to the Tuition Adjustment Schedule as determined by the Office of the Bursar (opens in new tab).
  • Students should refer to the University Senate Policy on Withdrawal and Leave of Absence (opens in new tab) for more information.

Withdrawal From a Faculty-Led Freestanding Program

Faculty-Led programs are subject to strict withdrawal penalties as our office begins making payments and commitments for students well before departure. In case of withdrawal, the following fees will be charged to the student’s Bursar account:

  • Upon Commitment
    • 90 Days Prior to Departure: 25% Program Fee + Education Abroad Administration Fee
    • 30 - 90 Days Prior to Departure: 50% Program Fee + Education Abroad Administration Fee
    • 29 Days - Departure Date: 100% Program Fee + Education Abroad Administration Fee

Withdrawal After Education Abroad Program Start Date

  • Students choosing to withdraw from an education abroad program after the program has started must notify Education Abroad and their host institution in writing to request guidance on the process and responsibilities.
  • Students are responsible for financial penalties for withdrawal, potentially up to 100% of the program cost.
  • Students are responsible for understanding academic consequences of program withdrawal.

Types of Withdrawal While Abroad: Voluntary and Involuntary

Once on site abroad, the decision to withdraw from the education abroad program is a difficult one. Withdrawal may be involuntary or voluntary. 

Involuntary Withdrawal

Education Abroad reserves the right to require withdrawal from the program of any participant whose continuation would be detrimental to themself, to others, or to the University. Return passage and any other expenses due to such involuntary withdrawal are the responsibility of the student. 

Voluntary Withdrawal

A student who voluntarily withdraws from the program for any personal reason will be responsible for any and all costs associated with their return home; a refund of tuition or fees is only available to the extent allowed by applicable Penn State policies outlined on this webpage.

Program Cancellation or Itinerary Changes

In the case of an unforeseen or late-developing event in an approved education abroad program’s host location that would potentially compromise or otherwise threaten the safety of Penn State students and faculty, Penn State reserves the right to decline any application or to cancel any program in its entirety, possibly without notice, in which event all monies paid to the Office of the Bursar for participation in the education abroad program will be refunded in full.

In certain circumstances, events in the program’s host location may require a modification to the program’s itinerary which could include a change of location. Any and all modifications to a program for health and safety will involve close consultation with Penn State Global international risk analysts and finance personnel. Program modifications will not necessarily carry with them any refund of program fees.

Program & Travel Preparation

Passports

Passports are an official identity document issued by a national government. All students must have a passport in order to participate in any education abroad program, and it must be valid for at least 6 months past the end date of the program of study.

Immigration Processes and Visas

Many participants will need to acquire a visa prior to participating in an education abroad program. A visa is an immigration document granting approval from the host government to enter and stay in the country for a designated amount of time and for a specific purpose. The visa often comes as a sticker in the passport. Students are ultimately responsible for obtaining their visa; this includes researching specific visa requirements, acquiring all necessary documents, submitting the visa application, and paying any applicable visa and mailing fees.

Mandatory Online Pre-Departure Orientation

Education Abroad has implemented an interactive online orientation to help students prepare for their education abroad experience. Students are required to complete this module with a grade of 80% or better. Failure to complete this requirement by the stated deadline will result in removal from the program.

Depending on the specific program a student has selected, there may be additional required pre-departure orientation sessions hosted at a Penn State campus or virtually. In the event that a program leader or host organization requires pre-departure orientation session attendance, students who fail to attend or participate may face consequences including removal from the program.

Pre-Departure Registration Materials

A critical component of preparing for the education abroad experience is completing registration forms, course selection, health information, and other important online materials or hard-copy paperwork required by Penn State and/or the host institution. Students are required to submit all pre-travel materials by the stated deadlines. Failure to do so may result in removal from the program.

Housing and Accommodations Abroad

Independent Housing

On programs in which student housing placement is guaranteed, independent housing (i.e., accommodations not offered or approved by the host institution) is not permitted. Independent housing may be permitted on a limited number of programs where housing cannot be guaranteed, subject to program policy and the designation of the host location by Penn State’s International Restricted Travel Committee.

Health and Safety

Emergency Response & Reporting 

In the event of an emergency or incident abroad Penn State students are expected to notify their international host institution, program leader, and/or Education Abroad.

International Health Insurance

All students, faculty, and staff who are traveling outside of the United States on registered University business, with University funds or with a University organization are covered by Penn State's international health insurance.This includes all students and program leaders traveling internationally on approved education abroad programs. Note that some host institutions or countries require additional insurance coverage and may not accept Penn State’s international insurance as a replacement for their requirement. In such a situation, the student may be required to purchase additional insurance. 

Operating a Motor Vehicle

Penn State students are not permitted to purchase, rent, or operate motor vehicles abroad including automobiles, trucks, motorbikes, mopeds, motor scooters, off-road vehicles and similar. While students may be tempted to rent cars, mopeds, or motorbikes during their time abroad, they often do so without regard to the risks of driving in a country whose rules of the road are unfamiliar. Road crashes are the single greatest risk for travelers abroad, and young people ages 15-29 are at highest risk.

Transportation and Road Safety

Students utilizing transportation services while abroad should review the health and safety guidance available from the U.S Department of State regarding road safety and transportation (opens in new tab) within the country. Keep in mind that taxi service, rideshare companies, and other transportation modes may have differing laws and regulations in the host country. Pedestrians should take precautions to remain safe by avoiding the use of headphones while walking, remaining vigilant, and following pedestrian traffic signals.

Water Safety

Water-related incidents pose a serious threat to the health and safety of U.S. citizens traveling abroad, including education abroad students. Each destination may have its own specific risks, but generally speaking, students are required to follow local rules and regulations relating to swimming, boating, and other water-based activities. Students should never swim or participate in other water-based activities alone. Students are strongly encouraged to wear or bring life jackets to water-based activities, regardless of local rules or regulations.

For programs where water activities are a requirement of the academic program, students are generally informed of the physical requirements and available equipment. Any student wishing to refrain from participating in swimming or water-based activities should inform their instructor and request an alternate activity. In some cases, students may be required to pass a water safety or swimming test in order to participate in water-based activities associated with their program.

Health Considerations and Travel Vaccinations

Students must refer to health and vaccination requirements of their destination country or region to determine whether any health protocol is required or recommended for travelers. Penn State Education Abroad does not provide specific health advice, so students should consult the following resources:

COVID-19 Vaccination Requirement

Effective August 1, 2021, Penn State implemented COVID-19 vaccination requirements for University-affiliated international travel. Students must refer to the most up-to-date vaccination requirements (opens in new tab) and complete a COVID-19 vaccination attestation as part of the education abroad commitment procedures (after program admission is offered). In addition to any Penn State travel requirements, students must meet the COVID-19 protocol of their host destination and host institution.

Education Abroad Appeal

Occasionally, a student may believe that their personal circumstances warrant an appeal related to a particular policy or financial implication of their withdrawal from participation. Education Abroad policies, procedures, and guidelines have been developed with the intent of upholding best practices, equitable opportunities, and the health and safety of all students while taking into account the various factors influencing the student experience and program management. Generally, only students experiencing extenuating circumstances should submit a request for an appeal.

Extenuating Circumstances Examples

  • Medical: Can be physical, mental, emotional, etc., and requires documentation from an attending physician.
  • Illness/Death in the Immediate Family: Family medical emergency (surgery, serious illness diagnosis) which requires documentation from an attending physician. Death of an immediate family member—parents, guardians, siblings, children, spouses, registered domestic partners—requires appropriate documentation. Immediate family designation does not include grandparents.
  • Military Activation: Requires a copy of the military activation orders showing dates that conflict with the program dates.
  • Unanticipated Change in Financial Situation: Termination of main source of income, filing of bankruptcy, etc. are examples of changes in financial situation and require appropriate documentation. Financial emergency does not include not understanding the costs of the programs or not receiving anticipated financial aid or scholarships. 
  • Other: A circumstance of "other" must be out of the student's control and requires supporting documentation of situation, process, and timeline. 

Steps and Timeline of Appeal

  1. Students must review the education abroad policy related to their situation.
  2. Students determine if their situation may be considered extenuating circumstances that warrant the submission of appeal for review.
  3. Student completes the Education Abroad Appeal (opens in new tab)
  4. If applicable, students submit documentation or supporting information via the online appeal form.
  5. Student awaits an appeals decision. Review of appeals can take 2-4 weeks, depending on the nature of the appeal and other factors. If more than four (4) weeks have passed, please contact EducationAbroad@psu.edu to request an update on an appeal decision.