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International Student vs. Study Abroad Student vs. Exchange Student: What’s the Difference?

Whether you’re a current student, enrolling in studies for the first time or returning to your tertiary studies, you are sure to have heard the terms ‘international student’, ‘study abroad student’ and ‘exchange student’ thrown around.

But what do they mean and what are the differences between each type of student? We’ve pulled together this quick guide so you can decipher these titles and determine which one applies to you!

International student

International students are students who undertake all or part of their studies in a different country from their home country. These students have moved to a foreign country to pursue a tertiary degree or certification. Tuition fees are paid to the overseas institution they will be attending to get their qualification.

There is a large community of international students in Australia and you’ll often find plenty of support and services dedicated to these students through university programs or the government. Study Australia is the official Australian Government website for international students, offering resources like guides on how to find the right course for you and a career matcher tool. It also shares case studies from international student alumni as well as information on education pathways and even a section on how to bring your children with you if you wish to study in Australia as an international student.

Study abroad student

Study abroad programs invite students to undertake study at an overseas university but usually without a formal arrangement between your home university and host institution. Those looking to study abroad are generally required to defer their studies in their home country. Study abroad students are sometimes referred to as international students; however in some cases, study abroad students aren’t necessarily pursuing a formal tertiary degree or qualification.

While study abroad students also pay tuition fees to their foreign institution like an international student, they are sometimes only studying a few courses or electives overseas to gain additional skills while enjoying the cultural enrichment of living in a different country. The courses that study abroad students complete overseas may not contribute to their qualifications back home; it is important to research this before enrolling in this type of foreign study arrangement.

Students looking to study abroad can apply directly with the overseas institution. However, there may be some eligibility requirements such as a completion of certain coursework, subject prerequisites, academic achievements or even language proficiency. You may also be required to show proof of visa, health insurance or vaccination status. Universities and education providers from your home country may hold information sessions where you can learn more about studying abroad. 

Exchange student

Universities often partner with other institutions around the world. Under an exchange agreement, students can apply to study at a partner university for a semester or an academic year. They do not pay their tuition fees to their host institution overseas but instead to their education provider in their home country. The courses they complete at their overseas institution during exchange count as credits towards the completion of their degree back home.

It can be quite competitive to secure a place in an exchange program as you must be approved by your education provider in your home country and be accepted by the host institution overseas. Students wanting to go on exchange are commonly given the opportunity to provide three university preferences as part of the application process. 

International student vs. study abroad student vs. exchange student

So what’s better – international, exchange or study abroad programs? That decision is completely up to you, your needs and your goals. Study abroad students have the benefit of flexibility. Exchange students can earn credits that count towards their degree back home/ International students can fully immerse themselves in a foreign country and obtain an international qualification. 

International students, exchange students and study abroad students typically have access to many of the same support services and resources. These are generally available before, during and sometimes after your studies through your education provider(s) and study bodies. With the help of these resources, you’ll be able to make the most of your time abroad – however long that may be.

No matter what type of study experience you choose, studying overseas is sure to be an enriching experience you won’t soon forget.