The majority of students study off campus in their junior year, and most programs assume that applicants will be at this stage of their college careers. But it is often possible to go as a senior, usually in the fall, and sometimes as a sophomore, usually in the spring.
About a dozen students a year study away in the fall of their senior year. This does of course make it impossible to work on an honors project (and other departmental requirements may be affected). Returning seniors also have little time to incorporate what they have learned into their final semester at Bowdoin; for that reason, off-campus study in the final semester is discouraged, although permitted in exceptional circumstances. If you are still considering the latter possibility, bear in mind that transcripts from spring programs would not arrive early enough for credit to be transferred in time for graduation in May.
If you wish to study away as a sophomore you will encounter some complications: you need to start planning almost as soon as you arrive at Bowdoin, and demonstrate to a program, as well as to Bowdoin, that you have the necessary experience and maturity, and a clear sense of how off-campus study will fit into your education; most students cannot be expected to be able to do this until they have completed at least a year at the College. If large numbers of applicants are competing for permission to study off campus in the junior year, you will also have to present a particularly convincing academic rationale in your application to Bowdoin.
Permission is given for a maximum of two semesters of off-campus study in the course of your time at Bowdoin. Bowdoin's requirements for the degree also stipulate that of four semesters in residence at least two be during the junior and senior years.
Consider very carefully how the length of time you spend away will affect your Bowdoin career. Take account of which Bowdoin courses you will be unable to take if you study off campus. The program options list indicates by each program whether it is possible to study for the equivalent of Bowdoin's fall semester, spring semester, or full academic year.
Please note that because of the difficulty for Bowdoin of maintaining a reasonably constant number of students on campus, it is rarely possible, after you have been approved to study away for a particular period, to extend your time away, or to switch semesters. In some countries it is also not possible to extend a student visa. If you are at all unsure whether you want a semester or a full year away, you are advised to apply for a full-year program from which you could return to Bowdoin at the start of the spring semester.
Full year. A full year away is encouraged as long as it is academically advisable or necessary. A year abroad certainly offers students in areas such as foreign languages a much better chance to acquire a profound understanding of a language and culture. Some good programs are also offered only as full-year options, or their single-term dates may not be fully compatible with Bowdoin's. Your academic requirements at Bowdoin, however, may make a full year impractical; and after a year away many students find it difficult to reenter the life of the Bowdoin campus, to organize senior-year honors projects, or to make the necessary early start on applications for jobs, grants, or further study. There are many excellent alternative single-semester options, and after a single semester it is easy to extend a stay in a country through the winter or summer vacation.
Single semester. If you decide to apply for a single semester of off-campus study, weigh the academic advantages of both fall and spring semesters. Make sure that the courses that interest you are open for part-year study. Look carefully at the dates of terms and examinations, which may be significantly different from Bowdoin's. It is often advantageous to study off campus in the fall because it is easier to prepare for the work of the senior year, including honors projects, when the preceding spring semester is spent at Bowdoin. (Note also that interviews for banking internships usually take place in the spring.) On the other hand, in certain European countries the academic calendar makes it hard or impossible to enrol in university classes in the fall; and in the southern hemisphere our "fall" semester (their spring, or semester II) typically starts in early July, taking a large bite out of your summer vacation and putting you on an earlier billing cycle.
Single-semester applicants are asked on the application to justify on academic grounds their preference for the fall or spring semester. It may not be possible for permission to be given for the semester of your first choice. Since not all programs offer suitable options in both semesters, you may need to identify a different program for your second-choice semester.
Two separate semesters. Only in truly exceptional circumstances is permission given for study on two separate semester programs over the course of a year. The exceptions have generally been for students majoring in two modern languages. Students who have tried this may have felt initially that they were making the most of their junior year, but they have often come back reporting that they experienced considerable disruption and cultural disorientation, and were unable to absorb and process the lessons of the first program before plunging into a new environment. Without enough energy to commit to the second program, they often withdraw before it starts. If you think you can make a convincing case for the viability and academic value of two separate programs, you should make quite sure that your advisors understand and approve of your plans for both semesters. You are also strongly advised to discuss your plans in detail and well in advance with the OCS Office. You will need to make a separate application to Bowdoin for each program, and also submit a petition that explains your academic reasons for your proposed plans. Remember that Bowdoin's $1,000 off-campus study fee is charged for each program attended.
The OCS office handles summer programs abroad, which if taken for credit at Bowdoin are subject to the same sort of conditions on academic suitability as semester- or year-long programs: high-quality courses in an area characteristic of the liberal arts (not professional training or internships). If you are interested in transferring credit for studying on a summer program abroad, please consult with the OCS office well in advance. You will need to submit a Bowdoin application for transfer of credit to the OCS office, no later than the preceding 1 April; program deadlines are likely to be somewhat earlier, and it is sensible to start work on the Bowdoin application well in advance, in case the program you have in mind does not meet Bowdoin's conditions for credit.
Because of the wide variety of types and duration of programs, there is no summer program options list like that for semester-length or full-year programs, but many of the institutions on the options list also run summer programs, and you can review their catalogues in the OCS office. The larger providers include API, Arcadia, Boston University, CIEE, DIS Copenhagen, IES, IFSA-Butler, the London School of Economics and Political Science, the School for Field Studies, and the School for International Training, but there are many other options, such as the language programs in France, China, Germany and Japan run by Bryn Mawr, CET, the Goethe-Institut, and JCMU respectively. In general, suitable programs have a duration of between four and eight weeks; six weeks is quite common. The IIE Passport publication Short-Term Study Abroad, in the office and accessible online, is a useful reference, though you should be careful to find out as much as you can about the quality and credentials of any program you find listed.
The Career Planning Center is responsible for graduate programs, internships, and jobs overseas, but the OCS library does contain some resources on these subjects, and some of the institutions on the options list also run programs of this type. The on-line magazine Transitions Abroad contains listings and advertisements for a wide range of international activities, mostly non-credit-earning; and for longer-term salaried, teaching, or volunteer work opportunities overseas you should consult BUNAC and CIEE. A representative of the Peace Corps organizes a visit to Bowdoin each year through the Career Planning Center. As always, you should be careful to find out as much as you can about the quality and credentials of any program you find.
The McKeen Center for the Common Good has resources on international experiences that involve community service components, including some of Bowdoin's Alternative Spring Break programs. See also the Omprakash Foundation website for a list of volunteer organizations around the world.
The Office of Student Fellowships and Research has information not only on international postgraduate fellowships but also awards for research taking place in the course of undergraduate studies at Bowdoin, some of which might be abroad.
For students going abroad for summer study abroad or any activity sponsored in some way by Bowdoin (but not off-campus study), the International Travel Handbook offers general advice on travel logistics, health and safety, cultural adjustment, etc.