ROTC + Study Abroad: What to Know Before You Go

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Studying abroad as a ROTC cadet probably sounds like mission impossible. Between your military science credits, PT, and your boards, the road to your future career in the military seems pretty mapped out and not always flexible. It’s hard to see where study abroad could even fit into that equation. 

Colosseo, Rome, Italy in golden hour

Get postcard-perfect pics while studying abroad as a ROTC cadet.

As a cadet, ROTC study abroad can be a huge advantage to you. Experience overseas developing language (major bonus points) and cross-cultural understanding (always a good idea) can only help you in the long-run of your military career, as well as potentially give you a few extra points for leadership. 

If you know you want to study abroad and you’re in the ROTC program at your university, the key to making it happen is talking to the right people and planning your study abroad experience around important benchmarks in your training. 

Who can help you make it happen

Here are the key people you need to talk to, and your options for study abroad as a ROTC cadet:

Your PMS & ROTC battalion personnel manager

First: Talk to your PMS & ROTC battalion personnel manager. As soon as you have the inkling to embark on a study abroad program you should talk to your Professor of Military Science/Commander of your ROTC battalion and your battalion’s personnel manager to establish the feasibility of a study abroad program within your contracting and commissioning timeline. You’ll also work closely with them to figure out any alternative coursework and address potential security concerns. 

You don’t need a civilian like me to tell you how competitive ROTC is, but don’t let that be a deterrent from studying abroad. There are cadets who have done it and made it work, so you certainly can too. If there is any pushback from your superiors, consider it a great first lesson in working with your fellow officers and try to find a solution that works best for everyone. 

Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes, Peru

The high peaks of the Inca trail and the mysticism of Peru can all be part of your ROTC study abroad experience.

Your campus study abroad advisor

And THEN: Talk to your study abroad advisor. Once you’ve sorted out your options for studying abroad (more on that later) and worked out your contracting and commissioning timeline with your PMS and personnel manager, it’s time to make a trip to your university study abroad office. Yep. You weren’t ever going to be able to skip that appointment! 

In order for ROTC study abroad to work, it’s really important that you come prepared to your first meetings with your study abroad advisor. Bring the plan you’ve worked out with your ROTC commander so—whether or not you’ve chosen a program—your advisor has all the right information to help you make your dreams of studying abroad a reality. 

What are your options to study abroad as an ROTC Cadet? 

When studying abroad as a ROTC cadet, you’ve got just as many options as any other student looking to study abroad, especially if you’re in a major that lends itself nicely to international experience—your major might even require it. Most foreign language and literature majors, international studies majors, or history majors will have extra incentive to study abroad, so you should take advantage! And yes, there are even specific ROTC study abroad opportunities and programs. 

1. Cultural Understanding & Leadership Program (CULP) through ROTC

The Army knows that cultural awareness and foreign language proficiency skills are what young leaders in the organization need. Through the , Army ROTC Cadets compete for an immersion experience 20+ countries for up to one month across three different venues: host nation military-to-military exchange, humanitarian service, and studying the social, cultural, and historical aspects of your host country. 

You’ll travel in small groups—typically 11 Cadets led by a senior leader cadre traveling with a civilian agency or non-governmental agency. The month-long program including deployment and a five-day Soldier readiness process. 

CULP slots are awarded on a competitive basis taking into account: GPA, physical fitness, language ability, etc. Talk to your PMS and personnel manager this program!

This program is specifically for AROTC cadets, but you should still check with your PMS and personnel manager for NROTC and AFROTC study abroad programs, scholarships, and opportunities. 

Feet in sand, Dubai, UAE

Sink your toes in the sand and your teeth into the language and culture studying abroad as a ROTC cadet.

2. Semester Study Abroad + Online Military Science courses from your home institution

This is a particularly good option for those foreign language and literature, international studies, and history majors we gave a shout-out to earlier. If your university and military sciences program will allow you to complete coursework online, you can still meet your credit requirements while participating in a semester study abroad program. This is opportunity is great for AROTC, NROTC, and AFROTC study abroad. If this is the direction you decide to go in, no matter your branch, the world is your oyster! There are tons of great study abroad programs for you to choose from—just don’t forget to coordinate it all with your study abroad advisor. 

3. Summer Language Study Abroad 

Of all available ROTC study abroad opportunities, this might be the easiest to work into your busy schedule. With the rigors of the ROTC training timeline IN ADDITION to your coursework for your degree, a full semester abroad might not be in the cards for you. Luckily, summer is a great time to catch up on fun, sun, and travel. You’ll still need to coordinate with your PMS and personnel manager to make sure you’re not missing any summer requirements, but a summer language program abroad is a great compromise for ROTC Cadets. 

[Get 5 Custom Program Recommendations Based on YOUR Preferences]

How much does it cost to study abroad as an ROTC Cadet?

Placing an average price tag on studying abroad can be counterproductive, in that it masks the extreme range of costs between different countries and programs. Plus, estimates vary widely on the subject; there is no common consensus on what the average cost of studying abroad actually is.

Nevertheless, there are some reliable figures floating out there that can help. According to research by the International Institute of Education, the all-encompassing average cost of studying abroad in a foreign country hovers around $18,000 per semester, or $36,000 per full academic year. Other indicators use range as a more useful indicator; for example, studying abroad in the U.K. usually winds up costing between $8,000 and $21,000.

The overall cost will end up being much lower or higher when you add in varying external factors. To use another basic example, studying abroad in an inexpensive country, such as India, can wind up costing just a few thousands dollars total, while studying abroad at a private university in Europe will end up costing many more thousands. This is why it’s important to research thoroughly the factors surrounding your individual journey to generate your own estimate…  READ MORE

It’s worth it. Trust us. 

Airport moving walkway

With so many ROTC study abroad opportunities, your flight will be boarding in no time.

There’s a lot of debate whether or not studying abroad is feasible as an ROTC Cadet and a fear that any time away or outside the usual educational path for future officers will make you less competitive in the program. 

*I* can’t give you any guarantees, that’s why you need to talk to your PMS and battalion personnel manager first. But, I what I can guarantee is that study abroad will be a worthwhile experience for you personally, and—ultimately—will make you a stronger, well-rounded, more culturally aware leader and officer. 

*** A big thank you for helping me create this resource to my friends who went abroad through an ROTC program and are now serving active duty. 

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Topic:  Before You Go