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Choosing an Off-Campus Study Program

Back of student with backpack headed up Arthur's Seat in Glasgow

photo by Bryce Lew '19


Each year around 50% of every graduating class are accepted onto a wide range of off-campus study programs both abroad and elsewhere in the United States to study off campus for a semester or year. Participation is open to all qualified students. Off-Campus Study is an opportunity to broaden your liberal arts education and enhance your major, concentration or other areas of academic interest. Although Grinnell recognizes that living and studying in a new and challenging environment is a valuable learning experience, the college believes the opportunity will be even more enriching if closely integrated with your coursework on campus. During the application process, you will notice great emphasis is placed on selecting a program compatible with your academic goals. You will be working with your academic advisers and the OCS Office to choose a program that complements and enhances your Grinnell education.

The programs featured have been carefully selected and represent some of the best opportunities available in off-campus study today. From the broad academic and geographical range of options, most students should be able to identify a program meeting their academic goals.

Core Academic Rationale  

Grinnell requires you select a program compatible with your academic goals as set out in your four-year plan and off-campus study essay. Define your goals in discussion with your academic adviser. Begin by thinking about your purpose in studying off campus, i.e., your core academic rationale. Many students choose to link off-campus study to their major or concentration, others want to enhance their understanding of other subjects studied on campus. The link you choose should provide a sense of academic direction for studying off campus.

Additional Objectives 

In addition to the core academic rationale described above, your choice of program may be partly determined by additional objectives, in consultation with your academic adviser, a program adviser, or OCS staff. For example, you may wish to broaden your liberal arts education by studying a language or taking liberal arts courses not offered at Grinnell. You may also have broader educational and future goals connected to the experience of engaging with another culture. The possibility of community service, fieldwork or an internship might be an important consideration. Such additional objectives are important to consider along with your core academic rationale and should be of help in guiding you towards a program that is a good match. You may have other considerations as well. Keep in mind your finances and other personal considerations such as health/wellness.

Program Selectivity

Programs vary considerably in competitiveness. Highly competitive programs may only accept students with higher GPAs and specific course preparation, other programs may have more relaxed criteria for admission. Prerequisites and GPA requirements are normally set by the program itself, however the Off-Campus Study Board may increase or extend them. Information on eligibility is provided in the Fact Sheet of each program. In the unusual event that a student is denied admission, the OCS Office will provide assistance in identifying an acceptable substitute program.

Alternative Off-Campus Study Program Petition

Grinnell’s portfolio of featured programs - listed under “All Programs” in the OCS application portal ( - draws on experience and feedback from students, OCS staff, and faculty on programs that have worked well in terms of curriculum, academic standards and transferability of credit, motivation of other students on the program, quality of the cultural experience, and attention to professional standards of good practice in administering an off-campus program. Students are strongly encouraged to apply to these options. Some other programs may be approved for a particular student as an “alternative” options if there’s a compelling academic rationale for doing so and the student can demonstrate thoughtful consideration of how they are prepared to engage with the location(s) featured in that program.

Students seeking to petition for an alternative program need to meet with the Director or Associate Director of Off-Campus Study to discuss their program idea and verify that Grinnell doesn’t feature a similar offering, the program offers a curriculum consistent with a Grinnell liberal arts education, and credit will be eligible to transfer. Alternative programs are more likely to be approved if they are offered by one of our current partner study abroad provider organizations.

Students should also discuss their plans with their academic adviser to ensure that the courses will be a good fit.

If granted permission to proceed with a petition, students will need to submit statement explaining their academic goals and how the program would help them meet those goals, being as specific as possible about the courses they intend to take. The statement must also include information demonstrating that the student has considered what they anticipate may be particularly interesting as well as challenging about the proposed location(s) and how they are prepared to engage with the host communities. This statement must be submitted via email to the Director , Alicia Stanley (, by Wednesday, November 15. Max length: 1 page.

If the alternative petition is approved, students will be instructed to complete the standard Grinnell application for permission to study off campus by the December 5 deadline.

Full Year Off-Campus Study Petition

Approval to attend a year off campus on one or two programs is limited and granted by the Off-Campus Study Subcommittee on a competitive basis to students demonstrating exceptional academic achievement, a strong written rationale, and support for their plans from an academic adviser.
This does not apply to the following programs that offer academic year options by design: ACM Japan Study (Waseda University), College Year in Athens, Hamilton in France, and the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Students seeking to petition to spend a year off campus must meet with the Director or Associate Director of Off-Campus Study to discuss their plans. If they are seeking to spend a year away on alternative programs, they should contact the OCS office as soon as possible to allow time for the directors to investigate the program prior to submitting a petition.

Students interested in programs not listed above will be asked to submit the following to the Director, Alicia Stanley ( ,by Wednesday, November 15:
• Academic rationale (see instructions below);
• Letter of recommendation from an academic adviser who knows them and their work well, and can speak to their interest in spending a full year off campus (a tutorial adviser, current faculty member, major or intended major adviser, etc.);
• 4-year plan;
• Unofficial transcript.

Academic Rationale Instructions:
Provide a well thought out academic rationale for spending a full year away from Grinnell in consultation with your academic adviser(s) and other professors with whom you may be studying with now and in the future. Max length: 2 pages.
1. Describe your proposed program(s) in terms of its relationship to past and intended coursework in your intended major(s), concentration, and/or other areas of interest, and how the program(s) will help you meet your academic goals. Please be as specific as possible about the courses you intend to take while studying off campus.
2. Discuss any additional goals not directly related to your primary academic goals.
3. Provide an academic justification for spending a full year off campus, explaining what you would be able to accomplish that could not be achieved in a single semester.
4. Include a statement demonstrating that you have considered what you anticipate might be particularly interesting as well as challenging about the proposed location(s) and how you are prepared to engage with the host communities. If you’re seeking to apply to two different programs during a full year off campus, justify why.  
5. Optional: Include special circumstances, either academic or personal, that you would like the Off-Campus Study Subcommittee of the IGE Advisory Abroad to take into account when considering your petition.