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Study Abroad: Navigating Your Way

Needless to say, we encourage IR majors to take the opportunity to study abroad for a semester or full-year--to increase your understanding of foreign cultures and to give you a more objective point of view on the United States. However, study abroad requires careful planning lest you find yourselves unable to get Penn credit for the courses you took, or discover that you are unable to complete their major requirements prior to their expected date of graduation. We therefore urge all IR majors or prospective majors who are planning to go abroad to consult at length with the IR office and the International Programs Office (3701 Chestnut Street, Suite 1W) well in advance of your date of departure.

Students should glean as much information as possible about the courses offered by the foreign universities they are considering, petition for Penn credit in advance where possible, and in any case plan with an advisor how you will complete their major requirements upon your return. Students do not earn IR credit simply because a given course was taken in an "international" setting---the subject matter must conform to that of an IR-approved course at Penn. Moreover, in almost every case, you will be trying to substitute a course taken overseas for a political science, history or economics course here at Penn. It is those departments, not the IR office, that must judge whether to give you credit for a given course. So bring home with you the syllabus, exams, and papers, and any other relevant information to support your petition for credit.

Getting credit for a course is generally a two step process. First each course must be approved by an academic department (political science, economics, history, sociology, etc.) for Penn credit, and assigned a Penn course number. After that is done, the IR Program will determine whether the course will count towards the IR major. Generally, departments will not preapprove courses for Penn credit, unless it is a course already in the OIP database. The IR Program, however, will pre-approve courses for major credit (contingent, of course, on you getting approval upon your return from the relevant academic department). So you should discuss your intended courses with an IR advisor prior to your departure. If you decide to change your course selection while abroad, you should email us the relevant information as soon as possible and seek prior Program approval.

Also note that the college allows you to transfer grades from study abroad only if the courses were taken through a Penn-approved Study Abroad Program---and all courses required for the major must be taken for a grade. Assuming Penn credit is received, IR majors may apply up to four (4) courses taken during study abroad for our requirements, and IR minors may apply one (1). When used in combination with transfer credits, a minimum of six course units of the major requirement must be done at Penn.

Refer to the Penn Abroad website for further information on application steps and requirements.

At Penn:

  • Attend a Penn Abroad 101 Session
  • Meet with the OIP and College Advisors for your area of study
  • Use XCAT to apply for Penn credit for courses taken abroad

While Abroad:

Please note, we do not allow seniors to spend any part of their senior year abroad.  The senior thesis seminar runs both semesters senior year, and your full participation is expected and required.