National Student Exchange offers opportunity to study abroad within the U.S.

Grace Ekema

Studying abroad is a significant financial commitment, and adjusting to a different country can be daunting for some students.

Thanks to the National Student Exchange, students have the opportunity to study in a new place for a low price and get some of the same experiences studying abroad would offer.  

National Student Exchange, or NSE, is a program that provides students with the opportunity to attend another university at participating colleges in the United States, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

NSE began in 1968 with the intent to allow students the opportunity to understand things like identity, history and how differences fit into the idea of American culture. The program began with just three universities but has now expanded to exchanging 2,000 students a year and 120,000 students overall.

Allison Severson, Iowa State’s NSE assistant director, said a student can study at one of 180 colleges for either a semester, full year or a summer, but suggested a semester or year over going for a summer because it allows the student to experience the different culture and people at their host university.

“Students go for very specific reasons,” said Severson. “Say someone wants to study marine biology and they can’t do that at Iowa State University. They can go study at Florida International or New College of Florida or other West Coast schools that have that program.”

Another plus for the academic side of things is that NSE has helped students decide what’s next for them in their academic career.

“Students who have gone before haven’t known what they wanted to do after earning their degree,” Severson said. “I can think of students who decided what grad school they wanted to go to or it helped them decide that they wanted to go to grad school period.” 

Arial Aarness, junior in event management, studied in the Virgin Islands and had a positive experience in the United States territory. Aarness chose to study with NSE because studying abroad was too big of a change at the time, but she said she is grateful for the trip helping her discover some great friends. 

“It was closer to home. I had always thought about study abroad option, but I didn’t know if I wanted to go that far away and if I’d like being far away for that long of a time,” Aarness said. “It was my first option and now I’m going to study abroad because I loved it so much.”

“I met my best friends there,” Aarness said. “Everyone that goes on NSE has a similar view and wants to travel and explore.” 

Kate Hanson, senior in marketing and management, studied in Hawaii, and was surprised by all of the opportunities she didn’t expect to experience during her time with NSE. 

“It is a completely different culture,” Hanson said. “It’s different when you’re not outside looking in.”

In order to apply to participate in NSE, a student must have a minimum 2.5 GPA, have completed at least one academic term before applying and be in good academic standing with the university. 

After meeting those requirements, students must attend an informational session on NSE before reviewing their school options and finally applying. 

“The students would list about three schools they are willing to do their exchange with, and 99 percent of our students last year got their first choice school,” Severson said. “Students still list a couple schools because it is not guaranteed that they’ll get their first choice.” 

While finances can be an influence that stops students from participating in traveling or studying abroad, NSE schools all work together to allow students to pay the host school’s in-state tuition or continue paying Iowa State’s tuition. While choosing an option will be different for every student and their situation, the cost will be similar to what a student pays at Iowa State. 

“You also get to keep all of your financial aid and your grants and scholarships,” said Erin Kurdelmeyer, junior in agricultural business. 

This gives students the opportunity to take advantage of their financial aid and still participate with this program at a reasonable cost.

Students have the choice of looking at 180 different institutions that work with NSE. Students choose these schools for their academics, for an opportunity to study a major that Iowa State doesn’t offer or to attend a school that is in a unique place, like on an island or in a warmer climate.  

Kurdelmeyer studied in Hawaii and is grateful for all of the connections she made and other passions she has found.

“It’s a really good opportunity to go see the world for not that expensive of a price,” Kurdelmeyer said.

For more information on NSE, visit the Hixson-Lied Student Success Center for the information sessions or to talk to a NSE Ambassador. The information sessions are every day at 12:10 p.m. in 1080 Hixson-Lied Student Success Center, or visit Iowa State’s NSE page for access to registration dates and the application.