Studying abroad has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl.
But when I began to research how to fit a semester overseas into my four-year degree, my hopes felt like they would have to stay just that — a dream.
That was because the process of planning which classes will transfer from abroad back to UCLA is a labyrinth that students are expected to navigate with little information. The University of California Education Abroad Program offers students in the UC system the opportunity to study at another campus abroad while taking classes that theoretically transfer smoothly back for UC credit. However, this claim is more complicated than it seems and only applies to classes being taken as GEs.
Put this confusion on top of preparing to live in another country, and applying to a dream can feel like a nightmare.
Students must plan their overall programs with the study abroad office, but department faculty hold the authority to approve classes for credit, which means no class is guaranteed to count toward a major or minor – even if it’s through a UC program.
But unbeknownst to many UCLA students, there’s a centralized starting point – and it comes in the form of a database compiled from years of credit transfer data.
The UCLA-UCEAP Credit Abroad database has neatly organized information on classes that have actually counted for credit in the past – and UCLA’s UCEAP office should be actively advertising it to students. At the moment, it’s not a lack of information about study abroad credit transfer that’s holding students back – instead, it’s the barrage of disjointed possibilities. Unfortunately, UCLA seems to enjoy undermarketing its resources at the cost of students who want to see the world.
But changing that is just a matter of making it known to students.
Mauricio Cobian, associate director of UCEAP, said the UCLA Registrar’s office teamed up with UCEAP about two years ago to create a database consisting of all past abroad programs and classes UCLA students have successfully transferred back for credit.
“Essentially, what happened here is the UCLA registrars shared a bunch of the DARS degree auto-report data with UCEAP to put together a catalog that a student can use to explore programs where students had (received credit) in that major, minor or for GE credit,” Cobian said. “They plugged it into a system and we have about four years worth of data here.”
About 1,264 UCLA students go on UCEAP programs each year, according to Cobian. Each student must take a minimum of two classes. So at the very least, the UCLA-UCEAP database can account for around 2,400 classes taken each year – a goldmine for students trying to figure out the abroad planning process.
Unfortunately, it remains buried.
Mackenzi Greene, a third-year communication student who recently returned from studying in Florence, Italy, said she has struggled with the process of gaining abroad credits and had no idea such a database existed, even after meeting with her counselor.
“It’s all very convoluted, and I feel like I don’t even really know where to start,” Greene said. “It’s actually very weird when you think about it. Like, how are we supposed to get credit?”
Greene isn’t alone in her confusion.
Cobian said little to no communication occurs between department heads and the UCEAP office, and if departments choose not to share the database with students, it’s beyond UCEAP’s purview.
In order to get major or minor credit, students must petition each class within its respective department. Every department has its own specific procedures and requirements to get classes approved, which can create unnecessary headaches for students trying to petition. Many petitions can only be started once the student has access to the course’s syllabus, content and assignments – information usually available once it is too late to switch classes.
As such, students are left to risk paying for an education abroad that results in time, money and credits lost once they return to campus.
Juan Espinoza, a Student Affairs officer and undergraduate advisor for UCLA’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese, said he tries to work with students individually to determine study abroad courses together.
However, like Greene, he too was unaware of UCEAP’s database, which seems more efficient than individual approval processes.
“I have not seen it,” Espinoza said. “That’s a really good tool that I hope exists somewhere, that way it will make students’ lives easier.”
The good news is that tool does exist – but not without some caveats.
Cobian said there is hesitation about promoting the database because UCEAP cannot promise the information it provides will hold true for every class and every department. This could create problems for students who plan exclusively according to the database’s information.
Of course, publicizing the database could be confusing, especially if students forego meeting face-to-face with department advisors. But even if there isn’t a full guarantee, the ability of students to make informed decisions obviously trumps the status quo of searching for answers in the dark. And it’s nearly impossible to make the process more confusing than it currently is.
UCLA’s UCEAP and department offices need to work harder – and together – to benefit Bruins trying to study abroad. Their task should be easy; they’ve already created the tools.
All they need to do is point their students in the right direction.
Studying abroad is a unique and eye-opening opportunity for students. And they shouldn’t be denied the chance because advisors are keeping helpful resources close to their chests.