Higher Education

, Volume 75, Issue 1, pp 35–54 | Cite as

What shapes the intention to study abroad? An experimental approach

  • Knut Petzold
  • Petra Moog


In contrast to previous studies, this investigation aims to get deeper insights into the causes of the intention to study abroad by using an experimental approach. Although international experience is often considered as important, many students at German universities do not even consider abroad. Referring to the Theory of Rational Choice (RCT) and the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB), the intention to study abroad is shaped by student’s evaluation of expected benefits from studying abroad, resources and restrictions regarding its realization, and normative aspects. In a factorial survey experiment, hypothetical study abroad descriptions with varying attributes were presented to students of economics and engineering of a German university. The experimental design allows for more nuanced operationalizations and for diminished endogeneity biases through systematic variation and randomization. Thus, a more direct test of the assumptions about educational decision-making is possible. A comparison of the unbiased predictor weights clearly indicates that students prioritize conditions when considering study abroad. They seem to not ponder about beneficial outcomes of studying abroad, such as own personality development and being in a desired host country, as long as the realization of the stay is not substantially guaranteed by related foreign language skills, sufficient financing, and a supportive host university. Further facilitations through an exchange program and exchange in a group, as well as expectations of family and friends are of secondary importance.


Study abroad Intentions Educational decision-making Experiment Factorial survey Theory of planned behavior Rational choice theory 



The authors wish to thank the editors and three anonymous referees for their helpful comments and constructive remarks. This research was supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Germany [Grant Number 01PW11013].


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyCatholic University of Eichstätt-IngolstadtEichstättGermany
  2. 2.School of Economic DisciplinesUniversity of SiegenSiegenGermany

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