A common issue that can make a huge difference in the quality of your program is the student-to-faculty ratio. Too many students can lead to safety issues; too few, and you may run into budget challenges (especially if the group leader is traveling for free). We asked the experts to offer their advice on finding the perfect balance.

Our three short-term study abroad experts each play a different role in developing international programs: Mayumi Nakamura, Interim Director of International Programs at Randolph-Macon College; Dr. Brandon Cromer, Biology professor at Augusta University; and Jenny Burkholder, a Study Tour Coordinator with 20 years’ experience at FTI.

Our Experts: Mayumi Nakamura, Dr. Brandon Cromer & Jenny Burkholder.

What is the optimal group size? Student/faculty ratio? 

Nakamura:  There is no magic number. You must consider all the factors: location, transportation in country, chaperone availability, on-site support from the provider, etc.

Cromer: My trips typically have 17-22 students with 20 being what I would call optimal.  For a group of that size, I would have a co-leader, making a 10:1 student/faculty ratio.  Our study abroad proposals are budgeted for a 10:1 ratio to pay for the group leader’s cost.

Burkholder: Based on my experience with educational groups and the myriad of things that can pop up during travel, my advice would be 1 faculty per 10 students, typically making an ideal student group size right around 20.  For the best pricing, I would say optimal group size is 40 if you have the faculty to escort a group of that size.  You’re taking up more of those coach seats, which lowers your overall cost. 

Key Factors to Consider
When Deciding on the Size of Your Faculty-led Group

  1. Location
  2. In-country transportation
  3. Number of chaperones
  4. On-site support
  5. Cost per student

What are the advantages/disadvantages of having co-leaders on a trip? 

Nakamura:  Should you have co-leaders? Definitely. No question. From the safety standpoint, you should not be taking students by yourself. If something happens to a student, you can’t choose between that student and the group. It depends on each of the factors mentioned above, but most ideally, there should be two leaders plus a chaperone or a provider that offers 24/7 on-site support. 

Cromer: Advantages? I think you should always have two group leaders.  Sometimes emergencies happen and the group may have to split up, so there should be a leader with each group.  For example, it is helpful when one group leader may have to take student(s) to a doctor or hospital and the other leader would be needed to stay with the rest of the group.  Also – true story – I had an incident in Peru where a student lost his passport and I had to fly with him to Lima while the other group leader stayed in Cusco with the other students.  Without a second group leader, I do not know how I would have handled that situation. Also, it’s just nice to have someone else there for support.

Disadvantages?  I have not had any bad experiences with co-leaders, but I could see potential personality clashes.

Burkholder: One key advantage is having a larger pool of interest to pull from.  It also gives you 2 leaders instead of one.  If you have a student who sprains an ankle, or falls ill, one can tend to the student while the other leads the group.  Teamwork makes the dream work, and that especially goes for co-leaders. 

The one disadvantage is the challenge of coming together to figure out the best, most balanced program – to make sure each subject is fully and equally covered.  Although, I have had two language professors lead together, as well as a professor and a study abroad coordinator, which eliminates that issue.  Neither option should be a problem for an experienced provider to handle.

Multiple Leaders for Short-Term Programs


  1. Safety
  2. Logistics
  3. Support
  4. Recruiting


  1. Potential personality clashes
  2. Potential planning issues if multi-discipline

We hope you enjoyed the third installment of our “Ask the Experts” series. If you missed the first two parts, take a look at:

Part 4 will discuss the pros & cons to multidisciplinary programs. Please subscribe to our blog to read more.