Starting next year, sophomores will have the opportunity to study abroad during their spring semester, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said Wednesday.

Until now, only juniors have been permitted to study abroad for Yale credit. From now on, although students will still only be able to receive credit and financial aid abroad for a maximum of two semesters, they will have three semesters from which to choose. Administrators said the change was motivated largely by a desire to give students an opportunity to study abroad before their junior year, when most students in extracurricular organizations assume leadership positions and have less flexibility in choosing classes as they begin to complete majors.

Salovey said he hopes the change, which was approved by the faculty two weeks ago, will encourage more students to study in a different country.

“The idea is to continue an effort to lower barriers that discourage students to study abroad,” he said.

About 10 percent of Yale juniors studied abroad this year, while Brown University sent roughly 35 percent of juniors abroad this year and Princeton University sent about 30 percent of its junior class abroad for the semester, year or summer last year.

Barbara Rowe, director of International Educational and Fellowship Programs, said students at Yale have seemed hesitant to leave campus during their junior year for a number of reasons.

“We know there are some students for whom junior year is not a good time to study abroad because of curricular and extracurricular choices,” she said. “We were particularly concerned that this might be true for students in the sciences or who are pre-med. We wanted to create another option.”

Many leadership positions in campus organizations at Yale are held by juniors, which is often a deterrent for students to leave campus during that time, she said.

Rowe said the change was initially proposed to the Junior Year Abroad committee, which performed a survey of the directors of undergraduate studies of each academic department this year. The majority were in favor of the changes, she said.

Yale’s recent commitment to promoting cultural enrichment by increasing opportunities for students abroad was the impetus for the decision, Salovey said.

“An expression we sometimes use is … once you’ve had an international experience, the Blue Book will look different to you,” he said. “You won’t look at the Blue Book the same way again, meaning that the experience will be enriching and rewarding and enlightening, and may excite you about pursuing avenues that you hadn’t thought about before you went abroad.”

Rowe said students at Harvard and Princeton Universities already have the option of studying abroad during the spring term of their sophomore years. Though the announcement will likely result in more sophomores choosing to study abroad, Rowe said, she does not necessarily expect a rapid increase in participation.

“I don’t think it will be really dramatic,” she said. “It may affect only ten more students, who will now have this opportunity who wouldn’t normally have it, and that’s great.”

But Mike Lavigne ’09 said he thinks the policy change could soon result in a much larger influx of sophomores into study abroad programs.

“Studying abroad sophomore spring alleviates some of the conflict with extracurriculars and other commitments,” he said. “You want to be here junior year and take advantage of Yale faculty. It’s when a lot of people take huge responsibilities. There are definitely going to be a lot of sophomores that want to take advantage of it.”

During the 2005-’06 school year, 121 students studied abroad either for a semester or the whole year — an increase of 20 students from the previous year.