Published October 5, 2017
If you’re a young American currently plotting your escape from the homeland, earning a degree from an overseas university might be your ticket to a life outside the United States. What used to be considered a cultural foray for either the financially privileged or academically gifted, studying abroad is more attainable than ever before. As the price of American higher education (whether it’s public or private) continues to rise, earning a non-U.S. degree is an increasingly popular and cost-effective option. According to U.S. News & World Report, in the past 20 years, the cost of higher education in the United States has outpaced inflation at a “significant rate” for all institution options: Public in-state or out-of-state as well as private. American fees can run from roughly $10,000 to nearly $50,000, per academic year, depending on your school choice. And that’s a shocking price tag compared to what non-American students pay, if they pay tuition at all.
So, it’s no surprise that there’s been a rise in American students earning degrees outside of the U.S., particularly when they can do so for free in countries like Norway and Germany. In fact, the increase of American students pursuing tuition-free, German degrees has been so high it’s caused the Baden-Würrtemberg region to start charging non-EU/EEA students.
Even with tuition costs in the United Kingdom higher for Americans than European students, Andrew Moffat, international PR and media manager for the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, says prospective students still find the tuition “attractive” when compared to out-of-state institutions; and with U.S. students representing 7% of the overall student population, the university opened a North American office to help recruitment efforts.
Twenty-five-year-old Briana Pegado, from Washington D.C., found studying in Scotland a more cost-effective option compared to her Ivy League preferences.
“It is one of the best choices I have ever made,” she said of studying at Edinburgh, one of the U.K’s 24 world-class, research-intensive universities. “My degree costs a third of the price of an Ivy League university, and I could experience the world more cheaply, live outside of my home country and still study in my native language, all for a fraction of the price. It was a no-brainer.”
It should be noted that Pegado earned a Scottish Master’s of Arts, an undergraduate degree offered by the Ancient Universities of Scotland, which can be three years for a general degree or four years for an Honours degree and includes the writing of a dissertation. The Master’s of Arts undergraduate degree is also offered by the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin, which is added value for the cost of tuition and can be most impressive to U.S. employers. Typical U.K. undergraduate and European programs are only three years, which also reduces the tuition costs compared to a U.S. degree.
If the option of studying in Europe seems appealing to you, don’t let language concerns dash your hopes. There are nearly 3,000 English-Taught Bachelor Programs (ETBs) throughout the continent; that number triples for master programs taught in English. The Netherlands has the most English-taught programs than any other country in mainland Europe coupled with relatively low-cost tuition rates for Americans. If you’d rather not contend with a language barrier outside of the classroom, attending university in English-speaking countries might be a better option. The ability to earn a master’s degree in a year also sees Americans venturing aboard. Although some European and U.K. programs still require a two-year postgraduate study, the lack of standardized tests for admissions is more than appealing for some and contributes to the savings.
For 27-year-old Emily Hamm from Durham, North Carolina, it was the combined benefits of an easier admissions process as well as cheaper tuition costs that led her to apply to Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia for a two-year Master of Sexology program. When she could only find two American universities that offered a similar course, she expanded her search to Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, and Canada before deciding on Australia.
“I didn’t like how the U.S. universities required standardized test scores, like the GRE, as a part of the application, “ she said. “Although for this specific program I am only saving about $10,000 (USD). With the program in Australia, I would also be on a student visa and could still legally work which was not the same in other foreign countries.”
Americans studying in Australia are allowed to work up to 40 hours and students in the U.K. under a Tier 4 student visa can work up to 20 hours during semesters and full-time during university breaks. The ability to work in Europe differs per individual country.
Still, even with the benefits of studying abroad, it can be overwhelming for prospective college students to leave the nest never mind the country.
So, here are five additional benefits that can help you decide if earning a degree outside the United States might just be right for you.
1. You can use federal student loans to pay for international tuition. If you know you’ll be using federal student loans to pay for your degree, you might be surprised to learn you can apply the loan to select international programs. Most international institutions will accept a federal student loan from the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program. Sure, there will be the obvious added expense of traveling to your country of choice and back to the U.S. for holiday breaks and after studying, but that added expense can be included when determining how much to borrow. Plus, depending on where you decided to earn your degree, the money saved on tuition can still make your overall college costs lower.
2. You can travel the world, one long weekend at a time. It’s obvious that earning a degree outside of the United States can make traveling easier, but it truly is eye-opening to learn how cheap traveling becomes once you’re in the U.K. or mainland Europe. With advance booking, flying between European countries can cost pocket change with airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet and train travel. Living in Europe also cuts down the travel time to countries in Africa by nearly half. Studying in Australia makes the Pacific more reachable. Studying abroad can give a whole new meaning to weekend getaway.
3. By getting global, you become more Bankable. International study, particularly an undergraduate degree, makes your resume stand out to recruiters and increases your employability. It also conveys that you are not afraid of a challenge, can take the initiative and break out of your comfort zone. Experiencing and adjusting to a different education, grading system, and culture can also demonstrate that you will be a flexible employee.
4. You’re gaining real world experience. Although some international universities, particularly in the U.K. have social programs like societies and Fresher’s Week, most will not have the same social aspect that American college life offers such as Greek life or collegiate sports. Focus is more on the coursework, and much like a job setting, students are expected to be more accountable for their individual studies, with less check-in, and are more independent than their American counterparts. Instead of frequent homework or quizzes, international coursework may consist of one or two presentations, exams, or essays for grading assessment. Relationships with professors and program directors tend to be much more formal.
5. Your social capital becomes diversified.
The personal growth you experience by moving to a different country changes you exponentially. Dealing with the bureaucracy of a country’s immigration, health, education, and social system forces you to be much more self-reliant and independent. You begin to see the world, and even your own country, with a different perspective; this is especially true if language immersion is a factor. Your friends and tastes become multicultural and diverse, and you may decide on an international career. Most importantly, you’ll come away from the experience with a confidence that is hard to gain elsewhere. Your life’s trajectory can be altered in ways you’d never imagine and could never happen if you decide to take a more traditional route.