For most American students, study abroad is a brief international adventure tucked into four long years of college. They hop a plane, spend a few exciting months absorbing a new culture and return home glowing about their life-changing semester, summer or year.
Some students, however, are taking it to the next level — enrolling in a foreign university and completing their entire degree abroad. The majority of students are drawn to English-speaking countries where they can easily study and make friends in their native language — the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada and Australia.
Earning a bachelor’s degree overseas can be a rewarding experience if you’re up to the challenge. Here are some things to consider:
Even with travel costs, college overseas can be a better bargain. The average price of tuition, room and board at a Canadian, Australian or British university is about $35,000-$40,000 per year, which is less than or equal to the cost of many private U.S. universities or out-of-state tuition at a public university. With the exception of Pell Grants, most federal financial aid can be used overseas.
Length of degree
Studying overseas may be cheaper simply because it’s quicker — in England, Ireland and Australia a bachelor’s degree takes 3 years. Students study only one field, chosen before they apply, and rarely take courses in other subjects. This in-depth focus can seem daunting for American students who expect to sample a broad range of courses before declaring a major, but convenient and efficient for others who are more certain of their academic interests.
On the other hand, universities in Scotland and most universities in Canada, with the exception of those in Quebec, offer a four-year curriculum.
Those flying overseas find themselves a very long way from family and friends when homesickness sets in. Talia Voglaru, an American studying at the University of British Columbia in Canada, knows firsthand how distance can pose a challenge.
“During those few lonely nights, it was much harder for me to cope knowing that I couldn’t simply drive home for the weekend,” Voglaru said.
On the upside, distance can offer students the opportunity for a “clean slate” and the excitement of making new friends, not to mention new travel opportunities.
Acclimating to a new culture can be both thrilling and frustrating. Bureaucratic hurdles (such as obtaining housing, work permits, health care and a bank account) can detract from the college experience.
In an increasingly globalized world, an international degree can stand out and impress employers. Many overseas universities have a high percentage of international students, so attendees have the opportunity to network with others from around the world.
Students with specific academic interests may also benefit from the chance to study in a particular region.
“I chose to study at the University of Melbourne because I have a keen interest in tropical medicine and infectious disease,” said Sally Higgins, an American undergraduate studying abroad. “Melbourne’s excellent microbiology and immunology program, coupled with Australia’s proximity to Southeast Asia, presented a great opportunity for pursuing this field.”
Overall, college abroad isn’t for everyone, but it can be a unique and valuable experience for the right kind of student. As Yvonne Watt, director of international admissions for the University of St. Andrews, explains, “The students we tend to get are the ones with a sense of adventure, looking further afield for a global view. They want to get a different perspective on the world. For some who aren’t quite ready for the big leap overseas, coming to study for semester or year-long study abroad program is a good alternative.”
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