According to the Institute of International Education’s most recent data, more than 304,000 Americans attended college abroad for academic credit.
Of those students, 46,500 did not just participate in an exchange or study abroad program but instead worked towards earning degrees entirely from an international university.
From wanting to immerse themselves in a new language and culture to building an overseas resume, students are drawn to international education for a variety of reasons. But for many, the bottom line is the opportunity to receive a degree faster and for less.
Going to college abroad: big savings, little time
In 2011, Heather Geyer applied for a graduate program in Biodiversity and Conservation from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. As a STEM major (one of the most popular majors obtained by US students studying overseas), Geyer could have received funding from her university of choice in the form of grants and assistantships, but the breakdown was more revealing.
“I had done some light research comparing costs,” Geyer explains. “I did find that those programs whose costs were not covered [in the US] were comparable to what I would pay to complete the degree abroad… The difference, however, was that I obtained my degree in a year whereas most graduate degrees in the natural sciences (depending on whether it’s an MSc or a PhD) can take anywhere from 2 to 5+ years.”
As Geyer points out, many graduate degrees in Europe are actually shorter than in the US. For example, a graduate program in the UK is typically a one-year course but may range from as little as nine months to up to two years depending on the program.
Comparatively, it may take two to five years in the US to graduate. This means significantly fewer student loans taken out, less money spent on room and board, and less time outside the job market.
Even better, some countries are now fully funding education for qualified international students. Germany, where over 4,500 US students are enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs, covers the cost of tuition and offers classes in both English and German, making it appealing to just about any student willing to go to college in Europe.
Comparing costs of graduate programs
The UK is, according to the Institute of International Education, the most popular destination for US students — and it’s easy to see why. College tuition ranges between $14,900 to $19,380 (more for medical or laboratory degrees) for the program duration.
In comparison, a student in the US taking two years to earn their degree would pay $60,000, based on the $30,000 average yearly tuition cost of a graduate program at a public school.
Other specific graduate programs have an even more substantial impact. Medical school is a third of the price (roughly $60-90,000 for a six-year program) when studied at a college in Europe versus the United States, according to Student Doctor Network.
MBA programs, usually one of the most costly non-medical degree out there, can be obtained much more cheaply at schools in Central and South America. In Mexico, for example, the top business schools have tuition costs of only $20,000.
Funding an international education
Unless the student studies in a country that covers the entire cost of going to college abroad, funding international education can be a bit trickier than studying in the US. Luckily, there are many resources available to potential students.
Because of the low cost of a Master’s in Agricultural Studies from the University of Buenos Aires and the reduced cost of living, Sarah Brown was able to plan a year in advance to save up for the entire cost of her graduate program.
“Researching potential programs and tuition costs gave me a great idea of how much I would need to save,” Brown says.
“That’s why I honed in on Argentina. The low cost just made sense for my plans. It was awesome knowing I wouldn’t have to graduate with any loans, and that I got my degree from a top university in South America!”
Another option is to work while in college abroad. Many countries allow students to apply and receive work and study visas, enabling them to get a job while they are enrolled. This could be a big factor in paying off college costs as you go.
Public and private loans
Many international programs, including some medical schools, work with the United States on federal student loans. The U.S. Department of Education keeps a list that is updated quarterly, so it’s important to continue checking to see if your intended university is eligible.
Just as if you were studying in the States, you will have to fill out the FAFSA before the deadline. International graduate students are eligible to receive Direct Unsubsidized, Direct PLUS Loans, and Direct PLUS Loans for parents. The amount of the loan may vary but can go as high as $20,500 per year, typically enough to cover an international education.
Private loans are an alternative if you are unable to cover the tuition and living costs with federal assistance. Finding the best private student loan doesn’t have to be complicated or terribly costly if you know what features to look for.
Scholarships, grants, and other private funding
Finally, like undergraduate programs, it’s important to be on the lookout for any type of scholarship funding you can apply for.
While rare in the graduate world, there are fellowships and grants out there for the most worthy students. For example, the Fulbright Program has been awarding tuition money to some of the top minds willing to study overseas.
Other options are to find money within your workplace or a future work opportunity. While not specific to international study, many current businesses with an overseas presence such as Boeing (see more in this list by Business Insider) provide tuition assistance to help you go back to school.
The payoff of college abroad
Since the cost of tuition is so high in the United States, it’s no wonder that so many students are turning to international programs as a more affordable option. But outside the lowered tuition and reduced living expenses, there’s the desire to have the experience of a lifetime.
As Brown says, “Going abroad for my degree meant seeing the world in a whole new way. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
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