Going abroad for college
Pursuing your entire undergraduate degree abroad may sound like an extravagance reserved for the jet-setting upper-class, yet going to college in a foreign country can actually make excellent economic sense for the more cost-conscious prospective college students. As we write, there are 27,000 American students pursuing degrees abroad at a host of locations around the world. The U.K., Canada and France are the three most popular destinations, but many other countries including Brazil, Germany, and several Scandinavian nations also offer appealing educational options for American students.
Do I need to speak a foreign language?
The polyglot answer is nyet, non, and nein. Study abroad does not require speaking multiple languages or even being bilingual. Three-quarters of these students elect to study in English speaking countries but many non-English speaking countries, Germany, for example, now offer courses and even entire academic degree programs fully in English.
Tuition-free or reduced options
The idea of spending 50 grand per year is a foreign idea (pun intended) in many places around the world. German universities are completely state-funded and are 100% tuition-free. Brazil, Finland, and France do the same.
Not every nation is so benevolent with higher education services that you can attend sans tuition, but most countries at least have lower average tuition than the United States. The average tuition for international students studying in the U.K. is around 18k. Canada’s rates for U.S. students are in the same ballpark (or shall we say ice rink?), which while a bargain by American standards, is actually three times the rate for natives.
Can I still get loans?
Believe it or not, students wishing to complete four years at a foreign university may still be eligible for federal financial aid. While not every international post-secondary institution participates in U.S. federal loan programs, over 800 schools worldwide do. Roughly half of these 800 are German-based universities but locations also stretch to locales such as New Zealand, Lebanon, Thailand, The Dominican Republic, and Armenia.
Consider cost of living
In many cases, the cost of living while studying abroad will be similar to or less than the cost of living on a college campus in the States. However, there are exceptions. For example, American students studying in Australia and the U.K. would likely incur higher (non-tuition) expenses than they would staying closer to home. Some destination points will cost you a lot more. To give you an idea, in Norway’s capital city of Oslo, a can of soda will cost you the U.S. equivalent of $3.43. One can only imagine the cost of a meal plan.
Generally speaking, foreign universities assign more weight to the hard facts of an application—such as rigor of course load, GPA, and SAT scores—and place less emphasis on extracurricular involvement. So, while simultaneously heading the debate team, entering Ukrainian dance competitions, founding a non-profit, and lettering in three varsity sports is extremely impressive, don’t expect it to improve your admission prospects at Cambridge or Oxford, for example.
Earning your degree
Many foreign schools offer less structured learning time than American universities which means a greater degree of self-motivation and discipline will be involved from the jump. Many students going abroad will be expected to assume responsibility for their own learning, as well as navigate course requirements and exams, often without the aid of a syllabus or reading list. Of course, if you have the internal drive and independent mindedness to seek out an academic program thousands of miles from home, chances are you can adjust to the differences of a foreign university system.
In 1999, a number of European nations signed what was known as the “Bologna declaration,” which among other less interesting things, legitimized the 3-year bachelor’s degree. In the years since, additional nations have jumped aboard making this abbreviated option pretty standard. Other countries such as Australia and India are not part of the Bologna club but still offer 3-year full undergraduate programs. Students hailing from the U.S. do need to be careful when pursuing this option, however, as some American graduate schools will not admit holders of so-called Bologna degrees or will do so only conditionally.
CT’s bottom line
Traveling to a foreign land to pursue an undergraduate degree is not for everyone. Yet for adventurous, open-minded young people, the willingness to consider schools outside of American borders can open up intriguing academic possibilities at potential bargain prices.
College Transitions recently compiled a short list of top foreign universities for U.S. students. Selection was based on academic quality/reputation, affordability, availability of English language instruction, and the number of U.S. students in attendance. Please click the links below for further information:
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).