Pros and Cons to Pursuing a Degree at an International College?

There are thousands of universities around the world that offer courses and programs in English—colleges in English-speaking countries (U.K., Australia, Canada) may have their entire course catalog in English.  If interested, you can choose to study abroad for a summer, semester, year, or obtain a foreign degree. However, many US students are unaware that (1) they can attend almost any college or university in the world and (2) they can receive financial aid from Sallie Mae via Governmental Educational Loans in many of these foreign schools.[1]  

If you are interested in pursuing a whole degree at a foreign college, I’ve written up a list of benefits and detriments that can come with making that step.

Pros:

  • No Loss of Respect for your Degree.  Some foreign Universities are as respected by employers as their American counterparts (e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, École Normale Supérieure, Universität Freiburg). 
  • Lower Competition.  The battle for spots in America’s leading institutions is fierce and deadly.  Conversely, international students competing for positions abroad are far less numerous.  This is not to say that acceptance is assured, but you would likely be competing against fewer other students.
  • Networking Opportunities. If you are interested in a particular area of work or in working with a foreign company, studying abroad under a famous professional in your field or graduating from a university in the location you wish to work in can provide important networking opportunities. 
  • Lower Tuition Fees. Few universities charge their students as much as the U.S. colleges do. And many national governments offer significant subsidies and scholarships to students, regardless of national origin. According to the website for the Universität Freiburg (a reputable German institution), tuition one semester as an undergraduate only costs $200![3]

  • Lower Living and Transportation Costs.  Asian, African, or very large countries can sometimes run significantly cheaper in general living and transportation costs.
  • International Experience.  The world is going global, particularly in the areas of Business, Social Sciences, the Arts, and Government-based Studies.  Experience and references from time spent abroad can significantly improve your resume.[4]  Add in a struggling domestic economy,  and you might even be interested in an international job later. 
  • Foreign Language Acquisition

Foreign languages pay out big rewards in the salary arena. Research has suggested that employees fluent in a second language early approximately 2% more money than those with only one.  This may not seem like a lot upfront, but it can be as much as $70,000 by the time you retire.[5] That would be a new car and a trip to the island of your dreams!  

  • Traveling Opportunities

In addition to all of the professional benefits, college may be the last chance in a while that you have to travel.  Time-consuming jobs, relationships, children, financial difficulties—a lot of things hinder travel the older you get.  If you think that might apply to you, consider globe-trotting in college instead.

 

Cons:

  • Potential Loss of Respect for your Degree.  Some Universities are not considered “equal” by American (or international) employers (e.g. unaccredited institutions). 
  • Less Recognition Impact. Some employers or peer professionals may not automatically recognize the title and ranking of a foreign university. This lowers your negotiating power.   
  • Networking Opportunity Loss.  Many college students make their earliest connections in their career field at college. They use professors for job recommendations and suggestions. Other students may know someone who knows someone. If you are looking for a localized job in the States, studying abroad may cost you these connections.
  • Higher Living and Transportation Costs.  Living within the United States can be expensive, but it reaches epic proportions in some countries.  European, highly developed, or island nations can be particularly costly.    
  • Out-Of-Pocket Expenses.  If you attend a university on the FAFSA school code list, you can often get college loans to cover housing, book, transportation, and living fees.  If the university is not on that list (as many international universities aren’t), you may have to cover those fees on your own.  Paying for the flights, apartments, food, insurance, luggage, and any additional trips home starts adding up. 
  • Harder to Get a Job for the Duration.  If you do have to cover out of pocket costs, it is important to note that it may be more difficult to get a job while studying abroad.  You won’t have the same contacts, you may not be fluent in the language, and your references will mean less.

 Generally, I like to tell students that, if they were accepted into Harvard,  international programs probably aren’t a good alternative. But if you are at the state or small private college level, then there are several compatible international universities that may better serve your needs.

 Choosing the right international college requires the same level of research and contemplation as selecting a domestic school.  You need to research living and transportation costs.[6]  Think about where you want to work and the types of things future employers are going to look for. Deeply consider whether or not the pros outweigh the cons in your situation.

~~~~~~~~~~

[1] “FAFSA School Code List for Foreign Schools” (2014). Student Ramblings. http://studentsramblings.weebly.com/fafsa-school-code-list.html (accessed June 18, 2014).

[2] Students Ramblings (website), studentsramblings.weebly.com.   Student Ramblings (blog), ramblingstudents.wordpress.com.

[3] “Matriculation Information for International Students at the University of Freiburg in Winter Semester 2014/15.” Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. http://www.studium.uni-freiburg.de/documents/immatrikulation/InfoImmatriculation-en.pdf (accessed June 18, 2014).

[4] I have listed number of tips on how to integrate your study abroad experience into your cover letters and Résumés via my article: “Studying Abroad a Résumé Builder” (2014). Student Ramblings, http://wp.me/p3TFwK-5z.

[5] Susie Poppick, “Want to Boost Your Salary? Try Learning German” (June 4, 2014). Time.comhttp://tiny.cc/135nhx (accessed June 18, 2014).

[6] There are two particularly helpful websites.  “Expatisan: Cost of Living Index.” http://www.expatistan.com/cost-of-living/comparison/berlin/new-york-city?currency=USD (Accessed June 18, 2014).  “Numbeo: Cost of Living Comparison.” http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/comparison.jsp (Accessed June 18, 2014).

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