College Student's Guide to Going to School Outside of U.S.

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Published August 08, 2011

| FOXBusiness

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For college-bound kids hoping to get a little bit farther away from home than a couple of states over, pursuing a degree in another country could be an option worth exploring.

Rather than studying abroad for only a semester or two, some Americans are choosing to attend school full time overseas.  In addition to the more than 260,000 students who study abroad each year for academic credit at a U.S. college or university, more than 40,000 American students enrolled in higher education institutions outside of the U.S. for full degree programs, according to a forthcoming report which will be issued by the Institute of International Education later this summer. 

By choosing an international degree program, not only are you able to earn a degree, you have the opportunity to live and travel abroad as well, says Ashley Mikal, who is working on her masters in anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. In this last year I have met so many incredible people, including my professors and classmates, and Ive been able to travel around Europe, spending time at museums and historical landmarks that I otherwise would have only read about in books.

Before students pack their bags and get their passports squared away, experts advise there are some factors that should be considered before crossing the pond to get an education.

Personal considerations

When deciding to go to school abroad, students should ask themselves the same questions as they would if they were looking at schools in the U.S., says Josh Irons, director of product marketing at StudyAbroad.com: do you want to study in an urban or rural environment? Do you want a large or small school? Is there any religious affiliation?

As a student narrows down their choices they should look at the application process, says Irons.  In the UK for instance, AP [advanced placement] exams are a major entry requirement because they are more closely aligned with the types of entry exams a UK student must take.

In some programs, students may be expected to learn on a more independent basis, says Mikal, and could receive a sizeable reading list, be expected to read everything, attend lectures  and write a paper at the end of the term that counts for the entire grade.

Everything is done on your own, says Mikal. For some this works, for others it is a big adjustment.

Do your research

Students should always verify that a school is accredited regardless of the country they plan to study in, says Irons. A student should consider length of degree, cost, language of instruction and degree types offered.

Students also have to do their due diligence in educating themselves about the countries and the cultures that they will encounter, says Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education. He suggests students talk to alumni or people that you know who have completed a degree internationally. 

Thats as important for an American student going to the London School of Economics or to the Sorbonne [in Paris] as it is at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, he says. It really pays to talk to someone whos done it or is there doing it so you know exactly what to expect because there is no one size fits all.

After students determine what university to attend, they should verify that theyre going to have some level of support from the host institution to help navigate the move, advises Dr. Brian Whalen, president and CEO of the Forum of Education Abroad.

The support services are very important and some universities actually have representatives here in the United States and they can meet with students to provide some support from here in the United States through their branch office, says Whalen. That can be very helpful for students and also for parents who might have questions and concerns and want somebody whos located nearby whom they can call upon to help out.

Cost

The majority of international degree programs take less time to complete than standard four-year American universities, which can be cost efficient in terms of tuition in the long run, according to Irons.

Many countries average tuition is less than that of the US, he says. The caveat here is that the weakness of the U.S. dollar has made some places that were traditionally bargains not as cost effective as they used to be.

While the currency exchange is definitely something to consider, as well as other amenities like room and board and travel expenses, Mikal found it less expensive to pursue a masters degree abroad because she completed her program in one year instead of two.

While there are few scholarships available for U.S. students, because of the difference in tuition, it still ends up being an affordable decision, says Mikal. Additionally, you receive free healthcare and there are many student run events and free opportunities as well.

As far as U.S. federal financial aid goes, there is a lot of debate concerning new financial aid regulations and how foreign institutions relate and accept the processing of aid for American students going to school abroad, says Whalen.

That is something for the student to ask about upfront, to understand the policies that the individual universities have and that may determine whether or not they apply and what kind of

financing they might be able to obtain, says Whalen.

Differences in education

Attending a university in a foreign country can be a great learning experience for students, but it can also serve as a reality check of the differences between the American and foreign education systems. Goodman points out that American students tend not to be prepared to deal with other countries lack of grade inflation.

There is a different grading standard--probably the hardest thing to understand about grading abroad is that very few people get As, he says. The average grade abroad is probably a C and thats perfectly fine. In a job interview, you may have to do some explaining about that.

The experts suggest students find out if the field of study or degree that they are pursuing is transferrable to other parts of the world before committing to a degree program. Whalen suggests finding out what alumni who have completed the program are doing career wise and if that degree is widely accepted.

They will have to weigh the cost benefit of that, whether being overseas and pursuing that degree for a period of time takes them out of the loop of the traditional way students proceed from graduation from getting perhaps an internship during the summers here, getting their first job and perhaps going on to graduate school, says Whalen. It will be a different path for sure, but the student needs to consider how they will proceed through that path themselves.

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