International Student Orientation. Working in university admissions, this was always one of my favorite days of the academic year. The auditorium would buzz with anticipation as excited conversations in dozens of languages would reverberate off the walls. The students journeyed from every corner of the globe, and would arrive ready to start their college experience just like any other freshman—only they would do so while juggling a new culture, a foreign academic system and a second language.
This is a scene that is replicated in universities all over the US every fall. In the 2015-2016 school year, the Institute of International Education (IIE) reported that 1,043,839 international students studied at US universities. In comparison, only 313,415 US students studied abroad. Most of these students participated in short-term programs, with their time abroad generally equivalent to a semester or less. An even smaller number—around 46,500—pursue full degree programs. However, this number is on the rise.
With access to thousands of colleges and universities in the US, why would an American student decide to pursue higher education beyond our borders?
1. Cost of Tuition
Many countries in Europe and South America offer degrees at public universities for free or for a negligible cost—even to foreigners. Other countries, such as China, attract international students by offering tuition waivers and living stipends of thousands of dollars. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees in the US for the 2016–2017 school year was $33,480 at private colleges, $9,650 for state residents at public universities, and $24,930 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. After factoring in the additional costs such as housing, living expenses and books associated with attending university, students can save big by choosing to study abroad.
2. Job Prospects
It takes a unique personality to consider uprooting your life to complete a degree overseas—and this is recognized by employers. Completing a degree abroad translates into traits such as adaptability, tolerance, curiosity and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone. Depending on the country, the student may also gain knowledge of a second language, as well as an understanding of another culture. In the age of globalization, these traits are critical to corporations that are conducting business all over the world.
Many of the world’s best universities are located outside of the US. In the 2017 Times Higher Education World Ranking, 7 of the top 25 universities in the world are located abroad with five in the UK, one in Canada, one in Switzerland and one in Singapore.
4. Lack of Language Barriers
While many would argue that the opportunity to learn a new language would be an incentive to study abroad, it is not a requirement for US students who wish to do so. Almost 70% of students pursuing degrees abroad study in English-speaking countries. According to IIE, the UK is the largest recipient, followed by Canada. Additionally, countries in which English is not the official language offer degrees fully taught in English to attract international students. An example is Maastricht University in the Netherlands, in which almost all courses are taught in English and nearly half the student population is international.
One of the strongest arguments for studying abroad, whether for a semester or for an entire degree program, is the perspective and world view that is to be gained by working with and learning from individuals from another culture. Often the lessons learned outside of the classroom are just as valuable as those taught by an instructor. In a time when tolerance can seem in short supply, these experiences are critical. Aside from potential cost savings, increased job prospects, access to excellent global universities and the ease of studying in one’s native language, the opportunity to foster global awareness and cultural understanding is reason enough to consider looking beyond our borders to complete an academic degree.