What are my options for attending college internationally?
Students have two options when considering international study: study abroad or full-time enrollment at an international college or university.
Students who attend a college or university in the U.S. can enroll in a short-term study abroad program offered by their school or by another college. Study-abroad programs are typically one or two semesters, lasting from three months to nine months. Students must make sure that their study-abroad program is approved by their home college, and that credits transfer and accumulate towards their degree. Students must apply to study-abroad programs, and some programs require applicants to have a minimum GPA to qualify. Students pay tuition for study-abroad programs, but often have to pay an administrative fee to their home school in order to remain in good standing while they’re away. [L1] [A2]
Enrollment in an International School: Students who are interested in studying abroad can also attend a foreign college or university as a full-time student in a degree program. Students are admitted as international students to the country of study. Full-time degree programs are typically three- to four years for an undergraduate degree and five- to six years for a graduate degree.
What factors should be considered when deciding which path to take for international study?
Language of Study:
Study-abroad programs are created with U.S. students in mind, so they are taught in English or are designed as language-immersion programs for those students who have prior years of language study.
In contrast, full-time degree programs outside of English-speaking countries are mostly taught in the native language. Some countries that offer undergraduate degrees with classes taught in English are the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, South Korea, and Taiwan. More countries offer some of their graduate degrees in English (i.e., Germany, France, and Switzerland).
When applying to international colleges and universities, students should consider language interests and proficiency as well as what countries would be the best match for them.
Many study-abroad programs are constructed with U.S. students in mind, and in some cases are even developed by the home schools rather than the hosting colleges.
In full-time international degree programs, the curriculum may not adhere to U.S. standards. That is not to say that international schools are inferior—they are not. They are simply structured differently. For example, in most European universities, the Bachelor programs follow a rigid curriculum with limited elective choices. They also expect you to select your major upon entrance or shortly after. In the U.S., colleges and universities give students more time to explore various academic specialties before choosing a major. U.S. students are also given more opportunities to take classes outside of their immediate major.
The exceptions are the American Universities in foreign cities. These schools (American University in Paris, Rome, Cairo, etc.) are based on an American-style education and are accredited by U.S. educational organizations. These schools offer U.S. students a slightly more traditional American educational experience, but in a foreign locale.
If your goal is to immerse yourself in another culture for several years, then a full-time degree as an international student may be ideal for you. Because relatively few students from the U.S. choose this path, you will be attending classes that are largely populated by local students and you will be likely spending most of your free time with them.
Study-abroad programs, however, are designed for U.S. students, and will likely enroll a large number of these students. Depending on your goals, this may be a good thing or not. When considering which international study path to take, think about whether complete cultural immersion through a full-time international program is right for you.
Travel is wonderful but can also be challenging. Ask yourself whether you are ready to leave behind the creature comforts of the U.S. and be far away from family and friends, especially when you’re considering a non-English speaking country. You should also understand what student life looks like at the international colleges you are investigating, because it may be very different than a U.S. school.
It is important to ask yourself whether you’ll feel too far from home and whether or not you’ll regret not having a traditional American college experience. Useful questions to ask programs include:
- Where do students live?
- Are there dorms?
- Is housing guaranteed and for how many years?
- Will I be offered a meal plan?
- Is there a robust U.S. ex-pat community on campus?
Study-abroad programs vary in cost. Programs can be quite expensive relative to their length of study. Some programs offer “inclusive packages,” which include living costs in those countries where the cost of living is high.
Getting a degree abroad, on the other hand, can be more affordable for U.S. students than getting a similar degree in the U.S. For example, being an international student in the U.K. will cost on average of $21,000 per year, and in Canada, it is $17,000 per year, and much less in most of Europe.
The majority of European schools charge either no tuition (Germany, Norway), or a relatively small fee for international students (France, Scandinavian countries, Netherlands), and some even subsidize the housing and cost of living. However, you must remember the hidden costs, such as cost of living if not included (housing, food, etc.), travel home, and the exchange rate, which might make some aspects of attending a college or university in a foreign country more expensive than initially thought.
In addition, fewer scholarships and less financial aid are available for American students studying full-time abroad.
Study-abroad advising is available on most college campuses. Advisors guide students through the study-abroad search and application process. Campus professionals have access to many resources and can have useful insights and suggestions on the process.
Applying to international colleges as a full-time student can be a bit daunting. You must research each country’s and each school’s application process. Some international schools accept the Common Application; however, others do not. Schools in Great Britain, for example, have prospective students apply through the University and College Admissions Service.
It is important to note that international schools often look at academic criteria for admissions (grades and standardized tests scores) as opposed to U.S. colleges that take a “holistic” approach to admissions (academic criteria plus extracurricular activities, essay, etc.). Some international schools (e.g., English, Scottish, and the American Schools in foreign countries) have admissions representatives based in the United States. Reach out to these resources to learn about the admissions process and ask to speak with American alumni from their programs to learn about the experience of attending college abroad.
Full-time Degree Overseas versus Study Abroad:
Full-time Degree Overseas: