Studying abroad is becoming more and more popular—not merely in the traditional sense, with a term or a summer spent at another school, but applying to schools outside the US for the entirety of your degree. Applying to a foreign school can be a challenge, but there are also many potential benefits. Here’s a look at the process of applying to a school abroad.
WHY STUDY ABROAD?
When you’re from a country with plenty of excellent schools within its borders, you may wonder why anyone would go through the hassle of applying to a foreign school. But even with the myriad education options here, there are many appealing features of studying outside the United States.
One of the clearest benefits is financial. Even with the higher tuition fees international students pay, and the cost of a student visa, attending a foreign school is often substantially cheaper than studying in the United States, particularly if you’re comparing American private or out-of-state colleges to a college abroad. Studying abroad can also be a great “deal” for postgraduate programs, such as a master’s or professional degree.
Another advantage is time—undergraduate degrees in the UK, Canada, and the EU typically take only three years to complete, meaning you’ll finish early. Master’s programs often have a similar time advantage, with a master’s in the UK taking a single calendar year, rather than two academic years with summers off, to complete.
Finally, studying at a foreign school can give you a broader perspective and open doors for you all over the world. Living in a foreign country, making friends with people from wildly different backgrounds than your own, and forging professional connections abroad can lead to opportunities and experiences you may never have even considered.
Sounds great, right? But wait…
SHOULD I STUDY ABROAD?
Before you start filling out that application, there are a few things to remember, even beyond the obvious extra paperwork an international move requires. Most vital to keep in mind is the substantial difference in the academic structure of a foreign degree. Undergraduate programs in the UK, EU, Canada and Australia are much more focused on a single subject than US degrees—instead of applying to a school, then choosing your major once you’ve arrived, you choose your course of study when you make your application. Taking electives and minoring in a subject are also uncommon, sometimes impossible. If you’re not quite sure what you want to study in college, a foreign school may not be the right choice for you.
Another key difference is campus life. With a few exceptions, undergraduate students outside the US have a much less campus-focused experience. Students typically live in dorms (or “student halls,” as they’re called) for one year maximum, with many going straight to an off-campus apartment their first year. While most schools do offer recreational sports, “big games” and school spirit culture are also far less common at foreign schools. In the absence of a close-knit campus culture, many students find they have to be self-starters to make friends and find a place for themselves at their school. If a traditional campus experience is important to you, consider sticking to American institutions.
Finally, and perhaps relatedly, there’s the culture shock factor. Transitioning from high school to college can be daunting enough, let alone moving to a foreign country, where you may never have even visited before. This can be doubly daunting if you’re looking at schools in countries where you’re not a native speaker of the local language—even if the degree is offered in English, the world around you will be speaking something else. While immersing yourself in another country and culture can be exciting, it also has the potential to be lonely. Only you can know if going to school abroad sounds like an exciting adventure, or simply intimidating and overwhelming.
If you’re considering applying to school abroad, be sure to research the specific schools you’re interested in, and see if you can speak to some current students or faculty about their experiences before you take the plunge. If everything still sounds good to you, good luck, and bon voyage!
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