Living and studying abroad for an extended period of time can be an exciting endeavor. Deciding to pursue a degree at a foreign university, however, isn't all about travel and adventure. There are many advantages and disadvantages to getting a foreign degree, and students will need to weigh factors like admissions criteria, financial aid and employability in the U.S. Students, therefore, should carefully investigate a prospective school before deciding to pursue a degree abroad.
American universities generally have more stringent admissions criteria than their foreign counterparts, though this is not always the case. While the U.S. university system exercises a broad and holistic review of candidates, colleges outside the U.S. tend to narrow their criteria to quantifiable information like GPA's and test scores. Background information like extracurricular activities and leadership experience, while important to American admissions, are less considered abroad. Much of this difference continues in postgraduate education, including medical school. Acceptance rates to medical schools abroad, for example, are significantly higher than in the United States. So, students will often find an international school easier to get into, while their extracurricular achievements may go unnoticed.
Costs and Financial Aid
American universities are notoriously expensive, so there can be significant financial advantages to pursuing a degree abroad. Colleges in the United Kingdom, including top schools like Oxford and Cambridge, are often about half the price of an American University. While Oxford's tuition costs around $20,000 per year, Harvard's costs about $35,000 per year. The price difference is further exaggerated by the fact that a U.K. degree only takes three years to complete, while an American B.A. takes four. It should be noted, however, that many non-American universities, while cheaper overall, do not provide financial aid to international students. This is the case with Oxford, for example, so a student choosing between Oxford without aid and Harvard with aid may find Harvard the cheaper option.
Students hoping to pursue a degree in a non-anglophone country must closely weigh their options and the purpose of studying a foreign language. Students hoping to strengthen skills in a foreign language they do not know fluently might be better served by a study-abroad program at an American university. This is because many universities will not accept students who do not fluently speak the language of instruction. Note, however, that many non-English speaking countries utilize English as the language of instruction in their universities, so these schools may be an option. Students who need a language for future employment -- as diplomats, translators, or otherwise -- can pad their resume with strong language and international skills, which would make a foreign degree a net positive.
Employability at Home
Finally, a major consideration when weighing the advantages and disadvantages of a foreign university involves future employability. If a student wants to return to the United States after graduation, he or she must carefully consider whether a foreign degree will be recognized as equivalent or comparable to a U.S. degree. This will vary by country and even by university or degree program. Countries like the United Kingdom and India, for example, have three-year bachelor's degrees, and so U.S. employers sometimes fail to recognize them as comparable. Similar issues arise with one-year master's programs abroad, compared to two-year programs in the U.S. To know your degree's employability for sure, research employment statistics from a potential foreign school, and talk to possible employers about what degrees they will accept.
Kevin Wandrei has written extensively on higher education. His work has been published with Kaplan, Textbooks.com, and Shmoop, Inc., among others. He is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration at Cornell University.