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Paying for College

The Pros and Cons of Getting a Degree Abroad

Tuition may be cheaper, but other costs may offset the savings.


Katarina Rebello (pictured at left) is from Leesburg, Va., but she’s in her third year of undergraduate studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Rebello, studying international relations, is one of a growing number of U.S. students pursuing a degree in a foreign country. In the 2011–12 academic year, more than 46,500 U.S. students enrolled in degree programs abroad, up 5% from the previous year, reports the Institute of International Education.

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The adventure could be more economical than you think. “By and large, tuition is lower than what students encounter in the U.S.,” says Brian Whalen, CEO of the Forum on Education Abroad. Many European institutions let you finish your bachelor’s degree in three years, rather than four. Some countries, such as Germany, extend free tuition to international students. Compare options at

Consider other expenses, too, such as the cost of living. Inquire about support services for foreign students, and check for foreign universities that accept federal loans. Also, check a school’s accreditation, and consider the overall value of the degree—you’ll have to articulate to U.S. employers how the experience is a plus. You might consider a joint or dual-degree program that lets you split your study between a U.S. college and one overseas, and graduate with a degree that reflects your time at both.

Rebello says her tuition is roughly $27,000 a year. School expenses, combined with flights home and the relatively high cost of living in a small, medieval Scottish town bring the total to just above $50,000 per year, in line with many private schools in the U.S. Nevertheless, strong academics, world-renowned professors and a lively student body make St. Andrews “a steal,” she says.