Earn a Degree Overseas

Get a first-rate education for less than the price of many U.S. private schools.

Adelaide Waldrop had never visited Scotland when she added the University of St. Andrews to her mix of college choices. Intrigued by the idea of studying in Great Britain, she zeroed in on St. Andrews for its small size and outstanding academics. A trip to Scotland during her senior year of high school sealed the deal. "The university and town are both incredibly rich with history," says Waldrop, of Silver Spring, Md. "I immediately knew I'd found the school for me."

Why send your kid to college across the pond when there are plenty of good choices at home? Think savings. Schools that rank among the top universities in the world, according to the QS World University Rankings, cost as little as half the price of private institutions in the U.S., says Doug Thompson, of the Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling. Plus, in many countries, qualified students can earn a degree in three years instead of four, saving a year's worth of expenses. Keep in mind, though, that the value will fluctuate along with exchange rates. For example, Canadian schools are no longer the extraordinary bargain they once were, in part because the Canadian dollar is now on par with the U.S. dollar.

Costs aren't the only consideration. Americans who attend college abroad have a better shot at an internship overseas than their counterparts back home, giving them a leg up on an international career. They also have an edge with employers in this country, says Thompson: "Students are a lot more worldly having lived abroad. They can use it as a selling point."

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Brennan Walsh, now in his third year at University College Cork, in Ireland, expects to complete his undergraduate degree this year and to stay on for a fourth year for a master's. His family has been paying a total of about $30,000 a year for him to attend -- more than the amount domestic students pay for the same program but about $20,000 less than the total annual expenses at Boston College, near Walsh's Providence, R.I., home. (The steep tuition hikes that have caused an uproar in Europe do not affect U.S. students, who already pay a premium.) Waldrop's family pays a total of $32,000 a year for her to attend St. Andrews, about two-thirds of the sticker price of the U.S. colleges she also considered. Both Walsh and Waldrop travel home several times a year, adding airfare to the price.

No financial aid. Most countries give little or no need-based assistance to international students, and merit scholarships are rare. To help with the cost, your student may apply for Federal Direct loans as well as Grad PLUS loans, both of which may be used overseas.

As for language, some non-English-speaking countries offer degree programs in English. But most American students head to English-speaking countries or to countries where English is widely spoken, says Jim Miller, president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Before signing on to this idea, check out how the program suits your student's interests and learning style. Many schools use the university system, in which students choose a college in a particular discipline and study that field almost exclusively. "A student who dislikes math can select a degree program that ensures he will never have to take another math test," says Caroline Crowley, coordinator of international student recruitment at University College Cork (see details on colleges, costs and programs).

Now a second-year student, Waldrop will graduate the year St. Andrews celebrates its 600th anniversary. She calls her Scottish sojourn "the best and most important decision I have made in my life."

Jane Bennett Clark
Senior Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
The late Jane Bennett Clark, who passed away in March 2017, covered all facets of retirement and wrote a bimonthly column that took a fresh, sometimes provocative look at ways to approach life after a career. She also oversaw the annual Kiplinger rankings for best values in public and private colleges and universities and spearheaded the annual "Best Cities" feature. Clark graduated from Northwestern University.