6 Ways It Pays to Go to Grad School Abroad

You'll pay less for a degree from overseas, and you still may be able to get U.S. financial aid.

By Tina Korbe

Recent graduates disheartened by their lack of prospects for a job or a seat in graduate school should perk up. At a time when applications to most U.S. grad schools seem to be increasing -- forcing acceptance rates down -- applying abroad could be a salvific option. That's not to say acceptance is automatic or costs are nonexistent, but consider these six compelling reasons to study overseas:

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The application process is streamlined -- and cheaper. If you're applying for master's or doctoral program in the U.S., you'll most likely have to take some kind of admissions test. Those tests can be expensive, ranging from $130 to $250. The Graduate Records Examination -- the standard admissions exam for grad schools -- costs $150. Add to that the price of subject tests -- and re-tests -- and this single component of the graduate-school application process can run you $300 or more. Schools overseas, by contrast, rarely require these exams.

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U.S. citizenship is an attractive quality to admissions officers overseas. Graduate schools abroad seek students from a variety of nations, just as U.S. universities seek students representing a variety of states. At Cambridge University, for example, students from outside the U.K. received 73.2% of all postgraduate offers of admission in 2006.

Tuition costs less. The Harvard University MBA Class of 2011 should budget $46,150 a year for tuition, whereas business graduate students at St. Andrews, in Scotland -- a university that, thanks to Prince William's attendance and a storied history, also enjoys a prestigious reputation worldwide -- will pay about half that, or just £13,300. Even at the steepest exchange rates, that's cheap compared with top U.S. universities.

And for the academic elite, renowned scholarships such as the Fulbright, Gates-Cambridge, Marshall and Rhodes offer unparalleled opportunities to study for free at some of the top institutions in the world.

Some foreign schools are eligible for U.S. financial aid. If you're planning to go to grad school abroad, you should still file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, because some overseas schools are eligible for Title IV aid. If the school does not have a Federal School Code, you can enter the code of a U.S.-based institution, then notify the foreign school once the FAFSA is processed so that the school can retrieve and review the application information.

Graduate programs abroad take less time to complete. By attending St. Andrews, Marshall Scholar Ben Hood was able to earn his doctorate in astrophysics in just three years. In the U.S., "in astronomy, it's not crazy at all to be looking at a seven-year degree," Hood says. The four years he saved earning a degree, he earned a salary instead.

Of course, your degree from overseas is not time- or cost-effective at all if, when you return, your degree is not recognized by employers. Some terminal-psychology degrees in other countries, for example, do not qualify students to practice in the U.S. So if you're thinking about going to grad school abroad, check with professional organizations -- such as the American Medical Association or the American Bar Association, for example -- to find out how international degrees are perceived by employers here.

Students gain invaluable international experience and tangible growth opportunities. Living abroad enables you to experience a culture more fully than you did during that six-week summer program you conquered as an undergraduate. And the money you save on tuition can fund more travel. Of course, there's no telling what will happen while you're overseas: Hood started dating his wife in Scotland -- and ended up proposing to her there, too.