Studying Abroad May Be Cheaper Than Going to School in The U.S.

Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on July 22, 2015 at 10:33 am
Studying Abroad May Be Cheaper Than Going to School in The U.S.

With the average cost of tuition at a private college over $31,000, it’s not surprising that students and parents are looking for cheaper ways to get a four-year degree.

One way is to get a bachelor’s degree abroad. A handful of countries, including Germany, Finland and Norway, offer international students a free ride, while countries such as Canada, Australia, Korea and the U.K. are home to schools that charge a fraction of what a stateside school will cost.  “You can definitely save money compared to a private non-profit college,” says Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president and publisher of  “Even with the cost of transportation, the tuition rates at some foreign institutions are much lower.”

Consider this: According to the College Board, the average tuition for private colleges during the 2014-2015 school year was $31,231. In-state residents at public colleges paid $9,139, while out-of-state students paid $22,958. Meanwhile, a year at the University of Amsterdam costs around EUR 12,000, or $10,700, while a year at McGill University in Quebec, a highly ranked Canadian school, will set you back around $15,700.

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As of 2012, the Institute of International Education estimated that there were 46,500 American students studying abroad, a small number compared to the roughly 21 million that attend U.S universities. 84% percent of those students are enrolled in a Bachelors or Master degree programs, while 16% are pursuing doctoral degrees. Humanities, social sciences and physical sciences are the top fields for students studying internationally, says the Institute of International Education.

Degree programs typically shorter outside U.S.

What makes an international education cheaper is, in part, the fact that degrees take three years instead of four. That’s largely because degree programs are more focused from the start, as opposed to in the U.S., where college is also used as a rite of passage and important social experience for many adolescents.

“In the rest of the world, by and large, you come in knowing what major you are focused on and what your course of study will be,” says Craig Meister, an independent admissions consultant and owner of Admissions Intel in Stevenson, MD. “In the U.S., you are much more encouraged to experiment with your core curriculum.” Meister notes that students should have a degree of certainty in terms of what they want to study if they’re considering an international school. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you have to start all over again if you change your mind.

Although you can study in most countries around the world, Meister says it makes sense to keep your school search centered on ones located in developed regions such as Western Europe, Canada and Australia – and increasingly, in East Asia. “First world countries have a longer history, and therefore the education system is highly developed,” says Meister. According to the Institute of International Education’s report, 72 percent of U.S. students that go abroad study in Anglophone countries.

College abroad does have costs

Going to school outside the U.S. may save you money when compared to a U.S.-based private college or university, but it’s not the right fit for everyone. Your education may be cheaper – or even free – but you still need money for books, housing, transportation, food and other living expenses. Depending on the school you choose, you may not be able to get Federal Student Aid. Of the schools that do accept it, they typically only accept loans – not grants and other forms of free money. If a school accepts Federal Student Loans, Kantrowitz says, it will carry the Federal School code.

What’s more, if you pursue certain fields abroad, there’s no guarantee the degree will easily transfer to the U.S. For instance, you may need additional course work, certifications or licenses to practice in your field outside of the country you studied in. Kantrowitz points to engineering, nursing and other medical degrees as areas of study that may require you to take a bridge course that could be as short as a semester or as long as a year to get up to speed with the U.S. system.

While cost is a huge motivator in choosing where to earn a degree, Hans Hanson, owner of Total College Advisory in Fairfield County, CT, says if that’s your sole motivation, it may not be worth the money you save. He points to local in-state schools and community colleges as a cheaper alternative right in your back yard. “There’s lots of value in studying abroad –  it’s just not driven by the cost,” says Hanson.


Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo is a freelance journalist hailing out of Long Island, New York. She has also written for,,,, Business Insider, Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal.

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