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Slash Your College Tuition Bill By Studying Internationally

Northwestern MutualVoice Contributor •  October 13, 2014 | Your Finances

By Lisa Wirthman

This fall, along with the excitement of making plans for college applications, high school students and their parents are coming face to face with the reality of the astronomical cost of higher education. Even state universities are soaring: The prices for undergraduate tuition, room and board at public institutions rose 40 percent from 2002 to 2012, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Outside the United States, however, the cost of attending college can be more affordable, said Jill Welch, deputy executive director for Public Policy for NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

“There are students who are finding that an international education is not just an affordable option, depending on where they study, but that it can also add global competencies and give them more options for the job market later on,” she said.

In Canada, for example, the annual cost of tuition and fees for an international undergraduate student in the Bachelor of Arts program at McGill University in Montreal is approximately $16,000. Compare that to New York University, which charges close to $50,000 for comparable students.

For an even better rate, students can head to countries such as Germany and Norway, where most public university tuition is free, even to international students.

An increasing number of American students are finding ways to lower their college tuition bills through an international education. Of the 320,000 American students pursuing an education abroad for the academic years 2011-2012, about 46,500 students were enrolled in full academic degree programs—up 5 percent from the year before, reports the Institute of International Education (IIE). Another 273,000 U.S. students were enrolled in short-term study-abroad programs, according to the report.

In addition to the rising cost of higher education in the U.S., the escalating value of international experience in the labor market and increased marketing to American students are driving the growing interest in receiving an education abroad, according to the IIE.

“Students increasingly believe that they need to understand the world that they are part of,” said Welch.

More than two-thirds of U.S. students studying internationally pursue degrees in English-speaking countries, with the United Kingdom and Canada as their top two destinations. However, more students are starting to broaden their horizons.

China, for example, in 2012 saw the largest increase of U.S. degree students of any country in Asia, according to the IIE. It was the seventh largest destination for U.S. students pursuing full degrees overall, behind France, Germany, New Zealand and Australia.

If you’re considering an international education, here are some things to consider:

Start Early: It takes longer to research schools overseas and requirements for studying abroad. And students wanting to pursue an international education must apply for a student visa (NAFSA provides tips on obtaining a student visa). Also, make sure the school you plan to attend is accredited and offers the degree you want by checking its website. Be sure to understand the school’s application process and what resources are offered to international students, as well.

Explore the Americas: Students can increase the affordability of an international education by reducing travel costs. Latin America is a more cost-efficient destination than Europe, said Welch, thanks to better travel fares from the United States and a generally lower cost of living.

Go off the Beaten Track: Consider destinations outside Western Europe, particularly in developing countries. India and Ghana top the Abroad101 student-rated list of top budget-friendly countries for study abroad programs, and full-degree students can also benefit from the lower cost of living in these places.

Find Assistance: Although financial aid is more limited for international schools, some types of federal student aid are available for colleges and universities outside the United States. Visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid site for more information. Students can also take advantage of benefits offered by foreign programs competing for U.S. talent. For example, China offers competitive scholarships to international students, as do Australia and many countries in Western Europe, reports the IIE.

Be Resourceful: Two of the biggest expenses for students outside tuition are housing and food. Students can reduce their costs by preparing their own meals and exploring options for shared housing with locals who can help them adjust.

The international education experience teaches students about more than just academics, Welch said: “There’s no question that when you immerse yourself in a totally different culture, you’re more on your own, and you see your country and yourself through a totally different lens that leads to maturity.”

Lisa Wirthman writes about business, sustainability, public policy, and women’s issues. Her work has been published in The, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Fast Company, Investor’s Business Daily, the Denver Post and the Denver Business Journal.

Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on

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