While the primary focus of your graduate school search should be on the benefits of the specific graduate degree to your career and educational goals, there are benefits to getting your degree abroad which might influence your ultimate decision on where to go.
Whether it is to improve your language skills, work with a specific professor, pay lower tuition fees, or finish in a shorter period of time, there are many reasons for pursuing a degree outside of the United States.
Why pursue a graduate degree abroad?
Opportunity to work with specific professors and on certain research projects
If there is a particular researcher or project abroad that piques your interest, it's worth looking into grad programs at that particular university.
Furthermore, if your research interests are specific to a place outside of the United States, living and obtaining a degree in that place may offer a deeper understanding of your research object. There's no substitute for actual experience on the ground in your chosen area of study.
If it is difficult to find graduate programs in the States in your desired field, it may be worthwhile to look at schools abroad. Ben Gross, a U.S. student who received a Masters in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford in England, says, "With a serious lack of large or well-funded 'Peace Studies' departments in the United States, there was little choice but to seek out a place were politics can be thought of as something other than self-interest."
If your research involves working with primary source documents outside of the States, pursuing a degree abroad may be of tremendous value and convenience. You may find it easier to take up residence in your country of interest, enrolling as a student at a local university with the appropriate faculty, research focus, and resources. Many schools have special library collections, such as the University of Edinburgh's where you may access medieval and Middle Eastern manuscripts, as well as papers from the Scottish Enlightenment.
If you choose to get your degree in the States, you may apply for funding to travel to another country for research, but you may be limited by time. You may also have difficulty obtaining high-quality copies or scans of older, frail documents and accessing the primary source materials again after you have returned home.
Similarly, if your particular research interest is intrinsically linked to a certain location, studying in that location will afford you much more ready access to people, sites, or materials with direct linkages to your field. "If what you are studying has a somewhat geographic focus, it is well worth it to be learning at the site," says one U.S. student who received a masters in Development Management and Public Policy from the Georgetown University in Washington, DC and the Universidad Nacional San Martín in Argentina, "Studying in the area adds a depth to your studies that cannot be gained through books and academic journals."
One of the great advantages of pursuing a degree abroad is learning new approaches to your field. According to University of Bradford alum Ben Gross, "Studying internationally certainly broadens the borders of any field, since culture and the political climate of any unfamiliar context provides a valuable comparison for what is familiar."
Some countries, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, offer one-year masters programs. Doctoral programs are often just an additional three to four years. Even if the currency of the country in which you hope to study is stronger than the U.S. dollar, you might save money by studying in that country because you finish your degree much faster. According to Janette Hendrix, a U.S. student who received a Masters in Comparative Literature from the University of Edinburgh, "In the United States, masters degree programs usually last two years and can cost upwards of $20,000 a year. I found it both cheaper and less time consuming to study in the United Kingdom, enabling me to come out of grad school with less overall debt and enter the job market more quickly."
Graduate schools abroad are often a fraction of the cost of universities in the States. Although high exchange rates may be a deterrent for students interested in pursuing a graduate degree abroad in some countries, other countries offer low tuition rates, or don't charge tuition fees at all. For example, programs in Spain are about $2,000 a year and programs in Sweden are free. While the Swedish government plans to charge non-European Economic Area students beginning in 2011, tuition still may be more affordable than most U.S. schools.
Many countries, like the United Kingdom, offer free national healthcare to non-residents if they are students. This means you don't have to worry about getting a private insurance plan. Learn more about the health care options in your host country by calling the nearest embassy or visiting the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
Wikipedia also maintains useful country overviews detailing healthcare systems, such as this one on Japan.
Most universities abroad have fewer application requirements than U.S. schools. For example, most graduate schools in the United Kingdom do not require any standardized tests, like the GRE. Evaluation is usually based on your transcripts, letters of recommendation, and research proposal or statement of purpose. Furthermore, there are no application fees or official submission deadlines at most British graduate schools. Application response times also tend to be much faster than U.S. schools.
If you pursue a degree abroad, you will have the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new country and culture—discovering diverse ways of perceiving values, education, human relationships, government, and communication. "The cultural difference is probably the most difficult and most interesting part of studying abroad," notes a U.S. student who studied Political Science at Seoul National University in South Korea. "There are language, social, and environment issues that need to be accustomed to when you initially arrive, but once you adjust, it really opens you to a whole new perspective in life and of the world." You may learn how to ride your bike on the left side of the road or take off your shoes before entering someone's home. Viewed in isolation these bits of knowledge may seem irrelevant, but taken together, their cumulative effect represents a valuable opportunity to understand another culture's worldview. Adapting to new ways of living takes some adjusting, but it is one of the most enriching aspects of studying abroad
Similarly, you may also discover that approaches to education and scholarship vary by country, leading you to rethink past studies from alternate angles and to tackle new topics with a wider array of analytical skills. Greg Allen-Pickett, a U.S. student who obtained a Masters in Cultural Studies at the Universidad de Cuenca in Ecuador, says, "Studying sustainable development from the Ecuadorian perspective was enlightening and has made me a better practitioner." Understanding your field from another viewpoint may assist you not only in school, but also at the work place.
Graduate programs abroad often attract students from all over the world. Interacting with such a diverse pool of peers makes for especially interesting class discussion and collaboration. You will have the opportunity to communicate with people from various cultural backgrounds who may challenge your views and help you understand the world from multiple perspectives.
According to Nicole Merrill, a U.S. student who received a Masters in Culture, Communication, and Globalization from Aalboorg University in Denmark, since "my graduate degree took place in an international setting, I developed my cross cultural communication skills daily, while working with my classmates who were from other countries." These cross cultural communication skills are valuable in almost every field of study and work.
If you study in a non-English speaking country, you will have the opportunity to learn a new language or improve your existing foreign language skills. If you are concerned about taking classes in a foreign language, note that countries all over the world offer both masters and doctorate programs in English.
Even if you study in an English-speaking country, you will come across new accents, dialects, and vocabulary. "When I first arrived in Edinburgh, I had a hard time understanding my elderly neighbor who spoke with a thick traditional Scottish accent," recalls Melissa Andrada, a U.S. student who received a Masters in Cultural Studies from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, "Our initial conversations were limited to the weather and Holyrood Park." You might be surprised by how difficult it is to understand people who speak the same language as you, but over time you learn to adjust to new ways of speaking English.
Being immersed in a new linguistic environment is intimidating, but speaking another language and understanding various dialects of English will enable you to communicate more effectively with people from other places and cultures.
One of the best parts about studying abroad is having the opportunity to travel, intern, work, and do research in other cities and countries. Travel is often school- or work-related, and fieldwork is frequently conducted in a completely different country from the location of the studies. "During my degree, I lived in Denmark (where my host institution was) my first year," says Nicole Merrill, "then Thailand for an internship, followed by living in Germany to complete my thesis in my last term. The degree program encouraged international experience and exposure." Studying in multiple countries offers an even richer graduate school experience, enabling you to think from varied perspectives and adapt to a wide variety of cultural settings.
If your intent is to live permanently in your host country, getting a degree there is one way you may find work and visa opportunities. Your chances for finding work are much greater if you network with faculty or professionals in your field. In addition, some countries such as the United Kingdom offer Post-Study Work Visas upon completion of your graduate program, thus making it much easier to obtain employment and residency.
Be aware that some countries explicitly forbid foreign students from working or changing residency status at the conclusion of their studies. It's always wise to research the specific immigration laws of your target destination.
Going to graduate school and living abroad are both exceptionally transformative experiences. There are many benefits of pursuing a graduate degree abroad as well as challenges, but remember the focus should be on the merits of the specific degree rather than the excitement of going abroad. When you can combine the two experiences in a way that matches your career, educational, and life goals, you have found a good balance.
Also, be sure to visit your prospective universities' websites.