Grad school abroad in 2019?
Here’s the factors you should consider.
Have you ever considered going to graduate school in another country? Here’s the low-down on why grad school abroad may or may not be a great fit for you.
Before you go any further, make sure you read our other articles on grad school. They’ll help you figure out when and if to go to graduate school.
If you’ve decided that it is indeed time for you to do a graduate degree, congrats! But should you be considering an international degree? Here’s all the important factors to consider when comparing international and domestic degrees.
1. Best reputation
Having the name of the best program in the business on your resume makes a huge difference. No employer is going to research the unknown school you attended to figure out the quality of your education. They’re going to go with the candidate whose education they know is cutting-edge.
So before you do anything else, find out what academic institutions are the best in the world for your area of study. Be aware that many U.S. resources will release “best schools” rankings that only consider U.S. schools. This is one of the reasons many Americans incorrectly believe that the best education is always available in the USA.
Find out why the top 5 or so are ranked highly, and which of these factors are of high priority to your career. For example, if you know you want to be an international aid nurse, then a nursing program with an international or community development focus might be your top pick, even if it’s not #1 in the rankings.
Also consider your personal well-being. If your social life circles around diversity and inclusion, check the student demographics. If long winters depress you, think twice about Canadian and Northern European schools.
American schools are notoriously expensive compared to those in just about every other country. Many students are able to pay international school fees out of pocket without loans. Given the massive American student debt crisis, loans are a bullet well worth dodging. (Watch for our upcoming post on grad school costs!)
The Golden Rules of Grad School dictate that you shall not pay for your education. This generally holds true internationally as well, with some important qualifications. Since grad programs are generally affordable in other countries, there are fewer mechanisms in place to enable students to pay for school. As such, you may find at foreign schools you get e.g. all fees waived, but no stipend to cover personal expenses. Local students likely work to offset these expenses. As a foreigner, you will likely be allowed to legally work on campus only. Under-the-table work opportunities vary widely from one country to the next. Not all foreign schools, even the most well-reputed ones, are approved for US student bank loans. Invest some time into thoroughly understanding what financial situation you’ll find yourself in.
International graduate programs may be shorter than those of American schools. This is particularly true for MBA programs; the standard in the USA is 2 years, while in Europe and Asia it is just one. The length of the program affects how many years you’ll be paying for fees and living expenses. Even more importantly, it affects how many years you’ll be out of the workforce. The lost income (and the interest it doesn’t generate between now and retirement) is by far the greatest monetary cost of each additional year of schooling.
One of the most important aspects of grad school is getting to know and work with the current and future leaders of the field. This is another reason why #1 is so important. You’ll develop personal relationships with the most widely respected academics and professionals in your field. And don’t forget to be nice to your classmates; within 5 years they’ll be in the position to help you get a job. Programs that foster strong classmate connections, support alumni networks, and help you get placed in your first job position give you a leg up in this regard. Networks—not applications–are how most great jobs happen.
5. Desired future location
The network of people you build in grad school will inevitably spread out. But most will tend to stay in the economic region where they’ve studied. Consequently, that’s the region where you’ll have the most network opportunities. And as I just mentioned, networking, not applying, it what gets the job. That’s why it’s smart to go to grad school in the world region you want to live in, or at least one you would be happy to live it. So if you really want to settle in the USA, Europe may not be the place for your degree program.
This isn’t to say that you’re sentenced to work in the country where you earned your degree. Rather, the opportunities to make a leap across the pond will be fewer and farther between, and you may initially have to compromise on your ideal to get your foot in the door. There’s also plenty of international organizations that will have you globetrotting, or maybe even getting assigned to an international post.
6. Orientation toward employment
As we’ve discussed in previous posts, the American education system is almost completely unfocused on developing employable skills in its students. Many European grad programs take a much more modern and practical approach, in which immersion in the industry is a significant portion of students’ education. Look for professional placements, internships, and first-job rates in the program descriptions. Take note, this is applicable to professional studies (e.g. Business Administration). Approaches to academic studies (e.g. Literature) tend to be, true to form, academic, on both sides of the pond.
7. Language of instruction
The most well-reputed programs tend to teach in English to accommodate the significant international student population. So if you’ve followed #1 above, you’ll likely have an English-language option. This might be a bit disappointing to you polyglots. If it is, dig around the Internet or ask the program coordinator about options to take courses in the local language. You’ll likely have to prove fluency in order to be eligible. Importantly, also ask if you’ll retain the option of switching into English-taught courses as needed. It might bruise your pride a bit, but this is a great option to have should you find your grades at risk in a particularly challenging course.
8. Degree rigor equivalency
Just because the degree carries the same name doesn’t mean the same amount of work went into earning it. For example, in Europe, Masters programs are quite challenging and rigorous, while PhDs are relatively quick add-ons. The in USA it’s the opposite: Master’s are pretty quick and easy, and PhDs are in for the long haul. In the end, a European PhD holder and an American PhD holder will be equally qualified. But Masters holders might find themselves caught off-guard. Your hard-earned European Masters will likely be underappreciated in the USA. And your American Masters could mean you’re in for some major catch-up work to get the most out of a European PhD program. Don’t let this be a deal-breaker. Just be aware of it and ready to adapt as needed.
9. Internationalism of your field of work
If your field of study has the word “international” in it, then studying outside of your home country is a two-for-one deal. You get a degree AND some relevant experience in cultural adaptation. The weight of this factor varies with the extent of your previous experience abroad, and how similar your study environment is to your future work environment. Plan to study International Business and never been abroad? A program in any developed country, and especially in an urban area, will add significant cred to your resume. Just got back from Peace Corps and plan to study International Development? You’ve already got all the international street cred you need. Of course, if you want to work for the European aid organizations, showing them you can actually live happily in Europe can only help you.
If the above list helps you identify a slam-dunk graduate program, huzzah! More than likely, however, you find yourself grappling with a toss-up of advantages and disadvantages. If that’s the case, it may be helpful to consider that the above are generally listed in order of importance (greatest to least). That means that whichever program is best reputed should seriously get your attention, while the internationalism of your field of work only warrants a bonus point or two. Of course, your unique circumstances may mean one factor has an outsized impact.
If you’d like our thoughts and input on your particular situation, please schedule a call with us! It’s totally free, and we won’t try to sell you stuff. We just like helping Peace Corps folks.