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Advice / Career Paths / Training & Development

Should You Study Abroad for Grad School?

If you’re comparing graduate school programs, you’re likely evaluating each university’s curriculum, professors, and alumni network. But you’re probably also looking at the logistics: you want to study in a city you like, and you certainly don’t want to go completely broke paying for tuition.

So many American students—myself included—are finding that studying abroad for grad school is an appealing option. Foreign programs can be cheaper and shorter, plus, there’s the obvious benefit of getting to live in an amazing place.

But it has its downsides too, and it’s certainly not for everyone. From someone who’s done it, here’s the good (and the bad) of taking this road less traveled:

The Good

1. It’s Cheaper

Grad school is expensive. Really expensive. But by going abroad, you can save not only money, but time, too.

My program in the U.K. was 12 months long, with three of them spent writing my thesis at home (for free!). A typical MA program in the States would be two years and more than double the cost. Plus, I paid absolutely nothing for application fees and was still eligible for American financial aid. Yes, I spent money for my degree, but way, way less than I would have spent on a similar program in the U.S.

2. You Get to Travel

I wrote a paper on 20th century conflict in Northern Ireland for one course in my program, an MA focusing on international conflict and security. But instead of sitting in a library to do research, I flew to Belfast, poked around primary sources in the Linen Hall Library and traveled to the countryside where I could take in the essence of the conflict first-hand.

Later that year, I hopped a plane to Berlin, where I got to see Stasi prisons and museums that explained post-WWII Germany in depth. The ability to experience the issues I was studying for myself was a priceless addition to my degree.

3. You’ll Stand Out in a Crowd

Many undergrad students study abroad, but doing a master’s program and internship in another country is rare. When it comes time to find a job, having a foreign degree can make you an attractive candidate to organizations that want a culturally aware, diversified workforce—especially in fields like international business, international relations, or communications.

4. It’s Fun

Let’s face it: You’re not always going to have an excuse to make friends, explore, and learn in another country. Seeing what life is like in another place is an incredibly fun and enriching experience, and you’ll meet people you never otherwise would have. I wouldn’t trade my MA experience for the world (no pun intended), and not only because of the education I got, but because of the places and people I got to know.

The Bad

1. “You Went to Where?”

You might be going to a great university or a really reputable program abroad, but many people in the States won’t have heard of it. Unless you’re Oxford-bound, it can be frustrating to come home, tell people where you went to graduate school, and be met with blank stares.

2. There’s an Adjustment Period

I almost failed my first essay in grad school. The structure of the content, the process of conducting research, and the way you format a paper is completely different in the U.K.than it is in the U.S. Those differences can be even more extreme in a program that isn’t in English. Adjusting to the academics of a completely new system can be a tough—and time-consuming—process.

3. It’s Not About You

At a foreign university, the support systems in place for students probably won’t be tailored to your nationality. The career office, potential internships, or academic advice might not be relevant or available to you, as a non-citizen with different experience, qualifications, and career options. You need to make sure you’re regularly connecting with your tutors, professors, and career offices so that they understand your experience and goals.

4. You Can’t Take it With You

While studying abroad, you might intern, make professional contacts, and develop a network. But once you leave the country, this network can quickly dissolve—and it most likely won’t help you get a job back home. Most graduate programs have active career centers and alumni networks, but if they’re based in another country, they’re much less useful.

If you come back to the States temporarily but hope to find work back where you went to school, the challenges of communication from another country can add more obstacles to the already stressful job search.

We’d love to hear from you! Have you thought about—or attended—graduate school in another country? What was your experience, and what advice do you have for others considering studying abroad?

Photo courtesy of Tim Morris.