Deciding which country to pursue an undergraduate or graduate degree in isn’t as simple as spinning a globe and seeing where your finger lands. Experts recommend students take time to research multiple factors, including a country’s social and political climate.
“The whole student experience contributes to students’ success and happiness during the study program, not just the classroom experience,” says Pamela K. Barrett, CEO of Barton Carlyle, an international education management consultancy in the United Kingdom.
Here are items prospective international students should include on their checklist when contemplating where in the world to study:
- Schools offering specific fields of study.
- How welcoming a country is to international students.
- Most affordable degrees.
- Work opportunities.
Schools offering specific fields of study. Experts say students should research global universities offering the program of interest or those noted for a specific program.
“China and India produce the largest number of science, technology, engineering and math graduates in the world. Therefore, it is no surprise that the top-ranked engineering program in the world is Tsinghua University in Beijing,” says Joanna E. Cain, president and founder of Global Academic Consultants LLC.
For example, she says students choosing engineering should then narrow their interest – such as aerospace, mechanical, electrical or civil – to determine which programs to pursue.
Depending on the field of study, certain cities may be more optimal. For example, business majors might prefer London, Dubai, Tokyo or Beijing to immerse in a global business environment.
Catriona Jackson, chief executive of Universities Australia, an organization that represents nearly 40 universities, says the country offers study programs unique to Australia. Examples include marine science on the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef system in the world, or engineering and the applied use of autonomous technology in the country’s advanced mining sectors.
For prospective international students unsure of what to study, “More interdisciplinary programs or universities that allow you more flexibility to even change your major after you begin will be a better fit,” says Julia Gooding, founder of One Sky Education LLC, a boutique international education and student admissions consulting firm in Portland, Maine.
How welcoming a country is to international students. Experts say students should consider a country’s immigration policies and how it receives international students.
A major component of how welcoming a country is can be seen in the nation’s visa process, says Neil Kemp, an international higher education consultant and board member of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth, a U.K. Parliament-based nongovernmental organization. He previously served as director, Education UK at the British Council as well as the organization’s director in a number of countries.
Both the U.S. and U.K. have had a more restrictive approach to issuing visas to citizens from certain countries, Kemp says, which has resulted in sharp declines in international students. He says the number of Indian students seeking visas dropped sharply in the U.K. following the introduction of the restrictive policy in 2011.
Cain says her office has experienced a significant decline in students from Gulf Cooperation Council countries due to the current U.S. administration’s ban on travel to the U.S. from certain majority Muslim nations; students opted instead for schools in Canada, Australia and the U.K.
“Canada is known globally as being a safe, vibrant and welcoming country,” says Emily Kathen, a spokeswoman for Universities Canada, an organization that represents Canadian universities. In fall 2018, there were 219,000 full- and part-time international students from almost 200 countries at universities in Canada, Kathen says, noting that international students “enhance our classrooms, our communities and our country.”
Most affordable degrees. Another item that experts say to include on a checklist when comparing universities in different countries is the overall price of the academic programs available.
“There are several global universities that are a good financial bargain, and some of these programs do not assess higher tuition rates or higher semester fees for their international students,” Cain says.
“The cost of living and international tuition fees in Canada are generally lower than in other countries, such as the U.S., the U.K. and Australia,” Kathen says.
She says tuition fees for international students at Canadian universities vary depending on the program of study, city and province of the university as well as the level of study, adding, “some international graduate students, for example, pay the equivalent as domestic graduate students.”
As for scholarships, Cain says international students should look into organizations like Rotary International, UNESCO and OPEC. She says students can also search the U.S. government’s free online scholarship search tool called CareerOneStop.
Work opportunities. As they do their research, prospective international students should consider countries that allow them to work while they study and to remain in the country after graduation, experts say.
Kemp says international student numbers in Australia declined drastically when opportunities to work after graduation were withdrawn in 2008-2009 “and then rose rapidly again when the benefit was reestablished.”
Kathen says many Canadian university programs offer co-op placements, internships or other work-integrated opportunities “for students so they gain real-world experience in their field while attending school.”
To work in Canada after they graduate, international students must have a work permit; the period of time it is valid for depends on the length of their study program, though if the program is less than eight months, they aren’t eligible for the permit. The work experience graduates gain can help them qualify for permanent residence.
In Germany, most international students can work for as many as 120 full days or 240 half days a year while in school. These students can work after they graduate but are required to apply for a residence permit extension, which can extend their stay up to 18 months, during which time students can look for employment.
In New Zealand, full-time international students can work part time for up to 20 hours a week during academic terms and full time during scheduled holidays, says Sharon Cuzens, a spokeswoman for Universities New Zealand, an organization that represents the country’s eight universities. She says students who studied at the bachelor’s degree level or above are eligible for a post-study work visa for up to three years.
Ultimately, experts say, the decision to earn a degree overseas should not be rushed.
“When choosing a study abroad destination, students should be most focused on the purpose and goals they want to achieve, and understand that studying abroad is an investment that will likely pay off in lifelong dividends – so a longer-term cost-benefit analysis should be made whenever possible,” Gooding says.