Frustrated by the lack of affordable college options at
home, American students are increasingly looking beyond our borders for ways to
get an education without jeopardizing their financial future. Universities in
Canada and even farther afield offer comparable quality at a lower cost -- but
you have to know where to look.
When you run the numbers, it's no wonder U.S. students are
looking abroad. Two-thirds of college seniors who graduated in 2011 had student
loan debt, with an average of $26,600 per borrower, according to the Project on
Student Debt. That represents a 5 percent increase from just a year earlier --
an annual rate of growth that has become standard in recent years.
The reason students need to borrow so much money? Soaring
tuition costs. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show that annual prices for
undergraduate tuition, room and board at public institutions rose 42 percent
to more than $13,600, and prices at private not-for-profit institutions rose 31
percent (after adjusting for inflation) to $36,300 for the period between
2000-01 and 2010-11.
From an academic standpoint, there are many high-quality
choices outside of the United States, at least judging from the QS World University Rankings, which rates hundreds of the top universities worldwide.
Elite U.S. and U.K. institutions dominate the top 10 on the latest QS list, but
numerous other foreign schools earn ratings that are very similar to American
schools in the top 50. (See slide show below to compare five top U.S. schools against international counterparts on cost).
Seeking education across
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
-- which compiles data on students studying at various countries worldwide -- shows
the U.K. as the top country of destination for U.S. students. (Those figures
include students who are participating in study abroad programs temporarily -- the
OECD doesn't have specific breakdowns as to how many students are permanently
enrolled in a foreign school as their "home" institution.)
According to the U.K.'s Higher
Education Statistics Agency,
the number of students from the United States at British higher education
institutions in 2011-12 was 16,335 -- a 5 percent increase from the previous
Evaluating the cost of a U.K. education is a bit tricky,
because fees are based on several factors, including the specific region where
you'll be studying, and whether you qualify for the less expensive "home" fee
or the higher "overseas" fee. Assuming you would be charged the overseas fee,
the cost can range from £3,500 to about £18,000 per year (about $5,400 to $27,800)
depending on the institution, the level of course and the type of course,
according to the U.K.
Council for International Student Affairs.
Heading north For many U.S. students, Canada has become an attractive option for a more
affordable education. In fact, Americans make up the biggest percentage of
foreign students in Canada. (OECD research shows Canada as the second most
popular educational destination for U.S. students.)
CollegeWeekLive, a website
that offers free online college fairs, has noticed rapidly growing interest in fairs
related to Canadian colleges. "We've had 10,500 among our student registrants from the U.S. say they
wanted to study in Canada in the last two years -- and these are those who
explicitly self-identified as interested in studying in Canada," says Martha Collins of CollegeWeekLive. "I suspect the true
number is greater."
A "Study in Canada" fair the site held in November 2012 attracted 4,388
student attendees, with 14 higher education institutions from Canada
participating. "Students and their parents are becoming more
cost-conscious about their investment in higher education, and attending
college in Canada provides a compelling combination of quality education, value
from an investment perspective, and a study abroad experience for all four years
that also happens to be relatively close to home," says Collins.
Things to consider Besides costs, there are some issues that U.S. students considering a
foreign school must think about. For one thing, options for financial aid will be
limited. At many schools, scholarship opportunities for foreign students are minimal
or non-existent. International schools do not participate in the U.S.
Department of Education's grant programs, so U.S. students would not be
able to obtain a Federal Pell Grant to get a degree at an
However, you can use funds from a 529 plan at many
international schools. To see which ones, visit the website for the Free Application
for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). On the "state" pull-down tab,
choose "Foreign Country" and you'll get a list of 441 schools.
Loans may also be available. Karen McCarthy, policy analyst
at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, says some
foreign institutions participate in the Federal Direct Loan Program, but you
should double-check with the specific school you're interested in because
schools must apply to be eligible to participate. (This information is often
found on the school's website.) McCarthy says it's always a good idea to
complete the FAFSA while you're deciding which school to attend, so your
information will be available, just in case you decide to attend an international
school that does participate in federal loan programs.
You also may not be able to use your U.S.-based medical
insurance in an international location. Many insurance companies offer special
policies just for international students, but of course this would be an
The bottom line While non-U.S. schools may indeed seem like a bargain compared to their
pricey American counterparts, the issue isn't as clear-cut as it may first
seem. For one thing, you want to factor all financial aspects into the equation
-- including the cost of living. Many Canadian and overseas urban centers will
be more expensive than the U.S. And, of course, travel costs will be involved,
especially if you plan to make frequent trips home.
You also want to be sure you are comparing schools that have
similar academic quality and other criteria. (See chart for some example
The best strategy: do your homework and be sure you are
well-informed about all financial (and other) considerations. Once you've
identified your target schools -- in the U.S. and elsewhere -- research housing
costs and other expenses, along with the academic quality and educational
opportunities. Find out what (if any) financial aid opportunities may be
available, and consider any other costs you may incur, such as premiums for a
new insurance policy and transportation costs.
Once you have gathered all of the essential information, you
can then make an educated and objective analysis as to which options may truly
be the best for you.
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