There was a time when the self-confident undergraduate took a semester or two abroad to taste an unfamiliar culture and dip a toe into the waters of higher education on a foreign shore. Today, tasting is timid stuff. While graduate programs have long attracted international students, undergraduates are seizing upon the vast opportunities to enroll in foreign colleges for a complete bachelor’s degree. The number of options to do so is growing by the year.
The benefits of a thoroughly international education in the age of globalization are conspicuous. But the game-changer is that college abroad can save parents tens of lakhs in college fees. In many countries, including Turkey, Thailand, Brazil, Iceland and some in continental Europe, college is either free or virtually so, with tuition fees less than a couple thousand dollars. Icing on the cake: It’s possible to obtain financial aid, both need- and merit-based, from universities abroad, as well as government aid from the home country.
A bachelor’s abroad isn’t for everybody. Students must be prepared to immerse themselves in the customs of an unfamiliar habitat far from home. It’s an endeavour for the intensely curious and resourceful, who can adapt to systems that do grading, testing and instruction quite differently. Forget intercollegiate sports, frats and clubs. Even partying is not the same — less binge drinking for example — and campus life, when there is any, isn’t as cosy. But the rewards are great, say graduates and educators, and recognized by employers seeking go-getters.
The British Isles have catered to overseas students for, quite literally, centuries, and to masses of Americans since the day Bill Clinton “read” at Oxford in the ’60s. Of course, if you don’t have a Rhodes scholarship as Mr. Clinton did, studying in Britain can be pricey. A knuckleball for many teenagers, and this goes for much of Europe and beyond: Applicants must pick a major and stick to it. So from the get-go you have to know what you want to study. You apply not just to a given university, but to a specific degree program or college within it. Scotland is a wee bit different. Undergraduate programs last four years, and allow students to switch majors midstream.
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Irish universities roll out the red carpet, too. International students are even assigned advisers to help bridge gaps. A 2019 survey of 14,412 international students found they were happiest on the Emerald Isle, appreciative of the community atmosphere, support structures for foreigners and vibrant student life. Trinity College Dublin, the alma mater of Beckett and Swift, is highest ranked of Irish institutions and so most desirable.
The amazing perk of German’s public universities is their price tag, which is “Free”. The rationale for this incredibly generous offer to non-tax paying foreign nationals is itself an incentive to study in Germany. With its slumped demographics, Germany wants highly educated people to keep its world-class economy chugging when Germans are too few to do so themselves.
Germany, like most of Europe, is a newcomer to the bachelor’s degree, part of an overhaul of the traditional Universität that was implemented, at first ungladly, at the European Union’s behest. But now Europeans have the drill down, and more English-taught undergraduate programs crop up every year.
Command of a country’s lingua franca opens the door to hundreds more “bilingual bachelors,” taught in the native language and English. With advanced German and high school A’s, one could win admission to the top-ranked Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität München (L.M.U. Munich) or to Heidelberg University, as well as Humboldt University in Berlin.
Europe’s public universities in Norway, France and Austria, they are largely free to anyone from anywhere in the world. Plus, health care is often fully covered and housing aid available. In a globalized world, the Netherlands and the Nordics want to bolster their knowledge economies with the world’s brightest, as well as attract international research funding. Foreign students also fuel local economies, whether they pay tuition or not. According to the statistics, half of foreign students remain after graduation.
The same language caveat goes for studies in Spain, where several hundred bilingual courses are listed, along with classes for polishing up your Español. The University of Lille in France and the University of Liège in Belgium offer bilingual B.A.s, but you might want to record lectures for later review, as the French comes to you fast and furious.
Most European programs require foreign students to take at least one introductory class in the native tongue, and if English isn’t your native tongue, you have to pass a proficiency test. But in general, the application processes are even easier than those in Britain.
Turkish, Dutch, Danish and Polish universities offer a palette of majors for Anglophones. Poland’s picturesque student cities of Cracow and Wroclaw are now on the international radar, the newest hot spots among foreign students. On the Continent, undergraduates are more on their own than in the Anglo-Saxon world, both on and off campus. Foreign students can feel a bit lost, especially at first. Some European programs tend to stress theory in a big way, which can throw hands-on types. In many countries, student housing is an option for one year, but not always beyond that. Continental Europe public universities are notoriously tough to navigate, however this problem can be solved using the help of experienced counsellor.
Academies Down Under are a magnet for international students, not least because their Foreign Ministry doles out plentiful scholarships. That’s critical, because the average cost of an academic year is comparatively pricey.
Australian National University (ranked 22nd in the world by QS World University Rankings), the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney all carry the imprimatur of first-rate centers of research and learning. At the University of Queensland, undergraduates can study marine sciences at field stations on the Great Barrier Reef in disciplines like physical and molecular science, engineering, ecology, nature conservation and global change science. And internationals rave about the robust campus life, beaches and cosmopolitan cities.