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The World on a Shoestring: Foreign Study for Less

As American enrollment rises at foreign universities, college recruiters from around the globe continue to seek out qualified American students to fill quotas. If you’re looking to expand your horizons, meet new people, and experience new cultures, here’s what the landscape looks like, and how you can take advantage of study abroad programs without breaking the bank.

According to “Open Doors 2008,” a report released by the Institute of International Education, the number of Americans studying abroad has jumped 150 percent over the last decade. In 2006-2007 (the last year for which data was available) almost a quarter of a million Americans headed abroad to study–compared to fewer than 100,000 for 1996-1997.

While increased cross-cultural awareness among college-bound students has contributed to overseas enrollment, foreign recruiters are noticing another contributing factor. This fall, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling conference in Seattle hosted representatives from the University of Waikato in New Zealand, Seoul National University in South Korea, Jacobs University Bremen in Germany, and the University of Limerick in Ireland. Their goal: to fill university seats with qualified applicants.

The Benefits of Study Abroad Programs
If you’re interested in studying abroad, you may be wondering how foreign universities differ from colleges in the United States. One difference is a more focused approach to study. American universities emphasize a well-rounded education, which means that if you’re studying medicine, you may still have to suffer through a course on post-colonial literature. In contrast, foreign universities sometimes offer early specialization, allowing you to skip the coursework that doesn’t interest you. Sam Dresser, a freshman at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh, found his niche in logic, psychology, and introductory philosophy courses after reading Sartre and Nietzsche in high school. “My math and science grades were not so good,��� says Dresser, ���so I loved the idea of only studying what I’m interested in.”

While Dresser discovered his path, the Scottish university system still allows for exploration outside of his specialty. English Universities offer an even more specialized approach, generally requiring three years of coursework. If you already have an idea of what you’d like to study, English or Scottish universities might be an ideal choice for you.

Ivy League Prestige–Without the Tuition or Competition
In addition to a narrower academic track, many foreign schools offer international experience and training comparable to the American Ivy League at a significantly lower cost. At Scotland’s St. Andrews University, where enrollment of American students recently jumped to 1,230, up from less than 200 a decade ago, many students end up paying tuition comparable to out-of-state tuition at an American public university.

Although competition is tight for students of host nations, Americans often have an easier time landing seats at foreign universities. According to Stephen Magee, St Andrews’ vice principal, “Am I wrong to say I don’t care if they can’t get into Harvard?”

The Value of a Dollar
If you decide to study abroad, the weak dollar means you may have to consider your wallet. For an economical study-abroad experience, there are a few strategies to help you keep your costs down. This might mean considering places outside of Western Europe and the industrialized world. According to “Open Doors 2008,” American students are gravitating toward less expensive options.

During 2006-2007, the number of American’s studying in China stood at 11,064–an increase of by 20 percent over the previous year. Compare that to the 1995-96 academic year, when only 1,396 Americans chose China for study abroad programs. Asia at large saw an increase of 20 percent, while the number of Americans studying in Africa increased by 19 percent. For Middle Eastern and Latin American programs, the increase stood at 7 percent.

Keep It Short
Although many Americans have elected to go abroad for the full course of their degree programs, financial expediency might make it difficult for you to stay abroad a full four years. All the same, you can still enjoy a richly rewarding experience–at a fraction of the cost–by keeping your study abroad time short. According to “Open Doors 2008,” about 36 percent of Americans who study abroad go for only a semester, while 55 percent choose short-term programs. Short-term programs can range from a summer, to a January term, or any program from two to four eight weeks during the academic year. Short term programs serve the largest number of students studying abroad, including students of community colleges, or students with financial needs that prevent them from staying abroad for extended periods of time.

With foreign recruiters on the hunt, enrollment up among American experts, and economical options for study abroad gaining in popularity, you should have plenty of strategies to help you travel the world on a shoestring.

International Herald Tribune, “Study abroad flourishes, with China a hot spot”
Institute of International Education, “Open Doors 2008″ New York Times, “Going Off to College for Less (Passport Required)”

Publish date: January 5, 2009