Advance Your Career: Should You Study Abroad?

Teh Eng Koon/AFP/Getty Images
Teh Eng Koon/AFP/Getty Images

Few things give your career a shot in the arm like adding some credentials. Whether it’s earning a professional certificate, going through a management or corporate training program, or earning an advanced degree (or another degree), increasing your education and skill set is an almost sure-fire way to get you noticed, and continue ascending the proverbial ladder.

But there are some considerable roadblocks in the way — even for those who have the drive and initiative to take on the task of earning a degree or certificate. Namely, education costs have grown to such heights that it can be prohibitive, even to those willing to sacrifice the time and effort.

Meanwhile, students abroad in several European countries, for example, are getting degrees for free. Sometimes, their country’s governments are actually paying them to go to college and further their educations. That’s unimaginable for most Americans — and yet, it exemplifies the different perspectives people around the world have toward higher education. In the United States, it’s increasingly looked at as a commodity; a good (degree) or service (education) that is to be bought and sold on an open market. In other countries, it’s viewed as an investment in society.

Either way, if you’re an American who’s looking to advance your skills and further your education, it may be a good time to think radically and enroll in a university or college abroad.

Tens of thousands are already doing so.

According to a 2013 brief from the Institute of International Education, “of the more than 46,500 U.S. students who pursue full degrees abroad, about 84 percent are enrolled in Bachelor’s or master’s degrees and 16 percent are pursuing doctoral degrees. The top fields for degree study by U.S. students abroad are the humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences.”

There are likely a myriad of reasons why U.S. students are seeking degrees abroad, but you’d have to assume cost is chief among them. Of course, there are also the cultural and international experiences that come along with studying abroad — both of which can help in the development of resume-boosting skills like foreign languages or international business experience.

Another potential perk of foreign degree programs? They’re often accelerated, at least in comparison to U.S. universities. Many bachelor’s degree programs in Europe can be completed in three years, as state-financed or subsidized institutions have an incentive to get students through these programs faster. Conversely, many American universities have an incentive to keep students on campus longer, to make more money in tuition and fees.

Just how much can a three-year program save you, all things considered? As much as $25,000, via the College Affordability Guide. Of course, three-year programs have their drawbacks as well, so it’s important to take that into consideration.

One other big thing to consider, which is a rather new development, is the reputation of a given school. For Americans, seeing a ‘brand-name’ college on a resume — think most major state universities, Ivy League schools, etc. — is a signal that someone’s education is fairly legit. Seeing some foreign school? It may not translate into immediate recognition from someone scanning a resume.

But that seems to be changing. In fact, American universities are being overtaken by schools from Europe and Asia. According to the most recent rankings of the top 200 worldwide universities, put together by Times Higher Education, the U.S. is home to only 63 of the top 200. The Huffington Post points out that the U.S. still owns the upper echelon of higher education institutions, with 14 of the top 20, but the writing is on the wall — foreign schools are catching up and offering a viable alternative to traditional U.S. universities.

So, for individuals who are looking to add a degree or certificate to their stockpile of credentials, earning a degree abroad is becoming a more attractive option. Still, it’s going to come down to personal preference, and seriously weighing your options. Obviously, a lot of people can’t pick up and head to Europe for a few years to study, especially if you have a family.

But for those who do have some flexibility, or that are still relatively young and unbound, looking abroad to give your career a boost is something you should, at the very least, look into.

Follow Sam on Twitter @SliceOfGinger

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