Planning for College in the COVID-19 Era: Go Abroad

If you have high school-aged children, you are probably worried about how to pay for college.  With the COVID-19 market volatility, you may be extra concerned as your investments have tanked at the same time US university prices continue to be high.

A creative way to approach this conundrum is to look at international universities.  According to the most recent Institute of International Education data, about 53,000 US students are completing their degrees abroad (most of these are for graduate programs.)  Many US families haven’t realized that this is a possibility for undergraduate programs.

As a current US college degree student recently said to me, “Doing my degree in Germany is so much better for me than doing a degree back in the US. I get to immerse myself in German culture and learn the language. I am studying physics, and I am getting a top education here.  Plus, I have friends from all over the world. If I studied in the US, I would have to pay a lot more tuition, and I would also spend more on studying abroad for a shorter time. Study abroad is part of my daily life now!” (For reference, this student pays about $3,500/year in tuition.)

As a leader in international education for 20+ years, I have seen four major benefits for choosing to do a degree abroad:

  1. Cost savings – Many colleges and universities abroad have reasonable tuition rates for international students. (This can be anywhere from $0 – $20K/year, depending upon where you look.)  Keep in mind that most European and Oceania undergraduate programs are completed in 3 years, so the cost savings are even higher due to their expedited approach to undergraduate degrees. Federal student loans (FAFSA) and 529 Savings Plans can be used in about 400 universities abroad.  Also, VA Benefits can be used with certain universities abroad.
  1. Top-notch education – There are many highly regarded and ranked universities abroad. In the US we tend to look at US News and World Reports Rankings, but this metric is primarily for US universities.  To see how US and international universities rank, look at the Times Higher Education and/or QS rankings. Also, many degrees are in English across the world, so it isn’t necessary to have a high competency in a foreign language.  However, if your student does excel at languages, doing a degree program in that foreign language may also be available.
  1. Global skills and networks – This is by far the greatest benefit in the job market.  Developing global competencies allows your student to step into careers that require global know-how.  Plus, they will have a cohort of students from around the globe with whom to build a successful network.As a hiring manager at a large aerospace company recently, said to me, “Hiring (US) students who have done their degree abroad tells me that they have some ability to navigate complex global situations, and I can quickly put them into positions that require global know-how.” That is music to parents’ ears.
  1. Building independence & resiliency– Many universities abroad treat college students as adults, so students need to be prepared to handle a plethora of challenges to grow their resiliency muscle. (I have found that many US universities tend to treat college students as an extension of childhood, so the resiliency muscle isn’t cultivated as robustly.)

I have seen young people flourish abroad when they are ready to be independent and to problem-solve.  Demonstrated problem-solving is very attractive in the job market, and likely your student will not end up living in your basement upon graduation.  Again, cue the music.

Planning for higher education takes time.  Use this period of COVID-19 isolation to plan a pathway with your student. Assuming that travel bans are lifted by Fall 2021, your student has time to actively research and move forward their higher educational goals.   Be sure your student is driving the bus and demonstrating agency.  This is a key to success for college anywhere, but especially abroad.