Attending University Abroad: How & Why

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The university or college experience is life changing for many, and with more and more opportunities available for young adults to study abroad, as part of, or in addition to their Gap Year, having an affordable and memorable post secondary education in a country other than your own is easier than ever. Over 313 000 students studied abroad in 2014/15 alone, with 63% of these students studying abroad for up to three weeks, and 3% studying there long term, for a full academic or calendar year. But besides the benefits of simply living in a different country, how is studying abroad more beneficial than simply studying in your home country?

Why Study Abroad?

Cost

The biggest myth surrounding study abroad programs is that they are over expensive and catered to the upper class. This is 100% myth. Many countries, including Germany, France, Norway, and Iceland, offer free tuition to all students (excluding low administrative fees), with many courses and programs specifically to foreign students.

Language Opportunities

One of the biggest benefits of studying in a foreign country is the opportunity to learn a new language. In today’s globalized economy, the ability to communicate effectively is one of many key skills needed to succeed in your job. A recent survey completed by an LA-based business found that nearly 9 out of 10 employers in Europe, Latin America, and Asia believe that being bilingual is crucial for success in the business field. Not only does the ability to communicate in another language give you an advantage, it also allows you to understand more about the country and culture the language is from.

Education

Each country’s educational system is unique, meaning that what may be considered “normal” for some, is completely different to the way things are taught in another place. Having the opportunity to experience the educational system of two different countries forces you to adapt and become more flexible in your learning habits and allows you to better understand the country that you are learning in. Whereas the American educational system places more of an emphasis on individual learning and problem solving for example, the Japanese education system may be more focused on group problem solving and the “collective” rather than the individual.

Preparing to Study Abroad

There are countless study abroad programs available to students, however finding the perfect program or university abroad requires research, time and patience. There is no “one fits all” study abroad program for students, so there are a variety of factors that should be considered when considering which foreign program or university you wish to attend.

There are typically two factors which most influence which study abroad program students attend.

Location

Many students choose to pursue to their studies at a certain university due to the country or location it is in. This could be due to simply already having a connection or personal history to the place or already knowing the language. Other factors which can go into choosing a program based on location is the affordability of the city as well as “employer activity” within the city. QS Top Universities has an in depth list of the best student cities in the world, as well as universities rankings by region

University Ranking

Another method to determine which study abroad to attend is to simply research the top universities for your major or minor. By then knowing which universities are most accredited for chosen field of study, an informed decision can be made in regards to which top ranked university you wish to study at. QS Top Universities also has World University Rankings based on subject, as well as faculty.

By being aware of the best student cities to live in as well as the top universities for your chosen field, an informed decision can be made which will guarantee you the experience of a lifetime.

Scholarships

While tuition fees for study abroad programs may be cheaper than at home, living costs (as well as airfare back and forth) can add up quickly. Here is a list of organizations that have compiled lists of various scholarships and grants that can ease the financial strain of being a student studying in a foreign country.

There are so many factors to consider when deciding to study abroad, and while staying in your comfort zone can be reassuring, the benefits of studying abroad are infinite. Exposure to a new culture, language, and education system widens your horizons and gives you advantages in the work force. It allows you to better understand the globalized society we now live in and makes you more marketable to future employers and grad schools. It allows you to travel and study at the same time, to work towards your goals while at the same time experience a different culture, place and way of life than back home.

While the decision to study abroad is not one that should be taken lightly, anyone who joins the millions of Americans who have ventured across the globe in their studies will find that studying abroad is an experience like no other.

Should I go to College After my Gap Year?

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You’ve tackled the world. You’ve marched confidently off the beaten path (even if your heart broke a little as your friends all shared first-year experiences as college freshmen). You’ve grown leaps and bounds, and are excited at the prospect of continuing to grow and learn. But you’re wondering: is college the next best move for me in my life? Is it a conducive environment to the type of growing and learning I want to do?

The Value of a College Degree

There are a lot of benefits to attending college and earning an undergraduate degree. Oftentimes, these benefits are intangible (and don’t necessarily make their way onto your transcript). While classes are important and developing solid relationships with your professors ideal, there’s a lot of growth that happens out of the classroom, too.

There are myriads of clubs and causes to get involved with. There are passionate, weird, different, eclectic, normal people – all within close confines – and you learn how to interact effectively with each of them. There are folks with mindsets and philosophies and perspectives you’ve never been exposed to. There is training in how to think critically, how to argue productively, and how to compose logical statements. Plus, it’s fun (late night pizza, anyone?!).

That Being Said…

A college degree isn’t for everyone. Some might opt for a community college experience instead of a sleep-away-school ← totally awesome option for the money conscious/savvy student. Some students might end their Gap Year and want to keep traveling and learning experientially. You can get a job – part-time or otherwise – and bump up that piggy bank. You might want to sign up for the military, an apprenticeship, or another trainee program.

In short, there are many paths you can opt to take. But going to college should be a choice you weigh considerably. Here are some general questions to ask yourself as you navigate these waters:

What are your goals?

Certainly, not all career paths require college degrees; however, others do. How will this chapter of life – college – contribute to your overarching life mission? If you want to work with refugees or other marginalized populations, perhaps more direct-experience with these peoples through an internship would add value to your eventual formal studies in global development. If you want to devote your life to teaching English as a second language, there’s nothing wrong with taking a teaching gig abroad instead of attending school yourself, but understand that those with a degree are making a lot more money than those without.

To be clear: college can benefit you in ways beyond the actual degree, but it’s up to you to decide if it is necessary to accomplish your goals in life.

What Are Your Motivations for College?

If you feel motivated to go to college because it feels like the “right” thing to do or because you’re feeling pressured from outside sources (here’s lookin’ at you, mom and dad), you might need to go back to square one. College is a significant investment. Very significant. We’re talking thousands and thousands of dollars here. If your only reason for going to school is to make others happy – and not because it is what you truly want – your motivation to attend classes and perform well scholastically might decrease over time, potentially undermining the endeavor altogether.

Are You Crazy-Passionate Right Now & in Need of an Outlet?

College campuses are hotbeds for change, full of individuals hungry to make a dent in the world and help others. Living in this community can be jarring and exciting for a young activist in the making. If you’re on fire for any given cause (Women’s rights? Education equality? Access to clean water?) in light of your Gap Year experiences, consider channeling that fervor in a healthy, fertile environment – like the kind you can find on a college campus.

Does College Have to Happen RIGHT NOW?

Or, can you hold off for a year or more? You might decide that you definitely want to go to college, but the idea of term papers and sororities and three-lattes-per-day sounds off-putting at this stage of life. Attending college is a full-time job (a badass one, if you consider your only tasks are to learn and read and try to better understand the world); if you’re not ready to take on the commitment yet, hold off until you are.

Do You Know What You Want to Accomplish, Academically?

One of the perks of the Gap Year experience is clarity towards your life purpose and vocation. If you return from abroad, ready to hit the ground running and know exactly what you’d like to study and where, then you might be a great fit for going to college. Not wasting precious time (and money) on an undecided major will help you feel focused and accomplished in your collegiate career.

Do You Have the Resources?

If you thought your Gap Year bills were expensive, wait ’til you get a load of a tuition invoice. While financial aid, work-study programs, scholarships, and grants are all well and dandy, there’s still typically a good deal of money you have to fork out independently. Some students are fortunate in that family members will foot their college bills or subsidize their living expenses. Others might not be as lucky. Ask yourself if this is debt you’re willing to take on.

Then, think creatively. Perhaps combining the best of your international Gap Year experience with university would work. Check into the countries, abroad, where even foreign students can attend for free, or at rates far less than the ones found at US schools. There are international options, at excellent schools, for a fraction of the costs inside the USA.

Are You Ready to Make This Decision?

Whether you send off that application to (insert dream college here) or choose another path to postpone college life, you need to feel confident in your decision.Much like it took a degree of bravery when you chose to do a Gap Year, aim to have an equivalent sense of purpose towards your college decision.

Should You go to College Right Away After Your Gap Year?

Maybe. Should you go right now? Maybe not.

Don’t feel rushed to make a decision. Make sure you have many conversations – with friends, parents, other friends’ parents, your favorite high school teacher, your manager from your after school job, your mentor, whoever you look up to in life – and use all of their insights to come to a decision that feels right for YOU and you alone.

Remember: being “successful” is subjective and there are plenty of “successful” people who have lead meaningful, lives of impact with (and without) a degree in tow.