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Should you get a US Degree or study abroad? Things to consider…

Recent years have witnessed a proliferation of full US degree programs abroad conducted in English. According to the British-based Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, there are close to eighty US degree programs overseas where English is the language of instruction.  Over three quarters of them have opened since 1999.  Florida State University in Panama City is one of the exceptions. Its program dates back fifty years and now includes undergraduate degrees in computer science, international affairs, and environmental studies. New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) has branches in Abu Dhabi; Amman, Jordan; Manama, Bahrain; and Nanjing, China. The Nanjing campus includes degrees in international business, communication arts, and computer engineering. St Louis University, Madrid offers bachelors in fields like economics and communications. Qatar’s futuristic Education City hosts Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, Northwestern, Virginia Commonwealth, Texas A&M, and Cornell.


In an interconnected world, what are the pros and cons of seeking US degrees and/or studying abroad and what is the author’s verdict on this trend?

Reasons you should study abroad:


One might ask, if foreign exchange programs of a semester or two are assets when applying for a job or graduate program, why not expand this approach to four years and reap the benefits of further exposure? The arguments on behalf of this strategy are multi-faceted.

First, the world of work in the private and public sector is increasingly borderless. Workers who are at ease with different foreign environments, and have actually lived there, are increasingly attractive in the corporate, governmental, and non-governmental organizational sectors. While a semester or two abroad is helpful, a few years in one or two foreign environments, contingent on the degree program, leads to a greater degree of comfort and depth of understanding.

Secondly, US degree programs abroad normally enroll students from around the world.

American students are therefore exposed to students and professors from many cultures. In so doing, they enhance their ability to interact and work with a cosmopolitan work-force. This is the wave of the future both abroad and at home.

Third, tuition at branches of US universities overseas is normally comparable to those at their US hubs. In effect, beyond travel expenses, students are rewarded with an international experience at prices equivalent to those back in the states. It is a relative bargain.

Reasons you shouldn’t study abroad:

Study abroad in US degree programs is not without pitfalls.

First, attracting quality faculty and students is not a given in all foreign environments.  Foreign students still find it more appealing to study in the US if they want a US degree. Faculty are often reluctant to be removed from extended family members, colleagues, and friends back home for a sustained period of time contributing to rotating staff with all of the problems therein.

Secondly, foreign study venues are sometimes highly a-typical of their own regions thereby offering students a distorted view of regional culture. Foreign universities in the wealthy and cosmopolitan states of Qatar and Abu Dhabi in the Persian Gulf are symptomatic of this phenomenon.

Finally, American students may be compelled to adapt to local cultural norms on gender relations and personal conduct. This is the case in parts of the Islamic world, for instance.

The Verdict on Studying Abroad…

On balance is it worthwhile to explore US degree programs abroad? The verdict is yes, but students must be selective and discerning. All degree programs are neither created equally nor do they all evolve into strong ones. A few rules of thumb for choosing the right program deserve mention.

First, find out how long a program has been around. If it is a relatively new program in transition, caution and a consideration of alternatives would be in order.

Secondly, contact the institution to find out about their placements in post-graduation jobs and professional/graduate programs. If they haven’t tracked this information or stonewall you, move on to the next institution.

Finally, look into what is going on in the country which is hosting the institution. Also consider talking to regional specialists at your local university. If political instability is rampant, as embodied by Bahrain, it would be wise to look for a more stable environment.

As interdependence grows exponentially around the world, it is imperative that the citizen and worker of the twenty-first century be prepared to work across national and cultural boundaries. US degree programs abroad can facilitate this goal, but the strong programs must be separated from the questionable ones.


David Dickson is on the college admissions counseling team for Top Test Prep.    For more information on Top Test Prep, call (800) 501-Prep.

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