As College Costs Continue to Soar, Students Head Abroad

With the cost of college skyrocketing here in the U.S., some students are washing their hands of the American education system, grabbing their passports, and seeking cheaper degrees abroad.

Oxford University
Photo by: Rebecca C.
Oxford University

The number of students doing so has increased 2 percent annually in recent years, according to the Dept. of Education, although the data does include the more traditional semester abroad category.

In 2009, Jessica Fuller, then 25, was employed at a small private university in Philadelphia as an alumni relations liaison. Bored with her job and becoming increasingly interested in the healthcare industry, Fuller knew she would need a masters degree in public health for her dream career.

Initially, Fuller wanted a school in New York (Columbia University was one) and Pennsylvania, but with many programs topping $30,000 per year for tuition alone, she decided on a more affordable option—The Netherlands. A comparable degree in health economics cost less than $17,000 for a one-year program.

To finance her education at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Fuller took out a $30,000 loan through her mother’s home equity line of credit, which covered tuition and fees, as well as air travel, an apartment in Amsterdam, and living expenses for her year abroad.

Had she attended Columbia, Fuller would have financed her education predominantly through loans.


Universities abroad—especially those in countries where English is the first language—are capitalizing on the sometimes enormous gulf in the cost of higher education.

Oxford University in England, Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland are top destinations.

Established in 1413, St. Andrews is the third oldest English-speaking university in the world. It’s famous for its rigorous curriculum, stately medieval architecture, and most recently, for graduating the Prince of Wales.

Nestled in Fife on the eastern coast of Scotland, this prestigious university also has a team of recruiters working specifically to draw in Americans. Traveling to U.S. high schools and colleges, these recruiters use a personalized approach with counselors and administrators to encourage American students to apply.

The College Debt Crisis - See Complete Coverage
The College Debt Crisis - See Complete Coverage

Oxford even has a U.S. office.

St. Andrews is the No. 1 destination for American students in the United Kingdom; 12 percent of St. Andrews student is from the U.S., with applications from 44 states, plus Washington D.C. and the Virgin Islands.

The number of students attending St. Andrew’s has soared 150 percent to 1200 in the last decade, and the university posits that value is a big factor.

“[Cost] is a significant reason,” says Gayle Cook, senior communications manager at St. Andrews. “In terms of total cost—even including flights—we are very competitive with a lot of the privates.”

The Fiske Guide to Collegesnamed St. Andrews as one of its “Best Buys” for 2011; over a quarter of the public universities on the Fiske list were schools outside the U.S.

The cost may be lower, but is the quality of education overseas is just as good as an American university?

Jessica Fuller says in her case, yes: she landed a consulting job with Marsh Inc. as an International Knowledge Manager shortly after she graduated from Erasmus University, and says that the university – and its location – were definitely a factor.

“Many [Erasmus] professors were world-renowned experts in their fields," says Fuller. "The class discussions were very robust given the diversity of the students. Having an ‘international’ edge made a huge difference."