Thinking of Pursuing an Undergraduate Degree Abroad? Hop On Board

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Tuesday, November 20, 2018
By Lindsay Mathers Addington
Photo by iStock
Many students have the potential to thrive at institutions abroad while studying for their undergraduate degree. Have you considered being one of them?

An education abroad experience is one of the best ways students can acquire the global skills and experiences that university graduate programs are looking for in their applicants, and that employers are increasingly looking for in their workers. A U.K. report highlighting the value of an international degree, for example, shows that majority of U.S. employers highly value degrees earned in the U.K. The U.K. is just one of the many countries that actively seek to engage and support learners from outside the country. By studying abroad, students experience new perspectives, learn how to work with diverse peers, and can immerse themselves in learning other languages and cultures.

Many students have the potential to thrive at institutions abroad. In fact, over 46,000 U.S. students are pursuing their undergraduate degrees abroad, according to the Institute of International Education. Have you considered being one of them?

Would You Thrive Abroad?

According to Beth Gilfillan, a counselor education doctoral student and former college counselor experienced in advising students on international college options, the type of student who has the potential to thrive at an international university:

  • Is independent and open-minded
  • Loves to travel
  • Enjoys experiential learning
  • Appreciates diversity
  • Is interested in other cultures

Perhaps this describes you, or perhaps you have different motivations for considering a full-degree program abroad.

  • Do you have dual citizenship or family in another country?
  • Are you thinking more practically about shorter time to degree completion, and therefore financial savings?
  • Are you thinking longer term about how this experience might differentiate you from other job applicants following graduation?

Expand Your Options: Think Globally

The diversity, number, and quality of U.S. colleges and universities are some of the greatest strengths of American higher education; however, other countries’ educational systems may prove a better fit for some students. Expanding your search to international universities can widen your options significantly.

Higher education institutions abroad can vary from the U.S. university experience in many ways: duration of an academic program, focus and flexibility of a program of study, costs, language proficiency expectations, and admission requirements and deadlines. A shorter time to obtaining a degree, such as the three-year bachelor’s degree in Europe, is an attractive feature for many students. Keep in mind, however, that some programs, including business degrees, may require additional time.

Universities in many regions of the world are increasingly represented among the top global institutions that show up in U.S. and international ranking publications. Joining those in the U.S., universities in Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Sweden, and the U.K. are ranked in top 100 best global universities according to the U.S. News & World Report 2018 Best Global Universities. But note that it is always important to be cautious when using rankings to determine a best-fit college. They can be useful in helping students and families build a general understanding of various international universities, their sizes, strengths, and how they compare to familiar domestic universities, but should not be the sole factor in making your final decision on where to study. If you find a university to be of interest, make sure to do your homework—visit in person or virtually, talk with representatives from the school, and talk to current students from your home country.

It is also important to remember that many of these universities worldwide teach from a global perspective. As one American student noted of her academic experience in Australia, “One of my initial worries was whether my Australian degree would limit me after graduation. I thought that if my degree, including law and business courses, were restricted to an Australian context, it might not apply globally. However, all my classes so far have been teaching content within the context of a global industry and not only focusing on the Australian aspect of it,” she told a counselor for the National Association for College Admissions Counseling’s (NACAC) 2018 Guide to International University Admission.

A degree from a university abroad also has the added value of helping you build a global network of professional connections. With many countries allowing international students to work during or directly after their degree, you have the opportunity to build a network that may help you secure employment after graduation or advance within your profession. Also reported in the Guide to International University Admission, in Canada, co-op experiences—alternating periods of academic study and work—are a hallmark of many degree programs and are offered in fields as diverse as business, political science, and social services. And in Ireland, companies like Apple, Google, and Pfizer have set up key, strategic research facilities that engage the talent from Irish universities.

Resource for Pursuing International University Admissions

NACAC developed its Guide to International University Admission as a resource for students, parents, and counselors looking to pursue an international undergraduate degree. The guide, which is free to download, features country profiles and admission how-tos for 13 popular or emerging destinations for students seeking full degrees outside the U.S. If a full undergraduate degree abroad is not for you, but you aspire to have an international educational experience, there are other options such as short-term study abroad and international dual and joint degrees, which are also included in the guide.


The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), founded in 1937, is an organization of more than 15,000 professionals from around the world dedicated to serving students as they make choices about pursuing postsecondary education, including programs in other countries. NACAC is committed to maintaining high standards that foster ethical and social responsibility among those involved in the transition process, as outlined in the NACAC’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practices.

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Lindsay Mathers Addington
Associate Director of International Initiatives, NACAC
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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