Doing a degree abroad

UK unis and their inflated fees left you wanting more, or do you dream of seeing a bit more of the world while you study? Then studying abroad for your degree, or even for a year abroad, could be for you. There are plenty of opportunities waiting for you. All you have to do is read our guide on considering your options.

A young man wants to do a degree abroad. This is a wide-angle image.

Why do a degree abroad?

If you want lower fees and/or lower entry requirements, widening your academic search to international universities is definitely worth a look. Not to mention, international degrees and courses with a year abroad are a great way to explore a new country, culture and make new friends, whilst still getting that all-important qualification.

Is it cheaper to do a degree abroad than in the UK?

We’re gonna be confusing and say yes and no. See, tuition fees in Europe can be non-existent, or very cheap in EU countries. That being said, private unis can end up costing the same as UK universities. Again, flip-flopping here – but (and it’s a big but), you can’t transfer your student loan to pay for your studies abroad. So no matter what route you take, you’re gonna have to pay for everything upfront. Good news is that some unis offer scholarships to international students. The only catch is that they’re not easy to get and you need to be applying for these at least 12 months beforehand.

Loads of courses offer the opportunity to study abroad for a year and/or international exchange programmes during the academic year in countries ranging from Hong Kong to anywhere in Latin America. And they come with a certain amount of funding. Just remember that, even if you’re not forking out for fees, you’ll still need to think about paying for flights, visas, and insurance. Don’t forget, you also have to factor in the cost of basic food and accommodation.

Will the degree abroad mean as much as one from a British university?

Just like in the UK, certain universities look better on your CV than others. That’s why it’s important to think about what skills you want to learn from your course when choosing. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a look at World University Rankings. That way you can see how your favourites compare to their UK counterparts.

Jemma Davies from the Student World says that you should also think about where you want to work after graduation.

“It’s worth speaking to businesses you’d like to work for and seeing what skills and qualifications they look for when employing new staff,” she says. “For example, larger, more international businesses may be more enticed by international degrees than a smaller, local company.”

Will I make friends in a different country?

Even if you go to uni down the road, making new friends is always going to be daunting. That being said, the whole new country element does add an extra layer of fear. Don’t panic though, eventually you’ll find your tribe. Take Sarah, an English masters student at the University of Utrecht, Netherlands, who found it much easier to make friends than she imagined.

“I guess some factors are in my favour,” she says. “My study programme has a lot of contact hours. We have group and partner assignments. And there’s a culture of eating and getting coffee together at university. But that doesn’t mean my worries completely disappeared. I still had to put myself out there.

We’d say that the best way to make friends – in any country – is to get involved with all the different things going on. That means joining different societies and getting involved in as many things as possible. Plus, you have an entire range of global opportunities available to you on top of all the usual stuff. Before you know it, you’ll have friends from all over the world. 

But if you’re still feeling the pressure, then check out our article on how to make friends when travelling here.

What are the downsides to studying abroad?

It usually takes longer to complete your degree. On average, both foreign undergraduate degrees and masters courses take a year longer than UK courses. Plus, courses with a year abroad delay your final year by adding an extra year of study to degree programmes.

Obviously you’ll be further from friends and family, which isn’t great if you’re easily homesick. However, Sarah says that having tech handy has really helped with this. “With Skype, social media, emails and WhatsApp, you almost forget that you don’t live in the same country,” she says. And if you want more advice, you can check out our article on what to do if you’re feeling homesick at uni here.

A foreign degree may be a bit more challenging, too. For instance, Sarah says she found her Dutch masters had more contact hours, assignments, exams, presentations and feedback than any of her previous English studies. “I knew the programme would be intense and challenging, that’s actually why I decided to pursue it,” she says. “I wanted to get the most out of my degree.”

How do you choose a country to study abroad?

First off, find out which universities teach in English. Trust us, you don’t want to turn up to a lecture and discover your whole course is in a language you didn’t even know existed. Then check which universities do the subject you’re interested in. And keep in mind that certain courses may go under a different name.

In case you’re looking for some guidance, the Bachelors portal website lets you search by language and subject for undergrad courses. And you can do the same for masters courses. And student World also runs the free Student World Fair where you can go and have a chat with representatives from international unis.

For courses with a year abroad, your UK university will usually work with partner universities/partner institutions around the world a.k.a the host university. The opportunities will vary by department and the place you’re studying. But typically you’ll study in an English speaking country or a place where your course is taught in English. FYI, this might mean that your options for modules are slightly limited. Unless you’re doing a foreign language/joint honours degree, of course. In which case you might even get the choice between studying or doing a work placement abroad.

How do I apply for a foreign degree?

Without the limiting powers of UCAS you can actually apply to as many places as you want. Sounds great, right? Right…until you consider that you’ll have to do each university application individually. With this in mind, our advice is to give yourself plenty of time i.e. whatever you do, don’t leave it to the last minute. Just as a rough time reference, it can take up to 15 months to complete an application in some cases.

Should I do a degree abroad?

After her experience at Utrecht, Sarah wants to recruit as many people to study abroad as possible. “I would definitely recommend studying abroad to other students,” she says. “I couldn’t be happier with my decision. So much so that I’ve tried to convince both friends and relatives in the UK to do the same.”

Remember, if you don’t want to do an entire degree abroad, but still want to experience living abroad, then courses with a year abroad are ideal. Yes, they do come with extra costs but loads of unis offer some level of support. It may seem daunting to ask, but the truth is they’ll be more than willing to help. 

Have a look at the rest of our gap years, work and studying abroad resources here.

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By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 04-Jun-2022