Studying Business Abroad: The International Option

A student in Barcelona, Spain

A student in Barcelona, Spain

Don’t Be Shy: 

U.S. schools often have admissions counselors whose sole responsibility is to recruit international students to campus. Don’t necessarily expect that to be the case when you start applying to business programs abroad, said Claudine Vainrub, a principal with EduPlan, a college and graduate admissions school consulting company. “It is important for them to be proactive in getting information and calling the school,” she said.  Students should look for programs that offer many or most of their courses in English, unless you are fluent in the language of your host country.  Among the schools that are ramping up their offerings in English for undergraduates are Spain’s ESADE, which has an international BBA program, Copenhagen Business School and Erasmus University’s Rotterdam School of Management said McDonough’s Sharpe.

“What is happening is the European Union is simply trying to be more international and attract students outside of their own country,” she said.  “They really are competing on a global scale and that means having a more international student body and faculty.”

Carefully crunch numbers: 

On the face of it, a undergraduate business degree abroad could seem like a bargain compared to the cost of a college degree in the U.S., where the tuition at a private institution can cost $30,000 a year or upwards. Many European host countries offer generous scholarships to international students or charge only nominal fees. For example, in Germany, both tuition and all living expenses are covered for international students, according to the IIE report. Other countries, like New Zealand and France, highly subsidize their degree programs and offer low tuition fees to international students at the same rate as for domestic students. Even China now offers competitive scholarships and stipends to promising international students, the report said.

Those are the best scenarios, though. The the true cost of attaining a degree abroad can often be hidden, said the Forum On Education Abroad’s Whalen. Students need to factor in things like the exchange rate, the cost of living and travel expenses.  “It can seem like it is cheaper because U.S. higher education seems to be on the high end when compared to the cost of higher education in other countries,” Whalen said. “But it can add up to be quite significant.”

Students should think carefully about how long they’ll be living in the host country, and what that will mean for their financial picture, said EduPlan’s Vainrub. For example, in Venezuela, it takes five years to complete a business undergraduate degree, she said.  ”That is non conditional, so students need to be aware of the amount of years it takes to complete a program before they apply to make sure it is convenient,” she said.

Look Before You Jump: 

One thing that often takes students aback when they decide to do a college degree abroad is how vastly different the academic culture can be from their home country, said EduPlan’s Vainrub. Business programs abroad can be more competitive than in the U.S., she said. For example, some undergraduate business schools in Latin America will accept 1,000 students, but only 50 or 100 at the most will end up completing the degree, she said. “The filter is not going to be in the admissions process, but be within the schooling,” she said. “That can be actually shocking for U.S. students because they don’t except that. It’s very important for them to know that going in.”

Students also can expect the day-to-day classroom experience to be quite different from U.S. classrooms, said Whalen. For example, the material may be taught differently and the student-professor relationships may be more formal. Class participation more often than not will not play a role in a student’s final grade, and there are not the regular, frequent kind of assessments that take place here in the U.S,” he said. “That can come as a surprise to students,” he said. “Their entire grade might hinge on one final exam, which is more the norm in other parts of the world than the U.S.

Think Long-Term: 

Students applying to degree programs abroad are more likely spending most of their time daydreaming about the glamour of living in a new country on their own, rather than where they’ll get their internship or first job after college. That can be a mistake because where a student goes to school has a direct impact on their career prospects, said McDonough’s Sharpe.  “I’d encourage students going abroad to look at the strength of career counseling and job placement,” Sharpe said. “For example if you want to attend a school in the European Union, the job placement will be stronger there because that is the pipeline.”

However, if you envision yourself working in the U.S. after college, you might want to reconsider your plans, recommends Whalen. U.S. students who take their degree abroad could find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes time to apply for entry-level positions in the U.S. merely because they are so many thousands of miles away, he said. “It can sometimes take students away from the networking opportunities that might be available to them in the U.S., such as internships and other experiences that might be built into colleges and universities here in the U.S., he said.

On the flip side, that time away may give them a valuable opportunity to get a job in their host country or another part of the world from the U.S. for several years. Said Whalen: “It’s a tradeoff.  I think students need to think carefully about their future career goals and plans.”

Top Ten Destinations of U.S. Study Abroad Students


Country% of Total2012-20112011-2010
 1. United Kingdom12.2%34,66033,182
 2. Italy10.5%29,64530,361
 3. Spain9.3%26,48025,965
 4. France6.1%17,16817,019
 5. China5.3%14,88714,596
 6. Germany3.3%9,3709,018
 7. Austria3.3%9,3249,736
 8. Costa Rica2.8%7,9007,230
 9. Ireland2.7%7,6407,007
10. Japan1.9%5,2834,134

Source: Institute of International Education