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4 Myths About Americans Earning Graduate Degrees Abroad
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A U.S. degree isn't automatically better.

Students don't necessarily have to know the local language to earn a graduate degree overseas.

By Megan Lee

Some American graduate-degree-seeking students dismiss studying abroad as a tenable alternative to attending a school in the U.S.
Jaime Ortega, associate professor of management and MBA program director at Charles III University of Madrid, said via email that he finds students from the U.S. to have "much less information" about schools outside of the country.

This lack of information can deter young adults from expanding their program options to include non-U.S. institutions. Read on to learn about four common myths about earning a graduate degree abroad, and, more importantly, the facts that quash them.

Myth 1: U.S. degrees are more valuable. Standards of education vary significantly between institutions within the same country, so evaluating a degree from abroad can be tricky. Some U.S. students may be skeptical of the merit of international graduate programs.

But students shouldn't assume a U.S. degree is automatically better.

Many international institutions rank higher than U.S. universities in global rankings. Rachel Howell of Ann Arbor, Michigan, said via email that she considered the University of California—Berkeley, Arizona State University, the University of Maryland and the University of Leipzig in Germany for her master's degree in engineering, but ultimately chose the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands because of its global reputation.

Howell also said via email that the opportunity to integrate her engineering degree with emphases on entrepreneurship, sustainability and international travel finalized her decision. "I was able to arrange to do funded thesis research in Uganda, which was my main expectation in choosing the program." Howell continues to play an active role in organizations in East Africa today.

Students unable to find a graduate course in the U.S. that matches their varied interests may want to expand their search abroad.

Myth 2: The classes will be the same. Countries outside of the U.S. may have entirely different education systems and their institutions can have different academic expectations. Serene Chen says she assumed her Master's in Management program at the London School of Economics and Political Science would be fairly similar to what she had experienced in the U.S.

"It wasn't. I found LSE to be very theoretical and traditional," wrote the Lincolnshire, Illinois, resident in an email. The entire grade for many of her courses was determined by one handwritten, three-hour exam.

Kelsey Howard of North Vernon, Indiana, said via email that she truly appreciates the "broadened perspective of the differences in different systems of education" that she gained while completing her master's in intercultural communication at Anglia Ruskin University in England.

Experts say U.S. students are often not only exposed to new material, but also a new way of thinking and learning. Varied class structures, teaching styles and interactions between professors and students can enhance the experience.

Myth 3: International graduate programs are a huge financial burden. While the cost of living may be higher in foreign countries, the degree itself may be cheaper.

Ortega says his U.S. students are generally less concerned about the financial costs of the MBA than other international students. "Their main concern with regards to return on investment is on the benefits inside," he wrote in an email.

While a graduate degree may be relatively cheaper, it can still be a hefty investment. Indiana University graduate Lauren Fitzpatrick, of Indianapolis, worked part time while earning her master's degree in creative writing at Kingston University London. She said via email, "Within a few years of graduating, I paid off my loans in their entirety, while still travelling​ and living abroad."

Earning an advanced degree abroad may also save students a good deal of time. Many international graduate programs are one to two years long instead of two or three.

Myth 4: Students must speak a second language fluently. There is no shortage of international universities offering foreign students degrees taught in English, even if the official language of the country is something else. Institutions such as the University of Tokyo,​ Free University of Berlin and the University of Bergen in Norway provide instruction in English.

Students can capitalize on the learning opportunities that abound in their study abroad destination of choice. Tony Schepers, a midcareer professional from Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a student of Ortega's at Charles III University of Madrid. He said via email he specifically chose to complete his MBA in a Spanish-speaking country so he could continue studying a second language.

Students' short list of potential graduate universities can include institutions abroad. Armed with the truth that debunks the myths of these programs, students can decide more clearly if earning a graduate degree outside the U.S. is a viable option given their academic and career goals.

Ultimately, Ortega encourages students to seek "a program that has high academic quality and improves students' labor market opportunities," regardless of its location.


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