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Study Beyond Borders: Top 10 countries to pursue a higher education

It can pretty overwhelming trying to decide where to pursue a college or university education, particularly if one of your students makes the decision to study outside of the United States. They literally have a world of choices. So let’s try to narrow things down a little.

There appears to be no real consensus regarding which country has the most to offer based on the lists we reviewed. However, there are countries that appear on multiple lists and, if nothing else, the lists themselves provide us with a starting point for narrowing down the way we can help our students make a decision.

The first thing they should do is find out which country best suits their needs. For our purposes, we are going to cheat a bit and find out what the various study abroad companies and one news source are identifying as their top 10. (Table 1)

The next step is to create our own top 10. Certainly we could just visit the sources above, and conduct a deep dive based on what they have provided, but it is probably more thorough if we do a bit of cross referencing.

In the end, the Study Beyond Borders list will identify the top 10 countries for U.S. students to study based on:

  • A student’s ability to transition into and enjoy the nation’s culture. This criteria will take into account the overall culture of the country as well as the academic culture. All ten countries in our top 10 are eager to welcome international students.
  • Tuition and cost of living amounts. In other words, affordability. Keep in mind that our cost of living estimates include things like rent, food, transportation and entertainment but does not include the cost of getting to and from the country a student chooses.
  • The quality of education. For this criteria, we’ll use the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Ranking (which measures teaching and program excellence comparing 1,400 schools worldwide) while leaning heavily on the THE Impact Ranking for each country. The THE Impact Ranking is based on the ability of over 450 universities to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (e.g. health and well-being, gender equality, climate action, etc.).

One criteria that we will not deal with in detail is the application and student visa process. Any student looking to study outside of the U.S. should expect an application process similar to what they would experience at home – along with the strict deadlines! They should also expect to apply for a student visa that asks for things like:

  • an acceptance letter from a university.
  • proof they can afford the tuition fees and cost of living.
  • proof they will be returning to the U.S.
  • proof of medical insurance (usually coverage of over $40,000).
  • proof of accommodation.
  • proof of language proficiency in the native tongue of the host nation.

In some cases, a country will ask international students to complete an entrance examination to see if they can handle their programs.

In our top 10, we will identify whether or not a country has a centralized application process or if a student needs to apply directly to an institution. We will also identify whether or not a student needs to apply for a student visa. One other important note: universities in the list below expect students to learn in the language of the host nation. Specialty programs can be pursued if students are looking for specific English or Spanish delivery but that’s a whole other search.

Let’s trust the lists identified in Table 1, and narrow our choices to the nations that appear on the most lists. This will bring us down to 13 countries: France (5), Australia (4), Germany (4), Spain (4), China (3), Costa Rica (3), Italy (3), Japan (3), Argentina (2), Ireland (2), Mexico (2), New Zealand (2) and the United Kingdom (2). The number in brackets is simply the number of lists the country appears on. For example, France is on all five lists.

Now the hard work: cross-referencing our three criteria with what each nation has to offer. Based on this process, here’s the Study Beyond Borders top 10 countries to go to study:


#1 – France

Application: Centralized
Student visa required: YES
# of U.S. students studying in France: 16,000
Language of instruction: French

Culture 

France is an international hub for philosophical, scientific, cultural and artistic ideas, expression and creation. Some could argue it is the home of the Western intellectual. It is no wonder so many international students opt to study here. From the historic and vibrant capital of Paris to the student-centred city of Toulouse, France is our #1 choice for studying beyond the borders of the United States.

Affordability 

It is very cost effective to study in France. First of all, the tuition is a reasonable $3,000 to $3,500. Second, there are plenty of scholarships for international students. This could help mitigate some of the costs. Third, the French government subsidizes student living expenses, bringing the annual costs down to around $9,000.

Quality of education

France has 56 universities in the THE Ranking, with three universities in the top 100. In terms of the THE Impact Ranking, nine French universities make an appearance with one in the top 100. French schools are a very good option for U.S. students who are willing to learn about this sophisticated culture and in a nation that welcomes international students.


#2 – Germany

Application: Centralized
Student visa required: No (residence permit obtained upon arrival)
# of U.S. students studying in Germany: 13,000
Language of instruction: Germany (with a few courses in English)

Culture

Germany is a blend of both the old world in cities like Heidelberg and the new world in cities like Berlin. So if a student is looking for a nation with both these elements, Germany is an excellent study abroad destination. German schools are also very popular among students seeking a non-English speaking university system. In other words, Germany is welcoming, progressive and eager to share their culture and learning with international students. From business schools to STEM schools, Germany has it all.

Affordability

Studying in Germany is pretty much free. That’s right, other than a nominal fee of about $400 to $500, German undergraduate fees are refreshingly cheap. Students wishing to pursue a specialty program might pay as much as $3,500, but that is still pretty reasonable. In terms of the cost of living, students can expect to spend between $12,000 and $14,000 for each year of study.

Quality of education

THE lists 48 German universities with eight schools in the top 100. In terms of the THE Impact Ranking, Germany has two universities on the list and one university in the top 100. From an education perspective, Germany is a very good option for American students looking to study abroad. Many people argue that German is easy to learn for English speaking students based on the similarities between the two languages – making Germany a great option for language immersion.


#3 – United Kingdom

Application: Centralized
Student visa required: YES
# of U.S. students studying in the U.K.: 40,000
Language of instruction: English

Culture

The United Kingdom represents the first English speaking nation on our top 10. While the U.K. is an expensive place to study, you can’t argue with the quality of universities, the cultural history and the ease to which an American student can adapt. This is why the U.K. is consistently the #1 choice for U.S. students who study abroad. Whether students choose the bustling intellectually charged capital of London or the charm of rural Scotland, the U.K. is an excellent choice for U.S. students.

Affordability

Studying in the United Kingdom is expensive. Tuition for international students ranges from $17,000 to $25,000. With a cost of living of between $15,000 and $17,000, budget will be a major issue for students electing to study in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Quality of education

The quality of education in the U.K. is outstanding. According the THE ranking, 100 U.K. universities are listed with 11 in the top 100. On the Impact Ranking, 26 universities are listed with 17 in the top 100. From a quality standpoint, the U.K. university system is arguably the best.


#4 – China

Application: Centralized
Student visa required: YES
# of U.S. students studying in China: 12,000
Language of instruction: Chinese (with some English options for a price)

Culture

A lot of American students have chosen China as a study destination because they want to learn about Chinese culture and because of the Chinese government’s massive investment in their education system. First of all, China is rich in history and tradition with an impressive reputation for preserving their traditions. Second, China has dedicated itself to progress, particularly in the realm of education. In fact, currently the national government is investing billions of dollars in their higher education system trying to create institutions that rival the U.S. Ivy League. They are also eager to welcome international students.

Affordability

Tuition for Chinese universities is pretty modest, coming in at between $2,000 and $4,000. The cost of living is also quite reasonable: between $6,000 and $8,000 per year. For American students looking to study in English while attending school in China, there are a number of options. They cost around $15,000 in tuition.

Quality of education

Of the 81 Chinese universities on the THE ranking, three are in the top 100. Meanwhile, three universities are listed on the Impact Ranking but none of them are in the top 100. In other words, the schools are good but U.S. students electing to go to China to study are really looking for a unique cultural experience.  


#5 – Spain

Application: Directly to the university
Student visa: YES
# of U.S. students studying in Spain: 31,000
Language of instruction: Spanish

Culture

Spain falls just behind France as one of the world’s top tourist destinations so it is no surprise that it is also the choice of many U.S. students pursuing a higher education. With university roots stretching back to the 13th century, Spain has a tradition and history of teaching and learning excellence. It is also a beautiful country, stretching from the Pyrenees mountain range to the border of Portugal. With Spanish as one of the most spoken languages in the world, Spain represents an excellent opportunity for American students to broaden their horizons and get their degree in this culturally dynamic nation.

Affordability

Like other mainland European options, Spain comes in on the affordable side. Tuition at a public university is a modest $1,700. Students needs to keep in mind that private university tuition can be three to 10 times more expensive. Meanwhile, the cost of living is about $14,000 per year.

Quality of education

THE lists 45 Spanish universities but none of them rank in the top 100. The Impact  Ranking has 20 universities on the list, with four in the top 100. Spain is a good option for U.S. students if they are looking for a Spanish immersion opportunity in Europe.


#6 – Italy

Application: Directly to the universities
Student visa: YES
# of U.S. students studying in Italy: 35,000
Language of instruction: Italian

Culture

Another high profile tourist destination, Italy also provides a student friendly university environment with the backdrop of modern cities and ancient ruins. U.S. students can combine the experience of Italian culture with visits to the leaning Tower of Pisa, the Roman Colosseum, and the Pantheon. They can also enjoy Italy’s fantastic cuisine in cities like Rome, Milan or Bologna – depending on where the student decides to study. 

Affordability

Tuition for schools in Italy range from $1,000 to $4,500 a year. The cost of living comes in at around $14,000 per year, with prices climbing the further north a student chooses to attend university.

Quality of education

Of the 45 Italian universities listed in the THE ranking, none are in the top 100. In terms of the Impact Ranking, 10 universities make the cut with three in the top 100.


#7 – Japan

Application: Directly to the universities
Student Visa: YES
# of U.S. students studying in Japan: 8,000
Language of instruction: Japanese (a limited number of English options available)

Culture

Japan is a hotbed for technological development and innovation, making it an attractive option for U.S. students looking to study abroad. One thing to keep in mind: in the vast majority of cases, international students have to write an entrance exam to get into the Japanese university system. This would require travelling to Japan or one of the tests centers in Asia to write the test. This shouldn’t scare students off because many do this, judging by the increased popularity of Japan as a study destination. Japan also offers some courses in English for students who want a more gradual introduction to the Japanese language. Japan is a great option for students looking to immerse themselves into Japanese culture and see what makes this thriving island nation tick.

Affordability

Tuition for public universities runs at around $6,500. Meanwhile the cost of living in Japan varies. Students going to school in Tokyo can expect expenses up to $14,000 per year. Other cities and towns are less expensive but students are still looking at $10,000+ in living expenses while attending school in Japan.

Quality of education

Of the 110 Japanese universities listed on the THE ranking, two are in the top 100. Meanwhile, the Impact Ranking has 42 universities listed with three in the top 100. This suggests a very good quality of education in Japan.


#8 – Ireland

Application: Directly to the universities
Student visa: NO
# of U.S. students studying in Ireland: 12,000
Language of instruction: English

Culture

A popular choice for many American students, Ireland provides a seamless transition for students looking to study in English in an historic European setting. With excellent universities in cities like Dublin, Galway, and Cork, Ireland has scholastic tradition that offers quality education in everything from history and philosophy to pharmacy and medicine. Beyond the classroom, Ireland offers a beautiful countryside and a proud and hospitable population.

Affordability

Ireland is an expensive option for higher education. With tuition fees running a minimum of $11,000 (with some as high as $25,000) and the cost of living at $14,000 per year, higher education in Ireland is a costly endeavour.

Quality of education

Of the nine Irish universities in the THE world ranking, none are in the top 100. Meanwhile five universities are listed in the Impact Ranking, with all five appearing in the top 100.


#9 – Mexico

Application: Directly to the university
Student visa: YES
# of U.S. students studying in Mexico: 5,000
Language of instruction: Spanish

Culture

U.S. students looking to stay in North America to get a degree, but want a Latin American experience need look no further than Mexico. Ancient ruins, vast deserts, stunning coastlines, and a bustling artistic community, Mexico has all of these elements. They also have plenty of schools to choose from with some of their top end schools specializing in architecture, engineering and the arts.

Affordability

With public universities coming in at a little less than $1,000 and elite programs starting at around $5,000, Mexico is definitely an affordable option for American students. Plus, the cost of living is also pretty reasonable at $6,000 per year.

Quality of education

THE has 17 Mexican universities on its list but none of them are in the top 100. They also have 10 universities in the Impact Ranking, with two in the top 100.


#10 – New Zealand

Application: Directly to the universities
Student visa: YES
# of U.S. students studying in New Zealand: 2,000
Language of instruction: English

Culture

New Zealand is a nature lovers dream come true. Stunning and picturesque settings, established hiking trails and a population that embraces the natural environment, New Zealand makes our top ten for both its beauty and high quality, values-centered education system. From the bustling cities of Auckland and Wellington to the mountains on the outskirts of Christchurch, New Zealand is another great choice for U.S. students looking to study abroad.

Affordability

Tuition is not cheap in New Zealand. Coming at between $15,000 and $22,000 depending on the program, it’s no secret that New Zealand is an expensive prospect. Combine this with the $14,000 minimum cost of living (and the price of a plane ticket to get there from the U.S.), and the financial burden for a student and their family could come in at over $35,000 per year.

Quality of education

While none of the eight universities listed on the THE ranking appear in the top 100, New Zealand hold three spots (#1, 16 and 38) on the Impact Ranking. Their impressive positioning on the THE Impact Ranking partially explains their appearance on our top 10.

By Sean Dolan