NEXT YEAR, CHRISTOPHER SCHULLER
, a native of Nashville, Tenn., will complete his law degree at Oxford University, and he'll qualify to take the New York State Bar exam. Assuming he passes, he'll become a practicing attorney at age 22. Schuller didn't skip grades in high school or overload on his college coursework. Instead, he chose to attend college in England where most undergraduate programs including law school are three years long and where students begin their major on the very first day of classes.
"I knew since high school that I wanted to be a lawyer," says Schuller. "Once I realized that the Oxford law degree could get me straight to the Bar exam, going there seemed like the obvious choice."
In addition to skipping four years of traditional undergrad education, Schuller saved big bucks. Tuition for U.S. students at Oxford costs about $20,000 per year or $60,000 to get a law degree. If Schuller had attended the University of Chicago, which was his first choice in the U.S., he'd pay more than $93,000 for an undergraduate> degree, and then have to pay for a three-year J.D. to boot.
As college tuition costs continue to rise at nearly double the rate of inflation, many parents and students are faced with the tough decision of taking out thousands of dollars in loans to attend a private university or choosing a more affordable state school. But another option that students should consider is pursuing their undergraduate degree at a college abroad, says Tom Conger, founder of Social Technologies, a research and consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., London and Shanghai. International tuition fees at top universities in the U.K. and Canada trim anywhere from a quarter to half the price of tuition at U.S. private universities and come neck-and-neck with tuition paid by out-of-state students. And, in many cases, these undergraduate programs are significantly shorter, saving students both time and> money.
"As tuition costs continue to increase, more college-bound students will look for educational opportunities outside the U.S.," says Conger. "In many cases, it's in their favor to look at colleges abroad that have a world-wide reputation but cost just a fraction of most elite U.S. universities."
Universities in England are particularly well-suited to students who are certain of the major they want to study and especially for aspiring lawyers. Unlike the American educational system, English universities don't offer a core curriculum of arts and sciences, which means that prospective students must declare their major during the application process. (Otherwise, if an enrolled student has a change of heart, he or she will have to reapply for the following year.) After three years at a British university, law students qualify for the Bar exams in the U.S. and for specialized courses in any European Union country, if they choose to practice law there.
In addition, tuition in England is more affordable than the U.S. The average cost of British universities for international students ranges from $13,000 to $20,000, according to the Institute of International Education. Compare this with the U.S. where the average tuition for a four-year private university is just over $22,200, according to the College Board. And, many coveted universities have surpassed this price tag. An on-campus student at New York University pays more than $48,000 in tuition and living, while a student at George Washington University pays more than $53,000 a year.
Increasing tuition costs led Mayer Grashin, age 25, of Seattle, to attend McGill University in Montreal. During his senior year of high school, Grashin had planned to attend New York University, only to discover that the school wouldn't offer him financial assistance. "The financial burden to pay that tuition made it impossible for me to go there," he says. "Instead, I chose the same caliber school at a quarter of the price."
During his studies, between 2002 and 2006, Grashin's tuition costs ranged from $6,500 to $9,000, thanks in part to the U.S. dollar's strength at the time. He cruised through college with scholarships and income from his summer jobs and graduated debt-free. He's now attending Georgetown Law.
"If I stayed in the U.S., my loans would have been astronomical," he says. "I think my entire degree cost about one year's tuition at NYU and the Ivies."
Around 30,000 students are overseas working on their degrees, according to Brian Whalen, president of the Forum on Education Abroad, and the majority of them are in the U.K. and Canada. "Although tuition in both countries is higher for U.S. students than residents, tuition and living costs combined tend to be more affordable there than at private universities here," says Whalen.
Typically, Whalen says, the cost for an American student going overseas is about the same as it would be if he or she attended a state school as an out-of-state resident. Consider that a nonstate resident at the University of Virginia or the University of Vermont would pay $13,000 a year, not including room and board. For about the same amount, the student could attend McGill University, the University of Limerick in Ireland, or the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. College is even more affordable in Australia, where the average tuition is $11,000, and in New Zealand it's just below $9,500, according to the Institute of International Education.
Students who plan on studying in another country should still apply for U.S. federal assistance, according to Liam O'Dochartaigh, associate professor and director of International Education at University of Limerick, since only a few scholarships are available for international students. Almost all U.S. federal loans can be used to pay for tuition in another country.
Whit Miller, a New Jersey native, used a Sallie Mae and a Stafford loan to cover his expenses at the University of St. Andrews. After four years at the university, the 22-year-old graduated this past June with a bachelor's and master's degree in international studies and Arabic. His annual expenses for tuition and room and board totaled $22,000.
Once students have received their acceptance to a university abroad, they'll be notified as to whether they'll need a student visa or any specific paperwork. To obtain a student visa, students typically have to visit the country's consulate in the U.S. to show their American passport, their acceptance letter, and either a letter from their parents or guardian or a copy of a bank statement that shows the student can support him or herself while in college. (Some consulates accept this documentation by mail.)
Despite the advantages of studying abroad, there are some caveats. Students who would prefer to take courses in several different majors before they declare their major would be at a disadvantage since the liberal arts core education in other countries is nonexistent, according to Peggy Blumenthal, executive vice president at the Institute of International Education. Students should also be aware that unless they go to a school that's recognized around the world and in the U.S. they could be at a disadvantage when they return to the States.
"If the student wants to work for a multinational company like Swiss Bank or British Petroleum, whose human resources departments can analyze international degrees better than national companies, then going abroad is a good idea," says Blumenthal. But, if the student's goal is to work for an American company, his or her prospective employers could have questions about the student's degree and university, especially if the university is not well known.
"When you're taking into account the raw finances, you want to make sure that you're saving money to go to a top-notch school with a world-wide reputation, which is recognized everywhere, including the U.S.," says David Braverman, vice president at Standard & Poor's Investment Advisory Service. "This is especially important if you're planning to return to the U.S. for an advanced degree or to pursue a career."
This isn't a concern for Schuller who says that Oxford law students are heavily recruited by British law firms and feels confident he'll be an attractive candidate for U.S. firms. "The internships are there for the taking," says Schuller. "This is the school of choice as far as career opportunities are concerned."