How To Decide Whether To Stay At Home Or Go Abroad For Grad School

August, 2010 · By Justin Bengry

You might not have gone far from home for your undergraduate studies. Perhaps you only went as far as the nearest major city.

Or, like me, just to your local hometown university.

Is a degree abroad with experts in the field worth the added expense and challenges? Sometimes it is.

But for grad school, it’s almost inevitable that you will have to consider universities away from home. But what if away from home is also away from your home country?

After completing undergraduate studies at home in Alberta, I applied to study abroad for both my master’s and my PhD. A number of factors influenced my decision to remain in Canada for my master’s, but go away to California for my PhD.

Moving to another country for grad school is an enormous change and commitment. How do you decide whether to stay at home or go abroad?

Program of study

Finding the right program, or even just a school that offers your program, can take you to places you never imagined you’d live. The program might only be offered at some institutions, and those universities might be a province away, or even a country away.

Sometimes you have to weigh the strength of a program, and prestige of professors there, in your decision. Is a degree abroad with experts in the field worth the added expense and challenges? Sometimes it is.

I could have completed degrees in history anywhere, but for my doctorate I wanted to work with a world leader in my field. She was based in Santa Barbara, California, so I learned more about the program there and ultimately ended up working with her for five years.

Cost of living

Many countries have very different costs of living than Canada. Sometimes this can be advantageous to Canadians studying abroad, and other times, it can create a more costly situation, making it impossible to study there. Despite being accepted to leading U.K. universities, I was unable to attend because of the prohibitively high cost of living, even after securing funds to cover tuition and fees.

But the cost of living isn’t always consistent. Different cities and regions of countries have widely varying costs of living. I couldn’t afford to study in London, but might have been able to afford other, less expensive cities. And when I went on to do my PhD in Santa Barbara, the cost of rent was astronomical compared to what a friend paid who completed her PhD in North Carolina.

Tuition and fees

It is important to know that tuition and fees are set at different levels for domestic and foreign students. These costs can be as much as double or more for foreign students wanting to study abroad. These extra costs influence the decision to study abroad. But so too can differing funding structures in other countries.

When I applied to study the U.K., I was offered almost no financial support, scholarships, or funding. But when I applied to PhD programs in the United States, my acceptance to the university came with a multi-year funding package that covered my tuition and fees, health care (critical to have when studying abroad!), as well as wages as a teaching assistant. This funding and work package was the deciding factor in being able to complete my education in the U.S.

Going abroad for graduate school could be a great decision, especially if it is made with adequate planning and careful preparation. Never be afraid to contact departments and professors, wherever they are, to ask about the program, the people, and the policies of your potential university.

This post was originally published at TalentEgg on 17 August 2010.


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