Why you should consider grad school abroad

In just over two weeks I’ll be leaving for grad school in China.

“Grad school in China?!”

Most people are confused. They don’t understand why I would possibly want to go to grad school in China, or how I’ll be able to use my degree back home.

Why you should consider grad school abroad

Next year I’ll be attending the University of Nottingham in Ningbo, China. Nottingham is a British university that also has campuses in China and Malaysia. There are plenty of universities all over the world that have programs like this, such as American University in Cairo, NYU Abu Dhabi, and Johns Hopkins in Nanjing. All of these universities conduct their classes in English, and are taught to the standards of their home university*. These schools offer a really great way to get an amazing degree from a reputable university while living abroad. You’ll be able to travel in your spare time, meet people from all over the world, and save money by living in a cheaper country.

Another option would be to check out universities in countries that already speak English, like the UK, Ireland, Australia and Canada. I actually have two American friends getting their master’s degrees at the University of Sidney this year; One of them even has a full-ride!

*Johns Hopkins in Nanjing is taught almost exclusively in Chinese

grad school abroad

Visit the Terracotta Warriors with your new bffs

While researching jobs and opportunities for this upcoming year, I stumbled on Concordia University’s MAIS program almost by accident. Students teach English at a university in China, while getting their master’s online. It sparked my interest, and I started looking at other programs of a similar nature. I eventually settled on the University of Nottingham, which was the best choice for me.

It’s important to keep in mind that there are so many grad school options out there! No one ever talks about attending grad school abroad, and the many benefits it can bring. While getting a master’s overseas may not be the right path for everyone, I think it’s really important to know your options, so you can make the best decision for you.

grad school abroad

So here we go, six reasons why you should consider grad school abroad!

1. Money

This is probably the most important reason to consider getting a degree abroad, especially for Americans. College in the US is criminally expensive. When you compare how much we spend on our degrees relative to other developed countries, it just doesn’t make any sense. Exiting college with tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars of debt is not a very good way to start your twenties. Many young people from Europe or Australia choose to travel for a year after college, but most young Americans are so riddled with debt, they have to take the first decent-paying job they can find! While there are ways to live abroad and pay off your debt (teaching abroad is one of them!), it’s better to not have all that debt to begin with.

Grad School abroad

Don’t let debt hold you down!


Tuition in America is unfathomably expensive, especially when it comes to private schools. While there are ways to pay less in grad school (becoming a TA, research grants, scholarships, working for a company that pays your tuition for you), it’s still a lot of money.

Since Nottingham is a British school, I’ll be paying British tuition prices. My tuition for one year at the University of Nottingham is $14,000 USD. Now let’s compare this to a really good public university in America. I’m from Seattle, so I’ll use the University of Washington. UW is a public university, meaning it is much cheaper than most private universities because it is funded by the state. I did some research a few days ago, and tuition for Washington state residents is $16,298 for one year ($28,344 for non-residents). That’s not too bad right?

Unfortunately, a graduate degree in America takes two years, while my degree at the University of Nottingham only takes one. This means that UW students will be paying over $32,500 in tuition, while I’ll only be paying $14,000. Since my program is only a year, I’ll already be working to pay off my loans, while the poor students in America will only be half-way done with their degrees.

God forbid you live in a state that doesn’t have a good public university. If you want a master’s from UW and you live out of state, you’ll be paying $56,700 USD for your degree. If you want a degree from a private school, you’ll probably pay much more. I attended the George Washington University for undergrad. A master’s at GWU’s Elliot School of International Affairs will cost you $65,000 USD. Holy Cow!

Grad School abroad

Say NO to ridiculous amounts of debt!


This is the part where you all start to hate me. My housing for next year is $1,700 USD for twelve months. Let me repeat that: I’m paying $1,700 for a full year of housing. While Nottingham’s international student dorms aren’t palaces, I have my own bedroom, and I’ll be sharing a kitchen, living room and bathroom with my three roommates. I even have a balcony!

Many of my friends living in Washington DC, San Francisco and New York spend about $1,700 per month for their apartments. For comparison sake, the University of Washington tells students to budget $14,000 USD for room and board. That’s the cost of my tuition!

Living Expenses

Living in a western country is expensive. Food, public transport, utilities, bills: it all adds up really fast. By studying in a country like China, I can save a lot of money while I’m at school. I can eat lunch in the cafeteria for about $1 USD, or splurge on a nice dinner in the school’s cafe for $3. Taking the subway from one side of Ningbo to the other will cost me about $1 USD, while taking a cab 45 minutes may cost roughly $10. My health insurance for the year is $150 total, and my utilities payments are pennies compared to what my friends pay in America.

Total, I owe the University of Nottingham $17,000 USD. This includes tuition, housing, books, my ID card and health insurance. There are a few things I’ll be paying for that aren’t included in this list: a flight to and from China ($600 each way), and my residence permit and health certificate, which are a combined total of $200.

grad school abroad

I paid a little over $1 USD for this amazing soup at a street food stall in Ningbo

2. It’s easier to apply

Applying to universities in America is very stressful. Even if you meet all of the requirements, there is still no guarantee you’ll be accepted. American grad schools look for some magic combination of GPA, classes, work experience, GRE score, writing ability and personal flair. American universities love to use a “holistic” approach to college admissions, which normally works out well for decently well-rounded people, but it’s also extremely stressful. There are “safety schools” and “reach schools”, and applicants are forced to wait anxiously to see if they excelled in enough categories to be admitted.

The British system is very different. During my visit to the Ningbo campus, I was told that if I had a 2.1 A-level score (GPA 3.4 equivalent), I was pretty much guaranteed to be admitted. As long as I wrote a good essay, had solid recommendations, and produced a diploma and decent transcripts, there was no need to worry.

When I received the admittance letter, it almost felt anti-climactic, like I didn’t earn it. But I guess the other argument would be that I did earn it by producing a solid application, and getting decent grades while in undergrad.

Finally, if you apply to a school outside of America, you don’t have to take the GRE test! That means no expensive books, countless hours studying, and overpriced stressful visits to testing centers. After seeing my friends all rip their hair out over studying for the GRE, I’m glad that it’s something I’ll never experience.

grad school abroad

My friend taking out her anger on some tandoori chicken

3. You can learn a new language

Unless you go to grad school in another English-speaking country, you’ll have the opportunity to learn a new language! While I already speak Chinese fluently, there are plenty of opportunities for Nottingham students to learn Chinese. My major offers Chinese classes as part of the curriculum, but Nottingham also offers a variety of other ways to learn Chinese outside of the classroom. There are extracurricular Chinese lessons and a Chinese language club; International students can even sign up for a “Chinese buddy”, who will help you learn Chinese, and introduce you to the local culture.

About 90% of the students at the University of Nottingham in Ningbo are Chinese. All of the students must pass an English test to be admitted, and will have a preliminary year of English intensive classes before they start their degree, so that they’ll be able to keep up with the native speakers. I’m excited for the opportunity to be able to befriend some of the Chinese students, so that I can practice my Chinese with them outside of class. It’ll be a great way for me to improve my language skills, and I’m sure my classmates will be more than happy to take a break from English for a while. Plus, having local friends is really fun! They can show you cool new foods to try, and introduce you to local culture.

If a graduate degree isn’t enough to help you stand out from the pack of job applicants, the ability to speak another language will certainly help you rise about the rest. In an increasingly global world, employers want people who can speak another language. You’ll find that learning another language is so much easier when you have an opportunity to use it in your everyday life. With a little hard work and the desire to learn, it’s very possible to become conversational after a year.

grad school abroad

Use your language skills to interact with the locals! This woman grew up right near the high school I taught at.

4. You get to live abroad

This one pretty much speaks for itself. If you didn’t have the opportunity to study abroad, or you’re itching to live abroad again, graduate school is the perfect opportunity! You can live in a new country, try new foods, meet people from all over the world, and explore a new culture.

If you want to travel, but you’re worried about a resume-gap, grad school is a perfect option. You can live abroad for a year or two, and come home with a prestigious master’s degree! You’ll be ready to dive into whatever career awaits you, with an open mind, international experience, and a shiny new degree.

grad school abroad

5. Plenty of Opportunities to Travel

Attending graduate school abroad will give you plenty of opportunities to travel. For example, most schools in Asia give students a month off for the Lunar New Year (Chinese New Year). If you’re studying in China, you can easily pop down to SE Asia and explore countries like Thailand and Vietnam. Maybe you want to eat sushi in Japan, or take a train up to Beijing and hike the great wall? China also has tons of school holidays, making it easy to explore places nearby. You can get almost anywhere in China with $70 on a 24-hour sleeper train, and hostels are only about $10 a night! SE Asia is even cheaper, meaning your meager student budget will get you a lot of bang for your buck.

If you decide to attend grad school in Europe, you can easily hop on a train or take a quick flight to another country for the weekend. You’ll have a whole group of new classmates and friends to travel with, and transportation throughout the EU is relatively cheap compared to America. Even Australia has extremely cheap budget flights to Bali!

I spent my Chinese New Year break in Vietnam and Malaysia!

I spent my Chinese New Year break in Vietnam and Malaysia!

 6. It’ll help you get a job

The world is finally starting to realize that international experience is a huge plus! While it may seem like everyone you know has studied abroad, only 1% of all U.S. students enrolled at institutions of higher education in the US have studied abroad. Employers are now starting to realize that applicants who have studied abroad bring a lot to the table. 

  • A willingness to adapt to new environments
  • Understanding of different cultures, peoples and ideas
  • Self-confidence and independence
  • Ability to look at situations from different perspectives
  • Proficiency in a foreign language
  • More interesting and well-rounded

Don’t believe me? Just check out this article… or this one, or this one, or this one.

While I’m not saying all students who have studied abroad reflect these characteristics (because we all know that’s definitely not true), I do believe living abroad helps develop these skills.

grad school abroad

I also learned some new cooking skills

Grad school abroad isn’t for everyone, and there are definitely certain professions in America that require a local degree. However, getting a degree abroad can be a great option for a lot of people; Unfortunately, no one ever seems to talk about it. If you’re at all interested in grad school abroad, be sure to spend some time researching your options. Don’t be pressured to blindly follow the beaten path.

By getting my degree at a British university in China, I’ll be saving myself tens of thousands of dollars! I can improve my Chinese, travel during my holidays, meet people from all over the world, and have a great degree from a prestigious university in one year. There are so many benefits of studying abroad, it’s at least worth looking into!

Do you think grad school abroad is right for you? Are you shocked by the American tuition system like I am? Let me know below! 

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About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

75 comments on “Why you should consider grad school abroad

    • I think it’s great to look into opportunities abroad! Whether it’s for a better education, or international experience, there are tons of reasons to look into grad school abroad. For some reason though, it’s not very popular in the US at all.

  1. No arguments from me on this. I think getting an education abroad is a great idea for all the reasons you mentioned and more. Once finished you may come home with a much wider world perspective and that in itself is an awesome quality in a person. Good luck with everything.

  2. I think this opportunity it AH-mazing! I’ve looked into grad school in the UK but sadly the cost is terrifying (while uni here is expensive in Canada, it’s not like it is in the USA). Secretly wondering about Asia now and wouldn’t be surprised if I end up looking into that tonight…

    • Awesome Hannah! Yeah, the British tuition is cheap, but it’s so expensive to live in England. I get the best of both worlds at Nottingham in China. Theres tons of different programs like mine in Asia and the Middle East so I’m sure you’ll find something awesome. Let me know what other good programs you find! I’d love to know what else is out there.

  3. Once again, thanks for publishing such a thought-provoking article. I hope grad school abroad is the right choice for me! I’ll be moving into Building 18 in exactly a week, so I’ll find out soon enough!

    As an American enrollment management professional, I can agree with you that the cost of attendance is sky-rocketing….but the real reason is often hidden. Even newspapers of record, like the NY Times, are guilty of telling half-truths on this topic. Almost all private institutions (sans a few elite universities) follow a “high price, high discount” model (think of JC Penny instead of Walmart), leading to criminally inflated sticker prices. Yet, studies (http://chronicle.com/article/Rising-Tuition-Discounts-and/147465/) show that “scholarships” and “grants” have made net-tuition revenue stagnant for the past fifteen years. With the exception of those in the top-income bracket, Americans are enjoying a relatively affordable discounted tuition. So…if tuition isn’t the culprit, who (or what) is to blame? In short, room & board. With few, if any, American universities charging less than $10k per 9 months for R&B, students typically pay over $40k in auxiliary (non-educational) expenses over the course of a four year degree. With average undergraduate debt creeping up to $27k per student, tackling R&B expenses could mean the difference between debt-ridden and scot-free. This logic also holds true for master’s degree students. With rock-bottom cost of living expenses in China, the savings can be astounding. If only to save the family piggy bank from the perilous, university-shaped hammer, Americans should consider studying abroad in China.

    • You’re moving in early! I’m not arriving until the 9th, but I’m sure I’ll run into you at orientation :)

      I totally agree with everything you just said. I went to the George Washington University in DC, and it is one of the most expensive schools in the country, BUT they gave me a huge scholarship, so it was the cheapest school I could have gone to besides the University of Washington. Room and board in DC was insane too! Having a university so close to the white house really jacks up the prices, and meal plans are always a rip off. I noticed Nottingham’s food is really well priced! The cafe has some of the cheapest coffee I’ve seen in China. I’m glad they don’t jack up the prices like they did at my school.

  4. I’m going to send this post to a bunch of my friends! I’m always going on about how much more sense it makes to do a degree abroad. It’s SO much cheaper than the U.S. (many universities in Norway have free tuition for everyone, even international students!) and such a great experience. Good luck!

  5. i don’t think I would have ever considered moving abroad when i left school and went to uni, moving 90mins away from home seemed like a long time! But definitely a persuasive argument!

    • I think that’s definitely a great argument. For some people, only seeing family once a year for a few weeks is not an option. For me, I went to undergrad about 5 hours away from home by plane, so moving away for a year wasn’t that big of a jump. But not being home for Christmas was pretty hard, not matter how many western friends struggled through it with me. I know next year, it will be just as hard, if not harder.

  6. I went to school abroad in Croatia, with a semester in Berlin. I will say that was the best decision of my life for the experience, and for the cost, however, since the Croatian school I attended did not have very good educational standards. Actually, they had terrible standards, and I had a terrible experience with the faculty and staff. So do be a little picky and careful when looking abroad, but do go!

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Katie! I’m sure Croatia was amazing (I loved Croatia when I went), but I would be so frustrated if my classes weren’t challenging. I made sure to really look into that before I chose Nottingham. I was worried that my classmates would have sub-par English, but thankfully I was able to talk to a few current students who said it was fine.

  7. I don’t quite have experience for grad school but I went to Lund, Sweden for 4 months during my undergrad as part of an exchange program and it was the best decision I ever made. One of the defining moments of my undergrad for sure.

    • I’m trying to get around to writing a post about my first week but it’s been so crazy here!! I haven’t had a moment to sit, and my internet has been broken on and off. Maybe in a day or two.. hahaha.

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    • I studied abroad in undergrad and had to do it again! It’s always a great option for a master’s program too. Even if you can’t study abroad, you can always live abroad as an expat!

    • Thanks so cool Frank! I would love to visit the Philippines sometime soon. I’ve been learning so much living in China, and it’s made me a much more culturally open-minded person.

  9. I am considering that too, even if my daughter’s only 3. LOL! You said the right reasons for doing so. I plan to enroll her though in the Philippines, I know the quality of education is great and most people know how to speak English (even those who haven’t attended school). ;)

  10. My granddaughter would love to go to college, and we’re still trying to figure out how to pay for that. I would love this for her. She’s so smart I’m sure she would benefit by all of this. Great photos. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks XmasDolly! Studying outside of America can be a great way to save money, since a lot of colleges are a lot cheaper overseas than they are in the US. There’s also plenty of scholarships and financial aid available back home too!

  11. I’m so jealous! I wish I studied abroad back in college or went straight to Grad school. You’ve listed great reasons for considering going abroad for a graduate degree. My husband studied abroad in Madrid during Undergrad and it made such an impression on him. I would love to visit China…the food, the culture, the people. Enjoy your studies :)

    • I also studied abroad in undergrad which is part of the reason I wanted to do it again! You should definitely visit China if you have the chance. There’s so much to do and see (and eat!)

    • There’s still time! Especially if you want to do a master’s or just take a few classes for fun. Otherwise, living as an expat, volunteering or teaching abroad on a program can give you a similar experience.

  12. The UK have only just started charging high admission fees, but it’s certainly still a lot cheaper than studying in the US. It’s great opportunity – I didn’t even know that UK unis had colleges in Asia.

    • Nottingham is actually the first British university to have a campus in China, and they have one in Malaysia too! The British education system is really different than the American one, so that’s been a whole other cultural learning experience too. It’s funny how so many Europeans think this university is expensive while me and the other Americans are shocked by how cheap it is!

  13. I don’t think most students even consider continuing their education abroad. But when you break it all down financially like that, I bet they would!

  14. Thanks for this post Richelle. I’d never considered obtaining a degree abroad which is interesting because there are many who come from overseas to the US to study…why can’t we go to their countries as well? Very smart move on your part. I will be sharing this with others who I think could benefit from this opportunity. Best of luck to you. :)

    • Thanks so much Regina! I always thought of the US as a place where people come to study too. When we study abroad, it’s normally to experience a new culture and live abroad. I never even realized until recently how studying abroad can be such a benefit financially and academically.

  15. Hi Richelle! My name is Monica, my boyfriend and I are looking to study abroad in China for our masters! We just have NO CLUE about what steps need to be made to get started. Should we go through a study abroad program, should we go through the university, can we find a job, what test are required, etc. Can you give me any information or a way that I can contact you about some questions? We just need to know where to start! Lol. This will be my first time traveling abroad, he has been to Ghana and Italy.

  16. I loved this blog so much! Although, I’m having a difficult time finding grad programs abroad. Do you have any links that you can share? I want to do a similar program to yours where it is affordable, and maybe just one year. I’m open to many locations and areas of study! Thank you! :)

  17. Great article, Richelle! I’ve been looking into grad schools recently, and I’ve been itching to go back to Asia after studying abroad in Taiwan You’ve definitely made grad school in China a consideration for me, especially considering how cheap it is! What made you choose University of Nottingham over the other schools?

    • It was a tough choice, but the fact that it was affordable and one year was a big draw for me. I also thought it might help me in the future when I’m applying for jobs to have a university with a British sounding name, rather than a local name. For example, I know Renmin University is amazing, but maybe the person hiring me might not know that.

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