This guide responds to the growing desire among high school
counselors to broaden undergraduate college options for US students,
specifically students who have expressed an interest in studying
internationally. It is designed to be a starting point for counselors
building their competence and confidence in advising these students. The
guide seeks to take you from where you might be when the first student
comes into your office and says, “I heard college is free in Germany,”
to where you likely want to be as a counselor of students exploring
broader options—supportive, informed, and able to assess specifics as
the need arises.
Students’ initial questions about international study options often
focus on admission, but as a counselor, your perspective needs to also
include the bigger picture of matriculation, persistence, graduation,
Whether students are moving across town or around the globe,
adjustment challenges are expected. For those studying internationally,
these can be exacerbated by cultural and language differences,
educational system variances, and the distance involved. The student
experience is often fundamentally different outside the US than it is
inside it. As an example, many international universities do not have
American-style campuses and on-site housing. And even if students are
proficient in the language of the country where they’d like to study,
living on their own in a different culture can be challenging. Teaching
styles and evaluation methodologies may differ from US high schools or
US postsecondary institutions. At a practical level, when a student
overseas experiences a slump, it is less likely that he or she can be
shored up by a quick visit home or a visit from a parent or friend. On
the other hand, students completing degrees internationally can become
true global citizens, and grow and thrive in ways that are hard to fully
explain or measure.
Looking ahead to beyond graduation, counselors need to consider a
student’s potential eligibility to remain in their host country for work
or further education. Immigration and visa policies can be complex, and
what’s more they frequently change. Students who wish to stay abroad
following graduation need to research their eligibility for short- or
long-term work visas, and the associated requirements.
Students looking to pursue undergraduate degrees in another country
should also be aware of the applicability of their intended degree in
the US. While globally educated students are often very attractive to
employers and graduate programs, students considering professional
degrees abroad, such as medicine, law, architecture, and engineering,
need to carefully research whether their prospective credential will be
recognized back home. Additionally, fewer US employers recruit American
students at overseas campuses for employment back in the states, as
compared with the many recruitment fairs available to students attending
institutions in the US. Alumni networks, however, can be an important
resource for graduates of international universities.
Counselors new to helping American students apply to universities
abroad may want to acquaint themselves with international and national
rankings. While NACAC advises caution when using rankings, they can be
useful in helping counselors, students, and families build an
understanding of various international universities, their sizes,
strengths, and how they compare to familiar domestic universities.
International rankings such as Times Higher Education World University Rankings, U.S. News & World Report Global Rankings, QS World University Rankings, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Academic Ranking of World Universities
are useful for building awareness of some of the more prestigious
institutions across the globe. There are also new efforts to help
students choose where to apply, such as the UK’s Teaching Excellence Framework
(TEF). While performance indicators used in traditional rankings are
not always indicative of the student experience, the TEF aims to
measures things students care about: teaching, learning, and what
students go on to do afterwards.
In some countries, national rankings are done at the course/major
level. The much scrutinized league tables in the UK are one such
example. The tables illustrate how an individual university’s rank can
differ considerably by course of study.
With that background, some of the significant differences in postsecondary education internationally, vis-à-vis the US, include:
Duration and Focus – In many of the countries
covered in this guide, the standard duration of an undergraduate program
is three years, though there are variations for honors programs and
degrees in certain disciplines. Additionally, the student often selects a
major (or course of study) before application, is admitted into that
major, and has limited flexibility to change once accepted.
Consequently, the applicant’s academic record and other required
application materials need to be targeted to the student’s specific
course of study. This also has implications for the student’s experience
once at university; the ability to take courses outside one’s major
would likely be limited when compared to American institutions.
Timing – Academic calendars and the timetable for
admission decisions vary by country, and do not necessarily coincide
with those in the US. Students who apply to universities in more than
one country can find themselves facing different decision notification
and acceptance/deposit dates. Additionally, US students bound for New
Zealand and Australia, for instance, may have an eight-month gap between
high school graduation and matriculation.
Admission Requirements and Processes – Generally, admission decision-making tends to be less holistic at universities abroad and requirements are clearer cut.
In part because admission is generally granted into a specific major,
universities are often more specific in the courses and grades required
at the high school level. Additionally, some overseas universities do
not consider a US high school degree comparable to a secondary school
degree from their country. They may accept students with a high number
of Advanced Placement (AP) tests or the International Baccalaureate (IB)
diploma, but may require US students with a different academic
background to complete another year of schooling (often called a foundation
year) prior to beginning the three-year degree program. During the
application process, counselors may need to provide detailed course
descriptions to help the student justify the rigor of his or her high
Conditional Offers – In certain countries,
conditional offers of admission are common. These may specify attainment
of specific scores on final testing, including AP exams and IB tests.
This can mean a student will not know whether they may enroll at the
university that made the conditional offer until those results are
available in the summer before planned matriculation.
Costs – Some countries regulate university costs. In
most cases costs are stated on university websites in the local
currency. Students and families should be aware of possible fluctuations
in currency exchange rates, and the associated risk of costs rising.
While many international universities are recruiting US students,
financial aid opportunities may be limited. And there are additional
costs, such as required insurance and travel to and from the home
Agents – In some of the countries profiled it is
common for universities to recruit international students in partnership
with commercial recruitment agencies, and remunerate their partners via
per capita commission payments. However, domestic and international
universities alike that participate in US federal financial aid programs
are prohibited from paying incentive compensation to agencies for the
recruitment of financial aid-eligible students (US citizens and
permanent residents). Generally speaking, students should exercise
caution in considering third-party advisory services. The NACAC
publication Trusted Sources: Seeking Advice on Applying to Universities in Another Country can help students make informed decisions about these services.
This guide was developed with cooperation from representatives of
countries that have proven popular postsecondary study destinations
among US students. Though many countries are featured, NACAC hopes other
countries representing more world regions and languages will
participate in future editions.
The first section profiles 13 countries based on information provided
by the aforementioned representatives, and reviewed by NACAC members
with experience counseling American students seeking international
study. At the time of publication, this guide offered the most
up-to-date information available, but counselors and students should
always reach out to specific universities, organizations, and embassies,
or consulates to confirm important details. Following the
country-specific information, the guide briefly addresses other options
for international educational experiences.
The country profiles are organized into sections:
Brief Background – Provides an overview of the
postsecondary educational landscape, including numbers and types of
universities/colleges, subgroupings of educational institutions, and
statistics on the number of international students studying in the
Good to Know – Describes the length of a typical
undergraduate degree program, country-specific terminology, special
strengths of the educational system, and legal protections for
Academic Calendar – Lists the start and end dates of the school year, exam periods, and school holidays.
Search – Provides links to specific websites to learn more about university options and courses of study.
Apply – Addresses whether students must apply
directly to a major/course of study, whether applications are processed
by a central organization or by each individual university, and whether
there are restrictions on the number or type of applications a student
Deadlines – Lists application timelines by semester of matriculation.
Application Fees – Provides costs to apply to one or more universities.
Admission Requirements – Describes admission
factors, such as language proficiency, coursework, and SAT, SAT Subject,
ACT, and IB and AP testing. Also describes advanced credit provided for
AP or IB coursework, if applicable.
Upon Acceptance – Reviews the documentation provided
at acceptance, whether conditional acceptances are common, if there is
rolling admission and timing for student responses and deposits.
Tuition and Fees – Provides general cost ranges,
information on tuition regulation at the state or national level, and
financial aid options, including how to use US federal student loans.
Housing – Explains typical housing arrangements for
international students, including the availability and costs of
university-provided housing, methods for securing offcampus housing, and
general timelines and caveats.
Visa and Other Permits – Provides tips and resources
for obtaining student visas and other permits, including demonstration
of proof of sufficient funding and required health insurance. Work
eligibility is also discussed.
Advice from the Field – Offers insights and
recommendations by NACAC members with ample experience counseling
American students about international postsecondary study. Tips include
additional website resources, who to contact for more information, and
how to identify universities to consider.
If your students are interested in expanding their college search beyond the US borders, make sure they have the facts.
Myth or fact? Students must be fluent in another language to apply to an overseas university.
Myth! Australia, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and other
English-speaking countries are popular destinations for US students.
English-taught programs are also offered through universities in
countries, such as France, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, and
Myth or fact? All countries follow the same academic calendars and college admission timeline.
Myth! Academic calendars and the timetable for admission decisions
vary by country, and do not necessarily coincide with those in the
United States. US students bound for New Zealand and Australia, for
instance, may have an eight-month gap between high school graduation and
Myth or fact? US degrees are more valuable.
Myth! Quality higher education options exist across the globe.
Students whose prospective careers require certification (such as
doctors or architects) may have to complete additional exams or meet
other requirements in order to practice outside the country where they
studied. In most cases, globally educated students are very attractive
Myth or fact? Earning a degree abroad will break the bank.
Myth! Affordable options are available. For instance, tuition is
generally free at all German public universities (though fees are
assessed). Some foreign universities participate in the US federal
student loan program. Check with individual institutions to learn more
about costs and financial aid options.