In today’s competitive workplaces, it’s no longer enough to have a college degree. Many students are seeking to distinguish themselves from the crowd by incorporating unusual and specialized experience into their educations. One of the best ways that students can become more well-rounded is by studying abroad. Whether they head overseas for a single semester or for the duration of their scholastic careers, they find many advantages to international study.

How many U.S. students are studying abroad?

A record high number of American students are choosing to pursue education overseas instead of getting a degree at home. The Institute of International Education’s Open Doors report stated that 325,339 American students studied abroad during the 2015-2016 school year. More than half studied in Europe, but there were also significant U.S. student populations in Latin America and the Caribbean (15.8%) and in Asia (12.4%). Students seeking STEM degrees were among those most likely to study overseas, accounting for over 25% of international students. About one in five were studying business and management.

What are the most popular places to study abroad?

More U.S. students who are pursuing full-time degrees head to the U.K. than anywhere else. In a recent report, nearly 15,000 U.S. students were studying in the U.K. full-time. Canada was the second most popular. Germany, which offers free tuition to all students, was host to nearly 4,000 students from the U.S. Other popular destinations included France, Australia and New Zealand.

Why do people go abroad for studying?

There are many reasons that people choose to spend either a semester or their entire school career studying abroad.

The opportunity to learn another language is among the top reasons to choose to study abroad. Full language immersion is considered the best way to learn a foreign language. Demand for bilingual workers in the United States more than doubled from 2010 to 2015, which makes the ability to speak multiple languages a plus for newly graduated job seekers. 2015 figures showed that around 600,000 job listings included multiple languages as a requirement. The largest growth in these listings were for high-prestige jobs in areas like finance, editing and engineering. Chinese, Spanish and Arabic were the foreign languages most in demand.

Many students seek to study abroad in order to showcase the experience itself on their resumes. Time spent abroad shows a willingness to take risks and an open-mindedness that can be an asset on the job. If a company has offices in multiple countries, an applicant who can navigate other cultures can be an asset.

Just like future employers, many graduate programs are highly selective and looking for students who distinguish themselves from competitors. Students who are considering advanced degrees can get an edge by spending a semester abroad. This can be especially beneficial for those whose area of study is enhanced by their travels. A European history student, for instance, can shine when they add study in the countries their studies focus on.

A number of programs offered abroad are non-degree programs. Instead, they are in the form of internships. These internships can give students a chance to hone their skills in an exotic location. They also can give students contacts overseas they may not have made otherwise.

Studying abroad can sometimes offer opportunities that are not available in your home country. The Caribbean, for instance, is a popular destination for non-traditional medical students. Medical school admissions in the U.S. are highly competitive. Large numbers of highly qualified students vie for a small number of vacancies. Caribbean schools, by contrast, have many openings for students, including older students returning to school and some who did not have the grades to make it into American medical schools. Students who choose to study in well-regarded schools like St. George’s University or Ross University School of ­Medicine in Grenada find tuition rates that are often in line with what they would expect to pay in the U.S. These students often get the advantage  of clinical training spots in the U.S. when they are done with their studies. They also find that the schools are willing to help them find positions in high-demand areas so they can begin work immediately out of school.

In some cases, a student will choose to study abroad specifically for the social experience of living in another country. Unlike a short vacation, a semester or more studying abroad allows you the experience of everyday life in your host location. Students will get something closer to the experience of a native of the country than they ever could during a two to three-week trip.

Studying abroad can also be a jumping off point for more extensive travel. A semester spent in Spain, for instance, can allow for easy weekend trips to other nearby countries. Instead of zipping through many countries on a vacation, you can spend time exploring each area more deeply. When Ireland or France is just a discount flight away, you are more likely to get a chance to take in the culture and history of these destinations.

Does it cost more to study abroad?

Whether it will cost more to study abroad depends largely on the country and program that you pick. Forbes reports that the average cost for a semester abroad is $31,270.

The exchange rate between the U.S. and the country of study will need to be considered when estimating costs. The rate between British Pounds and U.S. Dollars, for instance, can significantly raise expenses. However, there are many moves that a student can pick to reduce the cost of getting their education abroad.

Choosing a country with free or low-cost educational options can be a comparatively inexpensive way to become a more well-rounded student. Norway offers free schooling to all students, including international students from destinations like the U.S. Many students are drawn by the large numbers of English speakers, which can make it easier to adapt to living abroad. However, living costs may be higher than in some other countries. It costs around $14,500 per year for student housing.

Germany is a popular destination for students specifically because the country offers free tuition to international students. Health insurance and travel for students in the country is inexpensive. In one recent article, a U.S. student from South Carolina reported that he paid $120 per semester in student fees and $87 per month for health insurance. The costs for rent, food and other incidentals was roughly $6,000 to $7,000 per year. When contrasted with costs in the U.S., students studying in Germany enjoy excellent educational opportunities at a fraction of the cost.

France charges both domestic and international students around $200 per year for their bachelor’s programs and around $300 per year for graduate studies. A number of English-language programs are available at the graduate level, which can make it easier for students who are not yet fluent in French.

Mexico offers a low cost of living, with expenses that run as little as $500 per month. While most schools offer instruction in Spanish, a handful offer classes in English specifically for international students. Tuition at schools in Mexico City average $5,500 per year.

Taiwan is among the most popular and attractive destinations in Asia for international students. The National Taiwan University offers over 120 courses taught in English and has tuition fees that are just over $3,100 per year. The cost of living in Taiwan is also extremely low, with estimates for housing as little as $2,300 a year. The region is also a great place to learn Mandarin; the demand for workers who speak this language continues to increase.

There are also many choices that students can make to reduce the cost of their time spent abroad. Flights to and from your destination country are among the most expensive costs. By shopping carefully and timing your travel to avoid peak times, you can see substantial savings.

For students who qualify, U.S. government-sponsored programs, such as the Gilman Scholarship, the Boren Awards for International Study and the Fullbright Scholarship, can cover costs and  may even provide living stipends during your time overseas.

Students who are receiving Federal Student Aid may also qualify for additional funds related to their studies abroad. Funds are often available for expenses that include visas, housing, health insurance and round-trip transportation.

Should you go north?

While many people immediately think of studying in Europe when they think of studying abroad, there are plenty of reasons to look to our neighbor to the north. In 2013, over 8,000 students from the U.S. went to schools in Canada. There are also many students from other parts of the world. About 55% of the 25,000 students at McGill University, a highly rated school in Montreal, come to study there from other countries. In 2012, over 2,000 of those students came from the U.S.

Degrees from Canadian universities are internationally recognized, which can give students an edge in the job market. Additionally, the application process can be less daunting than that for U.S. schools. Instead of relying on a combination of essays, interviews and recommendations, Canadian schools typically look more closely at grades and SAT scores.

Canada has advantages that include a common language, a close proximity, and a familiar culture. Students who study there are typically not far from home and can travel back to see family and friends more often than those overseas.

Many U.S. students cite lower tuition and a friendly exchange rate as a reason to study in Canada. Tuition at top-rated schools like the University of Toronto cost between $19,754 to $25,584. American students are able to use U.S. college savings plans and student loans to pay for schooling. They can also apply for Canadian university scholarships to cover some of the expenses associated with going to school there.

Exchange rates that favor the U.S. go further toward reducing your costs. At the time of this writing, each Canadian dollar is worth 78 U.S. cents. Doing your currency exchanges through WorldFirst can help you ensure a highly competitive exchange rate no matter when you decide to make a transfer.

Are there reasons to stay in the U.S. instead?

All of this said, studying abroad is not for everyone. For some students, staying at home is a much better fit socially, academically and for achieving your goals. If you are someone who gets homesick easily or who does not deal well with uncertainty and change, a foreign school could be an unpleasant destination.

Some students choose to stay in the U.S. for purely financial reasons. While tuition and living costs may be lower in other parts of the world, some students who stay in the U.S. retain a home-field advantage. They may opt, for instance, to live with parents or other family to cut down on costs during school. In-state tuition at a well-regarded state school can also be far lower than tuition at an equivalent university somewhere else. With so many students starting their careers with high levels of student debt, choosing a lower-cost option can be a big benefit.

Students should also consider studying at home instead of heading overseas if they have a very specific major in mind and have a chance to study at a U.S.-based school known for it. A degree from a place that is a top school in your field may be more life changing than a chance to study in a foreign country. If a semester overseas does not offer you additional educational, social, or career-oriented opportunities, staying in the U.S. for your studies can be a better idea.

Summing Up

Every student is individual. Whether some time spent abroad will be a good fit for you will depend on your personality, your major and the career you see for yourself when college is done. By exploring your options for education, you can become the most well-rounded student you can be and pave the way for a satisfying school experience and career.