An international university education is an open door to opportunity. Between 2000 and 2019, global student mobility tripled, with US, UK, Canada and Australia hosting almost half of internationally mobile students.
In 2019, over 5 million students were travelling to study overseas.
The number represented $196 billion of total international education expenditure, and the number is forecasted to reach $433 billion by the year 2030.
With international education being a significant and daunting financial investment, it’s natural for any parent to ask the question – is it a worthwhile investment?
First, you need to take a step back – look at the bigger picture and plan towards the end goal. Education is not the destination, but rather part of the journey to the life your child wants to lead. This means thinking about how the university they select will shape their lives beyond their years of study.
The right institution isn’t just a matter of academic reputation; it’s also a question of finding the location that suits your child’s lifestyle and goals, and fits within your budget. Whether this is home or abroad, Ivy League or public, here are some of the critical questions for parents and children to consider together to make sure that it is an investment well made.
Is the program flexible or focused on one specialisation?
Choosing a program of study should naturally be driven by your child’s skills and interests, but to find the right program in that field, there are other things to consider. Is the program flexible in exploring other disciplines, or does it follow a specialisation from the start? American institutions often don’t require students to select a major until later in their program, while UK universities generally follow the specialised curriculum from the beginning. Consider whether flexibility or focus is the right option for your child.
Does the teaching style suit me?
Is the teaching style experiential, with practical and lab-based lessons, or is it more traditional and classroom-oriented? For example, American universities offer co-op programs that combine classroom instruction with on-the-job training, while the UK curriculum focuses heavily on academic rigour. Consider which will suit your child and best prepare them for their future.
Will it prepare me for a good job?
Is the program, and most importantly, its curriculum, relevant to the emerging jobs market? Degree programs of the same name can vary in content and delivery. Consider if there is workplace demand for the knowledge and skills your child will develop to have good job prospects when they graduate.
Can I work wherever I want?
Qualifications linked to licenced professional practice, such as medicine and accounting, need to be transferable so that they are accepted by the relevant authorities in the countries of practice, as well as where they are awarded. Consider whether the program is recognised by the relevant bodies and will enable your child to work globally.
Can we afford the fees and expenses?
Do you have a financial plan in place? Higher education is a significant investment, and the returns are rarely immediate. If your child plans to go overseas, living expenses must also be considered. The tuition, accommodation and general subsistence cost vary significantly across countries and cities. Consider what you can commit financially and whether scholarships are a realistic option, as this may have a bearing on which institutions and locations you should explore.
Am I prepared to leave home?
Is your child prepared to live independently? It’s a big leap from graduating high school to moving away from home, potentially multiple flights away from family and friends. Consider whether your child is practically and emotionally prepared for independent living. If they aspire for an international education but don’t want to leave home straight away, consider the other options available such as branch campuses with transfer or study abroad options after one or two years.
Will I meet the right people?
Can the institution expose your child to networks that will help build their career? A university education isn’t just a qualification; it’s an experience that will shape a child’s future. Attending university overseas will expose your child to international networks that broaden their professional horizons. Consider whether the location and institution are a good fit to develop lifelong connections that can boost career development.
Where do I want to be in the future?
Are you looking for a higher education destination that could facilitate immigration? University can provide the launch pad if your child’s long-term life goals involve living and working abroad. Consider the legal requirements and lifestyle aspects of the countries you’re exploring, as well as the long-term employment prospects that will come with the degree qualification and academic reputation of the institution chosen.
With so much at stake, parents often feel immense pressure to help their child make such a life-defining decision. Trying to balance the logistical challenges and financial responsibilities with the need to do what’s best for their child’s education, well-being, and future prospects means that the university admissions process can be a stressful experience for parents as well as students. If you start early with these key questions, you’ll be well prepared for the process.
Varun Jain is Founder and CEO of UniHawk, a leading university admissions counselling and test preparation institute in the GCC, specialising in guidance for overseas study.