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Go For the Full Degree in Australia

Direct Enrollment in an International University

A semester studying abroad is a great way to visit another culture and learn at the same time. However, if you really want to pursue an education while experiencing another way of life, acquiring an international degree is far more challenging and rewarding. As an American who obtained my full degree at Australia’s Bond University, I have learned a few practical ways to help you make that leap from “study abroad tourist” to international student.

Educational tourism is a booming industry, and Australia, with its favorable exchange rate, beautiful beaches, and relaxed atmosphere, is one of the leading destinations. The start of a new semester on Australia’s Gold Coast is marked by busloads of new international students arriving for a semester abroad. Because universities in this area have more international students than Australians, most of the people they meet are also studying abroad. Their experience here is often limited to weekend bus trips to the nightclubs, organized excursions to crowded tourist destinations, and a few surfing lessons. Many go home thinking they’ve been immersed in another culture when really they have only seen a very small part of it.

The experience is what you make of it, and a rare few make it four months of cultural discovery and serious study. Yet, studying long-term at a foreign university offers so much more. Students are allowed to work, which means they have the opportunity to make friends with the “authentic” locals outside of campus walls. Buying a car becomes a wise investment, permitting them to hit the road in search of genuine adventures. Living off campus allows students to develop lasting relationships with local housemates and get to know the surrounding neighborhoods. They have the opportunity to get into local sports and activities such as surfing, skiing, rugby, or mountain climbing. They are forced to become more independent and have time to learn the art of cross-cultural communication—both qualities that many employers look for. Most importantly, full degree students don’t have to cram every activity into a few months, which leaves more time to focus on their studies and actually get what they paid for—an international education.

So why don’t more U.S. students obtain their full degree abroad? There is always the concern about being away from family and friends for years at a time. The only advice I can offer here is to take the first step; you’ll be surprised at how easy it is. One of my initial fears was that an overseas degree might not hold up in the U.S. job market. I decided to contact prospective employers and found that, in most cases, it would actually improve my chances of getting a job.

The biggest problem with getting a degree in another country is weaving your way through the maze of bureau-cracy. Short-term study abroad programs are usually handled through a student’s home school, but U.S. colleges and high schools don’t help students apply for a full degree program overseas. Fortunately, many services are available to guide students through the process. Most of them are free of charge; the cost is passed on to the foreign university. A few of them follow:

The Australian Education Connection (AEC) offers immersion in most Australian universities. They assist with everything from general enquiries to the application process, credit transfers, housing, visas, health insurance, airport pickup, organized tours, books on Australia, and selecting the right school and subject for your needs. A $50 program deposit is required, but is deducted from the first semester’s tuition. AEC has have offices in Australia and the U.S. You can call toll-free from America at 800-565-9553 or visit them online at www.studyabroad.com/australia.

AustraLearn is a leading service for U.S. and Canadian students who want to study for a limited time or obtain their full degree in Australia. Their website, www.australearn.org, is the place to go for information on studying in Australia. From the benefits of studying in Australia to finances and cultural descriptions, they have it all. AustraLearn is a nonprofit organization and their services are free to the student.

Center for International Studies (CIS) is the organization that helped me through the process of enrolling at Bond University and provided information and assistance on financial aid, health care, living expenses, and visa requirements. All of the necessary documentation was sent within weeks of contacting them, and someone was always there to answer my questions. They work with universities all over the world and their services are free to the student. Contact CIS toll-free on 877-617-9090 or visit their website at: www.studyabroad-cis.com.

Additional Resources

Educational Directories Unlimited, Inc. manages the websites www.UniversitiesAbroad.com and GradSchools.com, both catering to long-term international students. They do not offer assistance in the application, visa, financial aid, or transition process, but extensive databases of universities around the world that accept international students into their full degree programs. I recommend using these websites as the first step in deciding which university and/or country you want to study in. Once your mind is made up, visit CIS and similar services to find out if they work with your chosen university. Remember, dealing directly with the school is always an option if there are no liaisons available.

American Student Assistance (ASA) offers support for financial aid issues including Federal Stafford Loans and PLUS loans. They make private loans easier to get by insuring the lender against non-paying students and serve as a liaison between lenders and foreign schools. ASA is invaluable to the international student because most foreign universities have no knowledge of the U.S. federal loan process, which can be a huge hassle once you’re overseas and it’s time to reapply for your student loans. Visit their website at www.amsa.com or call 800-999-9080.

Why Get a Foreign Degree?

As Jerry Rafter of www.UniversitiesAbroad.com points out, “I would say that probably the academic standards at foreign universities are higher now than at most U.S. universities.” Of the five major U.S. companies I contacted, including P&G and Boeing, all viewed Australian degrees as equal to those from the U.S. In fact, potential employers will probably see those who obtain such degrees as people who are not afraid to move out of their element and can adapt quickly. According to Steve Sloan, of the Center for International Studies, “Someone who does their full degree abroad is going to be able to consider the workplace as a whole and not just their little cubicle space and job description. They realize there are other people out there in the world.” And let’s not forget how much fun you’re going to have exploring a new country or the personal and professional contacts you’ll make along the way.

Obstacles

In most countries health insurance is mandatory for international students. Your health insurance from America will probably not cover you, and traveler’s insurance is not legally sufficient. The cost is sometimes included in tuition for study abroad students, but not if you’re obtaining a full degree. The best place to go for insurance in Australia is probably Overseas Student Health Care (OSHC). It costs about $175 for one year of coverage. Visit them at www.worldcare.com.au. For other countries the university should be able to suggest insurance companies if needed.

The good news is you are eligible for federally subsidized student loans when attending most international universities. The bad news is that does not include Pell Grants. However, if the federal loans are not enough to cover tuition, ASA may be able to assist you in obtaining a private low-interest loan from a U.S. bank.

Most of the universities you will find on the www.UniversitiesAbroad.com website have good reputations around the world, and it should be easy to transfer credits or get a job in America when you come back. However, students of law, medicine, psychology, and education may have problems with certification in America because these systems vary so much between countries. I strongly suggest checking with the appropriate organization, such as the American Bar Association, before enrolling at a foreign university.

One problem I ran into in Australia, which can also occur elsewhere, is with the certificate of enrollment (COE). You must first pay tuition to get one, which creates a catch-22 of sorts. To get financial aid you need a COE. Without financial aid you can’t afford tuition, which means you can’t get financial aid, which means you can’t go to school. The easiest way around this is to pay for only one class, which will effectively enroll you in the institution, thus allowing you to obtain a COE. Let the school know you will be attending full-time, as it is a requirement for obtaining your visa, and they will include this information in the certificate of enrollment, which will allow you to obtain financial aid.

Words of Advice

Begin the application process as soon as possible. You have to get a doctor to fill out the necessary visa paperwork and you will need chest x-rays for most countries. You must also apply to the university, obtain your academic records, fill out FAFSA forms for financial aid, purchase plane tickets, and make the appropriate preparations. It will take a minimum of three months to get everything done.

Take the entrance essays seriously, just as if you were applying at a university in America. When asked why you would like to study in Australia, “I want to see kangaroos and learn to surf” is not the best answer. Belinda Teng, Study Abroad Coordinator for Bond University, says, “In essays we look for well-rounded students who can cope academically and emotionally with studying in another country for an extended period of time. Previous experience abroad certainly helps, as does an extra curricular activity that might show initiative and independence.”

Make sure you are choosing the best school for the right reasons. It is very tempting to choose a university on a tropical island or in an exciting city simply because you think it would be fun to live there. Being in a place you find enjoyable is important, but so are qualified teachers and the right programs for your future goals. Hopefully you’ll be as lucky as me and get the best of both worlds—beautiful beaches, perfect weather, and a first-class education.

Why Get Your Degree in Australia?

Cost

• The average annual tuition cost in Australia is about 40 percent lower than in the U.S.
• The average annual cost of living in Australia is about 30 percent lower than in the U.S.
• Foreign students are eligible for academic scholarships through most Australian universities
• Most Australian universities do not charge application fees.
• Students from the U.S. are eligible for their full amount of U.S. Federal financial aid (excluding Pell Grants). Canadians are also eligible for financial aid.
• Bachelor degrees only require three years of study. This is reduced to two years with Bond University’s three-semester calendar.

Quality

• The U.S. recognizes Australian universities as outstanding institutions for full-degree study; transferring credits or obtaining a job back in America should not be a problem.
• Unlike the U.S., with over 3,300 institutions of higher learning, Australia has 39 universities, which can only be created through an official act of parliament.
• Even though it only takes three years to obtain a degree, Australia makes up for it with low student-to-teacher ratios, less electives, and only serious classes.