Why American Students Should Consider Pursuing a Full Undergraduate Degree Abroad

“Happy Birthday, Study Abroad! – Packing for One Year vs. Four”

While the year 2023 will go down in history for many memorable events both notorious and noteworthy, you may not know that 2023 also marks the 100th anniversary of the first fully accredited study abroad program at a U.S. university! And, did you know which university launched the first junior year study abroad program as we know and love it today? Harvard? Nah. Yale? Non. Princeton? Nein

In 1921, Professor Raymond W. Kirkbride, a World War I veteran and Modern Languages teacher, proposed his ambitious idea to his boss, President Walter S. Hullihen of the University of Delaware! If you visit the University of Delaware website, you can see a grainy old photograph of one of the earliest study abroad groups: dapper men in their suits and ties; fashionable young women with their cloche hats, bobbed hair, and long coats; nary a North Face backpack, Patagonia fleece, or Nalgene bottle to be found among them. But, the same looks of trepidation (especially since they faced a long ship voyage rather than cramped flight) mixed with anticipation grace their faces. 

The benefits of leaving one’s home country at an impressionable age to witness both the diversity and inherent commonality of humanity on our planetary home cannot be overstated. As 21st century technology has effectively shrunk our world, learning about countries outside of one’s own has become not only handy but essential as young adults contemplate how they’ll contribute to a global society through their future careers. 

Sometimes the siren call of study abroad so appeals to students that a single academic year doesn’t feel like enough time to immerse oneself in a new culture and reap even deeper and more meaningful benefits; more and more Americans are seeking opportunities to complete their entire Bachelor’s degree abroad, just as students from outside the US seek to complete their degrees here. 

Earning a degree abroad entails more considerations beyond which landmark you want to pass each day – Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, or the Spanish Steps. Students also need to research carefully the vastly different academic programs offered abroad, usually more focused on one particular subject (major) without the flexibility of US degrees. Also, the whole concept of undergraduate education in other countries presumes a greater degree of independence, individual motivation and curiosity, and a sense of responsibility for one’s learning, daily life, and self care. 18-year-olds are largely perceived to be fully-fledged adults in Europe and the UK, benefitting from both the freedoms and responsibilities that go along with adulthood. This level of independence manifests itself in a variety of ways: from self-catering accommodations in the UK (students are provided with a kitchenette to prepare their own meals instead of the traditional American dining hall) to attending tutorials with a don at Oxford who is guiding his students through their own learning, not disseminating information for them to regurgitate on an exam. 

In fact, the more significant level of independent learning and the deeper focus on a particular subject makes overseas Bachelor’s degrees – particularly from the UK, Ireland, and some European universities – more like a Master’s degree in the US. Globally influential employers are familiar with universities like UCL in London, Delft in the Netherlands, and Bocconi in Italy, and they know that the students graduating from those universities are extremely well prepared, mature, and ready to join their workforce with high levels of knowledge and skills. 

If a US high school student is ready and craving a dramatically different undergraduate experience that will launch them into more advanced and focused study, then earning a degree abroad could be a terrific opportunity. 

About The Author

Amy Christie, M.A.