The Secret To Saving Money On Your Master's Degree

You may have to get out of your comfort zone

Students graduating college today are often faced with crushing debt and an enormously competitive job market. The answer for many recent grads is simply to go back to school; getting a master’s degree has been shown to lead to higher paying jobs.

The only catch: getting a master’s in the United States can be prohibitively expensive, often pushing students into even greater amounts of student debt. For example, a master’s degree in economics from Columbia University costs $30,226 per trimester, or $90,678 a year—and that’s without taking administrative costs, textbooks, as well as the high cost of living in New York City into account.

Instead of digging themselves even deeper into debt, some recent grads are considering a drastic, yet cheaper alternative: getting a master’s degree abroad.

Getting that same M.S. in economics from the University of London would cost roughly the price of one trimester at Columbia—a total of $30,945. Students are finding similar prices and degrees in the United Kingdom, Germany, Singapore, and Australia, among other places around the globe.

It’s not just money you can save by studying abroad—you can save time too. Many universities, such as the University of London, offer intensive year-long M.S. programs, which, for students, is a win-win situation. They pay less overall and can re-enter the job market faster than they would in the United States.

Of course, the amount you save will depend on which city you’re studying in. Munich’s Ludwig Maximilian Universität München (LMU), for example, offers a tuition-free master’s program (aside from a $128 administrative fee). But the cost of living in Munich can be as much as $1300 a month, which is comparable to the cost of living in San Francisco. That can add up quickly, especially when you combine living expenses with the costs of visas, flights home, and school materials.

For some people, though, a high cost of living is worth it for a discounted degree. Take Kellyn Patterson, for example. She left the Bay Area to study marketing at the University of Melbourne for roughly $26,000 per year. (That’s about half the cost of what she would’ve paid for the same degree in the United States). While she did spend approximately $1,700 on her visa, school applications, and flights, the costs were worth the move. “I'm breaking up with the emotionally and mentally abusive boyfriend that is my home country of America,” she tells me. Patterson is not only gaining a valuable education—she’s acquiring international professional skills by learning “how to communicate and work with people from different cultures.”

Brittany Kirk, who’s now working at an affluent Japanese bank, had a similar experience. After getting her master’s at Bangor University in Wales, Kirk was hired immediately. Her employers were intrigued by her decision to school abroad, viewing it as a sign of self-confidence and resilience. “Broader cultural experiences definitely make a person appear more dynamic and open-minded,” says Kirk. “Someone who can, perhaps, think outside of the box because their minds have seen both local methods and international methods.”

Of course, studying abroad is not the best option for all degrees. In fields like law and medicine, countries have different requirements and expectations, and degrees don’t often transfer the way those in other corporate or academic fields do. Getting a medical degree in France, for example, will not automatically give you license to practice in America (fully qualified practitioners often have to repeat their medical residencies before they can work in America). Most U.S. state bar associations require applicants to have graduated from a school accredited by the American Bar Association before taking the bar exam.

Getting any advanced degree comes with a unique set of financial, emotional, and personal costs—no matter where you are. But compared to the cost of getting a degree in America, studying abroad is often cheaper and more time-efficient. The self-confidence and cultural awareness gained from living in a different country are just an added bonus.

*All dollar conversions are based on the interbank exchange rate at the time of writing