SOMETIMES I WONDER if my undergraduate degree, which gave me a solid foundation in the History of Science and has led to a lucrative career in international vagabonding, is worth the $10,000 of student loans I am evading by living in Oaxaca, Mexico.
I ponder this, sometimes wallowing in bitterness, as I pore over the websites of American universities in search of graduate programs that won’t leave me forever indebted and doomed to the life of a backpacker on the run.
There are very few such programs—American education is undoubtedly very good, but it is also very expensive.
So, for those of us who love the experience of delving into and becoming part of different places, doesn’t it make sense to look abroad? The world offers some excellent opportunities for graduate school that might actually leave you spare change to, say, eat, and travel.
Thus, what follows: a brief overview of seven countries where you can get a graduate degree at a fraction of the price you’d pay in the U.S.
At around $2,000 a year, graduate programs in Spain are an incredible deal. The University of Barcelona ranks as one of the three best universities in Ibero-America (the other two being the UNAM of Mexico City and the University of Sao Paolo), and the University of Madrid is not far behind.
Masters degrees are diverse, going way beyond the simple categories of anthropology or sociology—how about an analysis of the history and culture of food? Or the management of cultural heritage? Why not get a degree in women, gender, and citizenship studies? And of course, there are plenty of offerings in the sciences, from an interdisciplinary analysis of water to the study of artificial intelligence and mathematics.
I apologize for giving way to cliché, but France, whether you love it or hate it, has an age-old association with intellectual life. Intellectuals have long been the Marilyn Monroes and Tom Cruises of France, and the quality and seriousness of French higher education reflect this cultural preference.
The Ecole Normale Superior de Paris ranks at number 28 in the list of the world’s top universities, and tuition for international graduate students is a whopping 190 Euros a year.
Graduate school is free. The website for Uppsala university announces this nonchalantly, as if the whole world lived in the calm socialist paradise that is Sweden.
Now, keep in mind that you’ll probably be paying about five Euros for a beer and who knows how much for any sort of classy lifestyle, but with free tuition, you can take down two Euro espressos right and left while you hit the books.
Plus, Uppsala offers a whole catalogue of Master’s programs in English, unlike other Swedish universities that require a good working knowledge of Swedish.
Yet another case in which very solid, well-ranked universities come in at around 100-500 Euros a year for tuition. You’ll have to contend with somewhat exorbitant living costs, particularly in the country’s financial centers, but by living like a good ol’ suffering grad student (think of a steady diet of comforting, hearty pasta) you should come out with a pretty good deal in the end.
German language skills are required for some schools; others, such as the University of Berlin, offer a selection of degrees in English.
Asian students flock to Singapore by the thousands to take advantage of the (relatively) cheap and high-quality education. Singapore National University is ranked at number 30 in the world, and tuition stands at around $4,000 a year for international graduate students.
Potential students with interests in Asian studies can explore a range of Masters degrees, from broader studies of Asian civilization to critical analyzes of Southeast Asia or the Malay Peninsula.
For those deeply embedded in love affairs with Asia and wanting to further them in an academic setting, Singapore offers a melting pot of Asian cultures, a high-quality graduate education, and ah, yes, the affordability that allows you to take a much-needed chill weekend from time to time on a Thai beach.
With tuition around $1,000 USD a year, the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico offers a tempting alternative to rival schools just North of the border.
And with UNAM ranking as one of Latin America’s most prestigious universities (along with Argentina’s University of Buenos Aires) you are really, let’s say, getting what you do not have to pay for: a top-quality graduate degree.
For those interested in Latin American studies and history, the program recently initiated here is one of the best in the world. And if Mexico City seems to you like an experience in pure chaos, try Puebla, Monterrey, or one of the CIESAS research institutes located throughout the country, all of which offer quality graduate degrees at prices comparable to that of UNAM.
The country in and of itself is an education, and provides a seething, transforming, highly charged backdrop to academic study.
Universities have taken advantage of the country’s post-apartheid opening up to promote academic and personal freedom, as well as the study of many disciplines banned or marginalized in the past. Cape Town and Johannesburg contain the most well-recognized universities, each of which charges around $4,000 a year in tuition for international graduate students.
Add to this the fact that the cost of living in South Africa affords grad students a much greater degree of luxury than they would experience in Europe or the U.S., and voila, you have the tantalizing prospect of plowing away at a doctorate without having to survive on heaping bowls of spaghetti.
Keep in mind this list is only the beginning. Start doing research online: the aptly named International Graduate Schools website has plenty of listings of specific schools and programs, but in my opinion the Top Grad School site is even better, with rankings, statistics, and programs listed for most major schools in dozens of countries.
Good luck, and may you save as much as you learn!
Have you done grad work abroad? Share your experiences and insights below!
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