When Nate Kerkhoff packed his bags for graduate school, he traveled more than 6,500 miles from suburban Kansas City to the gates of Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. His younger sister, Anna, also took the international path, to the University of Montreal.
Nate, 29, is finishing his master's program in international cooperation and security, while Anna, 24, earned her master's in economics, and is currently working as a research assistant at a university in Montreal.
Sending kids off to college in another country may seem odd to some, but there are a few good reasons to do so. Many universities outside the U.S. are highly regarded and also come at a fraction of the price of schools here.
That was certainly the case for the Kerkhoff kids, said their father, Blair Kerkhoff. Their graduate school costs, even with travel, were lower than their undergraduate tab much closer to home.
"It can make sense to attend college in a different country because the savings can be significant," said Kalman Chany, owner of Campus Consultants Inc. in New York and co-author of the Princeton Review's "Paying for College" resource guide.
Canadian colleges are particularly popular. Consider that the average annual tuition for international students to attend college in Canada is about $16,000, much lower than many public universities in the U.S.
If you're wondering about the language barrier, many of these programs offer instruction in English. In Europe alone, about 300 colleges and universities offer more than 1,500 English-taught bachelor's degrees, according to Beyond the States, an international college adviser.
While four years studying in London, Paris or Sri Lanka sounds exciting and exotic, Chany cautions families to understand how the enrollment and financial aid process works and to be prepared for challenges. Often there are no dorms and immigration laws can be tough to navigate.
Here are some other considerations:
Financial aid: Students can receive federal aid for study abroad. About 400 foreign colleges and universities are eligible to participate in the Department of Education's Title IV federal student aid program, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research at savingforcollege.com. No federal Pell grants are available, he added, just federal loans.
Families can also use money from 529 college savings accounts to cover bills at foreign institutions, but only if that school is eligible under Title IV, Kantrowitz said. Keep in mind that transportation costs generally aren't considered a qualified expense for using 529 money.
There are also at least nine countries, including Germany, Brazil and Iceland, that provide free tuition at their public colleges for all students, including U.S. students. In addition, many schools have scholarship money for foreign students.
Payment deadlines: Some schools want a full year's payment for tuition and other costs up front, said Chany. Do you have the funds in place to write one big check, or do you need a short-term loan until financial aid is dispersed?
Health insurance: If your student is going abroad to college, make sure health insurance will provide coverage in case of sickness or hospitalization far from home. Some foreign schools offer individual health insurance policies.
Banking: You may need to open an account at a bank in a foreign country. Ask about currency hurdles and fees, especially for transferring money. "We discovered banks in different countries don't easily communicate with each other," Blair Kerkhoff said.
Employment: "The major downside is potentially getting employed back in the states once they've graduated," said Joni Lindquist, a financial planner with Aspyre Wealth Partners in the Kansas City area. "U.S.-based companies aren't likely as active on European campuses as they are for U.S. schools, so it may take a lot more work to find a job in the U.S."
On the flip side, with a global economy, a degree from a school outside the U.S. could give your child a leg up with some potential employers, Lindquist said.
In a recent column about providing college scholarship money through charitable giving, I mentioned donor-advised funds as an option. They can be opened through Vanguard, Fidelity, Schwab and other firms. While Vanguard requires a $25,000 minimum contribution, Fidelity and Schwab do offer $5,000 minimums.