Still, that hardly makes finances stress free. Dunn says he's always watching, and fretting over, the exchange rate. In Dublin, Huntley pays 2.50 euros—about $3.50—for a pint of milk. But students say that even with higher living expenses and the costs of travel home, their programs are cheaper than domestic options.
Employment advantages. A foreign degree may save money upfront, but the real question is whether it holds its bang for the buck back home. The degree's value may be based largely on the perceptions of hiring managers or, if a doctorate is the next step, admissions officers. Both groups emphasize that much depends on applicants' motivations for studying abroad and how the experience fits their long-term goals. "I'm less concerned about where and more concerned about why," says Rosemaria Martinelli, associate dean for student recruitment and admissions at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. "There is no right or wrong answer. Everybody's on a different path."
It is tricky to generalize about the quality of schools overseas. While, say, Oxford and Cambridge may not boast the financial endowments of Harvard or Yale, they take academics as seriously. And while many M.B.A. programs overseas may be shorter, they also can be more rigorous.
What is certain is that learning styles abroad often differ. Cambridge and Oxford, as well as many schools elsewhere in Europe, tend to be more focused on independent study. In some universities, even reading lists—an American norm—can be considered taboo, regarded by students as condescending. However, many universities are moving more toward an American model, leading their students to report few differences between their experiences and those related by peers who are in similar programs in the United States.
For those hoping to work abroad, the international experience can be a real asset. And American companies want globally minded workers, as well. "Since so many companies are going global, it really helps," says Pat Schwallie-Giddis, president of the National Career Development Association. That's particularly true if the degree involves a new language or if the program is in an industry hot spot.
Although technology has eased the difficulties of conducting the job search from afar, geography matters. Most employers still focus their recruiting efforts on their home markets, so students getting a degree in Hong Kong will find themselves recruited mainly by Asian, rather than American, firms. And a job seeker's network, crucial to the job hunt, will develop wherever the most time is spent.
On one hand, that can make a foreign degree particularly valuable for students interested in careers that span continents. Chicago native David Gleicher finished his master's in public policy at Berlin's Hertie School of Governance on a Friday last May. The following Monday, he started a new job as a project officer at nonprofit think tank Global Health Europe in Geneva, where he works to strengthen European engagement in global health policy and governance. "If I was fresh off the boat, they most definitely wouldn't have been interested in me. It's the fact that I have experience on both sides of the pond that is an asset," says Gleicher.
Students returning home, however, face the challenge of hiring managers who generally would recognize a small school in Alabama more readily than one in Argentina. "A confused mind says 'No.' If someone doesn't know what kind of school it is, they'll go to what they do know," says Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, a career expert for Vault.com. Much of the problem is mitigated by recognizable foreign schools such as Cambridge or Oxford, she says, but not all of it.
One way to improve your chances is to frame the university for the hiring manager. For example, you might state the school's ranking or acceptance rate high on the résumé. And to avoid any hiccups with qualifications translating back to the United States, particularly with more technical degrees, students should contact companies they might want to work for before going abroad to make sure their credentials will be accepted.