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Expat Life

Do You Need An International Degree To Be Successful?

Do You Need An International Degree To Be Successful?

Cyberspace is awash with articles trying to convince readers why they absolutely must get an international qualification.

“It will expand your cultural horizons and make you more independent, confident and self-reliant”; “it will help you develop a ‘global’ mindset and improve your people and language skills”; “pursuing an education outside the comfort and familiarity of your home turf can improve your international career prospects” are just some of the arguments regularly made.  Not to mention, the zillion studies that endorse the popularity and ‘importance’ of international education with statistics and trends.

Did you know? 4 million International students enrol in universities outside their home country

          -Source: The Value of Education survey 2007, HSBC

A 2018 report by The Economic Times found that over 300,000 Indian students studied overseas in the 2016-17 academic year. The HSBC report also ‘found’ that on average, 41% of parents (out of the 8000 surveyed) from 15 countries would consider sending their child to an international university, particularly in the USA, Australia, the UK, Canada or Germany. Parents in some parts of the world, such as India, Indonesia and UAE, are even more enthusiastic about sending their children abroad.

However, many of these reports and so-called ‘expert opinions’ draw a one-sided, black-and-white picture of the study-abroad trend. The reality is that although an international qualification can increase your chances of career and life success, it cannot guarantee it.

In this article, we’ll help you get a more holistic understanding of the realities of an international degree so that you can make a well-informed decision.

For many employers, a candidate’s skills and abilities matter more than an international degree

Do You Need An International Degree To Be Successful?

To get an edge over your competitors in today’s fiercely competitive international job market, your unique skill set will be more important than the subject matter knowledge conferred by your international degree, unless you are studying an esoteric subject

Besides, in some cases, there may be a disconnect between college curricula and an employer’s expectations. Hence, having a degree will not automatically guarantee you the job you’re aiming for, much less be successful at it.

If you are pursuing a research-based post-graduate or doctorate degree, you will be expected to possess solid research and time management skills in addition to being able to competently define, plan and execute your academic tasks. Such abilities require proficiency in critical thinking, creativity, self-assessment as well as SMART goal-setting – qualities that an individual naturally possesses, not degree-generated. Most employers value the above-mentioned qualities over formal degrees.

Formal academic achievement is not the only route to securing a good job or building a great career

Do You Need An International Degree To Be Successful?

A popular misconception is that an academic degree, especially from an international university, is the only route to a good job and career. However, the truth is that there are many routes to achieving a successful career that don’t an international degree.

A number of career avenues can be found via apprenticeships, internships, community colleges or practice-based training programmes in the workplace. Besides, for some fields such as Law, Accounting, Policymaking and Banking, domestic degrees, i.e. degrees obtained in one’s home country, are usually more useful than international degrees (there may be exceptions).

For example, if you’re an Indian with a Bachelor’s degree in Constitutional Law from Australia, it probably won’t help you with your law career in India. Similarly, a post-graduate degree in domestic policy from Canada may not really help a Malaysian with his/her career with the government in Malaysia.

Some careers don’t require a full-fledged degree

Do You Need An International Degree To Be Successful?

Certain fields, such as acting, hospitality management, sports, customer support, carpentry, construction, choreography, art, etc., don’t really require a formal degree – international or otherwise. One can gain a foothold in such industries even with certification, vocational training, apprenticeship or prior work experience.

In fact, a 2012 Global Employability Survey by the International Herald Tribune found that almost a third of employers (30.5%) viewed professional experiences as the most important aspect that graduates must improve upon to increase their chances of employability. Employers also highly regard a candidate’s personality, adaptability and communication skills while hiring.

Your international qualification may be superfluous to your industry’s needs

Do You Need An International Degree To Be Successful?

If your industry is highly competitive with a huge supply of available candidates with similar qualifications, your international degree may not be enough to make you stand apart from the rest. 

Unless you have graduated from an Ivy League or other highly-ranked international schools (yes, which university you go to matters more than the ‘international’ tag on your qualification), potential employers will be more inclined to hire you based on your skill set, previous experience, attitude and even personal/professional network, rather than for your international degree. This will be especially true for jobs where your international degree may make you appear overqualified. To add to that, not all employers will be willing to incur the additional expense of hiring someone with an international degree.

So be aware of both sides of the coin – with an international degree, you may be able to command a higher salary (pro) but only if the degree is considered useful in your industry (con). Also, depending upon salary trends in your industry, the number of employers willing to pay a higher salary to internationally-qualified employees will be limited (con).

An international degree does not necessarily inculcate entrepreneurial spirit

Do You Need An International Degree To Be Successful?

The entrepreneurial spirit – the passion to set your own rules while creating something worthwhile – does not always move in the same direction as your educational level, international or otherwise.

An international degree may not necessarily prepare you for the unpredictable lifestyle of an entrepreneur. More likely than not, the sacrifices you made and the expenses you incurred to go abroad for studies may compel you to stay in a formulaic, predictable, risk-averse environment. Thus, a formal degree, even an international one, does not necessarily encourage you to step outside the boundaries of conventional thinking and resist the lure of a ‘stable’ income. In fact, many visionaries and entrepreneurs such as – Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have dared to break conventional moulds and still achieved success.

Of course, we are not suggesting that dropping out of college can bring you entrepreneurial success. All we’re saying is that pursuing an international degree cannot guarantee it either.

If you want to work internationally, you will be competing against locals

Do You Need An International Degree To Be Successful?

If you have earned a degree from a foreign country and are aiming to work in that country, you will be competing for the same jobs against that country’s citizens. In such a case, what counts as an ‘international’ degree for you is a regular degree for employers in that country. All other things being equal, they will then evaluate you against locals with a similar degree. This will negate the chances you thought you might have of standing apart from your competition.

Other non-educational factors may work against you in the job market

Do You Need An International Degree To Be Successful?

The communication and technological revolution is making the world flatter but this does not mean that national boundaries have been erased. In fact, if anything, boundaries are more entrenched than ever before. Many of the countries that have traditionally seemed attractive to international students and workers are becoming more insular in their attitudes and visa policies, much to the detriment of expats. For example, the UK is now one of the toughest destinations to go to for Indian students and aspiring workers, as staying back after completing a degree requires a skilled-job offer from an employer with a tier-II sponsorship licence. Similarly, post-study immigration policies in traditionally favoured study destinations like the US and Australia are also causing concern for Indian students.

So, if you have an international degree from a developed country and plan to work there after your studies, the visa regime with regards to your particular situation (country of origin, degree obtained, language competence, etc.) may work against you.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that an international degree has the potential to bring you all the personal and professional successes that we covet, but it cannot guarantee it. In fact, a number of other factors, such as commitment to hard work and willingness to remain positive, persevere in the face of challenges, set achievable goals, focus on continuous learning and the ability to develop new skills play a greater role in ensuring your long-term success than just an international degree. We also need to define what true success means for us and then take the steps that will move us along the path to achieving it. The bottom line here is that while an international degree is amazing, it cannot guarantee you success; instead, it’s what you are able to offer over and above it.