To identify differences and similarities, it is necessary to compare degree students abroad and exchange students with degree students in Norway, those who complete their entire bachelor’s degree in Norway, as a reference group. The period from 2016 to 2019 is chosen to avoid any pandemic-related deviations.

Degree students abroad are generally younger, achieved better results in terms of high school grades, have a higher proportion of women, have more often parents with tertiary education, come from central areas, and have a higher proportion of immigrants and Norwegian-born with immigrant parents than degree students in Norway. Exchange students stand out in that they are an even larger proportion of women, achieved even better results in secondary education, and have the highest proportion from the general population.

Parents' education level is possibly the most important factor in determining whether a student goes abroad or not. Our figures show that a larger proportion of those with highly educated parents go abroad. The field of health, social, and sports science has the most students at Norwegian institutions, while the field of economic and administrative sciences attracts the most students abroad. The latter is the second most popular field among students in Norway and exchange students. This may explain why 47 percent of students at the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) go on exchange, which is by far the highest proportion among Norwegian universities and colleges. The UK, USA, and Denmark have the most international students, while Australia, USA, and the UK have the most exchange students. Thus, the UK and USA are common to both groups. The reason why these countries are the most popular can likely be explained by factors such as language.

Some characteristics of those who choose to study all or part of their education abroad are quantifiable, but personal aspects such as preferences and adaptability to new cultures, rules, and languages are unquantifiable from registry data. The financial cost of studying abroad is not explicitly explored, but those who come from households with good financial means more often take advantage of the opportunity for international stays, both as degree and exchange students.