Visiting Colleges in Italy – One Really Stands Out

The duomo is near colleges in ItalyI have much to report about my visits to colleges in Italy! I stayed in Milan, visiting schools in the city as well as in Bologna and Turin. It was my first time in Northern Italy and I really enjoyed it! I have always loved to visit Italy, but these northern areas feel much more livable and less touristy than the other places I have been. Milan is extremely easy to get around-both as it pertains to the city and getting elsewhere in Italy and Europe. I was able to get to Bologna and Turin in an hour by train. You can get to Lugano, in Switzerland, in under 90 minutes and Rome in under three hours. That said, the train travel is not inexpensive. My flights from Paris to Milan and Milan to Sofia, Bulgaria, were both less expensive than my train travel within the country. There are three airports in the region with many low cost airlines.

More than any other country I have visited, I was struck by the differences between the public and private colleges in Italy. The public colleges in Italy charge tuition based on family income to all students, including international students, with a maximum tuition at most schools of under 4,000 Euros per year. While this may seem attractive, the facilities of the public colleges in Italy I visited were quite basic, and large lectures are customary. I was told that students have to be prepared for less services directed towards their growth and development, as the main focus of these schools is educational. Certainly the trade offs are worth it for some, but not for all. I want to emphasize that this is not the case in most other countries. In fact, I am often more impressed by the public universities than private ones elsewhere.

There are unique obstacles when applying to colleges in Italy. The first applies to master’s and bachelor’s degree students applying to both private and public universities. It is a headache called “pre-enrollment”. This procedure was put in place in the days before internet and has not changed with the times. First, a student applies to a college in Italy. The school then issues a pre-acceptance letter (or rejection). The student takes the the pre-acceptance letter along with a ton of other required documents to the Italian embassy in their home country for pre-enrollment. This also begins the visa process. The student is officially enrolled once they are in Italy in the fall and turn in their documents to the school.

But wait-it’s potentially even more complicated! Some undergraduate programs have an entrance exam. SAT and ACT can substitute for many of them, but not for all. For instance, all the medical programs require entrance exams as do programs like architecture. Private universities tend to offer their entrance exams in the spring and often offer them in cities around the world. Public universities generally offer theirs on campus in Italy in September. And by September I mean a mere month before classes begin. This would personally make me really anxious from a planning perspective!

Finally, the Italian government requires that American students have either an IB or 3 AP scores of 3+ to enroll in bachelor’s programs. This is because Italian students have 13 years of education, while we have 12 in the US. A full year of college can substitute for the AP requirement and some schools allow 3 academic college courses to substitute. Word on the street is that the government is considering getting rid of the pre-enrollment process and looking at other ways to assess educational equivalence besides the APs. Fingers crossed!

While I learned a lot at each of the colleges in Italy I visited, one school really stood out and colleges in Italyexcited me. The school is University of Bocconi in Milan. Bocconi was founded in 1902 and focuses primarily on business and economics related programs. They offer English taught bachelor’s, master’s, and MBA programs. The majority of the programs are taught in English and the longer term goal is to have all of their programs taught in English.

What really struck me about Bocconi is the international approach they take to education. This is something that is easy for schools to say they do, but Bocconi really backs it up with resources. Traditionally, higher education in Italy has revolved around lectures with little interaction between students or students and the professor. This is still the case at many public universities. For the past 15 years, every professor that has been hired at Bocconi is fluent in English and is either a non-Italian or an Italian who received their Ph.D in an international program. This creates a team of professors who are not resistant to an alternate educational model and are more international in their approach, as opposed to strictly Italian.

Each entering class of the different programs is split into classes of no more than 100 students so even the largest lecture does not exceed that number of students. Even for lectures, the classroom layout was intentionally designed to be conducive to an interactive environment. Each department has a dean, program directors, and course directors to serve as resources to the students. In addition, each student has an academic advisor. Because Bocconi has strong connections with the business community, guest speakers from the field often speak in classes which provides a bridge between theory and practice.

Though the campus environment is international itself, with over 90 nationalities represented, Bocconi sees the value of providing students opportunity for further international exposure throughout their studies. In addition to the opportunities through Erasmus, Bocconi has 275 bilateral agreements with schools around the world. This allows students to study outside the EU for no additional tuition fees. Their partner schools in the US include Princeton, Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, NYU, Northwestern, and University of Chicago, in addition to 47 others in the US and equally impressive names throughout Latin America, Canada, Asia, Austrailia, New Zealand, and the Middle East. Students are advised strongly to study abroad and it is mandatory for some of the programs.

Bocconi offers seven English taught bachelor’s programs (3 years), eleven master’s programs (2 years), three specialized master’s programs (1 year) and eleven English taught MBA and post-experience education programs. Almost all of the programs are related to Economics and Management, with program options that integrate these areas with social sciences, computer science, finance, arts, culture and communication, government, fashion, healthcare, and more. In addition, there is a bachelor’s degree in International Politics and Government and a L.M program in the Law of Internet Technology. They also offer a four year World Business Bachelor’s degree programs in which students spend the first year studying at USC, the second year at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the third at Bocconi, and choose where to attend their fourth year. Students graduate with a full degree from all three universities.

The tuition for the bachelor’s degree programs is $14,150 per year (other than World Business which varies based on the school), master’s degree programs are $15,347 per year and MBA/post-experience programs start at $28,300 per year. Bocconi offers need based scholarships of full tuition for the length of the entire program. There are also merit based scholarships offering a full tuition waiver and with free housing for the first two years and one option that provides a 50% reduction in tuition. Applicants are automatically assessed for the merit scholarships upon application. The need based scholarship requires a separate application. In addition, Bocconi has a FAFSA number! This is a huge advantage to American students as it allows them to utilize US funding options for college in Italy and use their 529 savings without penalty.

Bocconi has resources and structures to support their students growth and development outside of the classroom as well. It is a centralized campus that even provides housing-most of which is on campus! They currently have seven student residences with an eighth opening the summer of 2018. Rooms are single occupancy and range from 600-700 Euros per month. They are also building an updated rec center which will be complete in 2018. Bocconi currently has a lacrosse team and soccer team as well as intramural and other options for track, hiking, judo, basketball, volleyball, boxing, rugby, skiing, snowboarding. and tennis. There are a number of student associations pertaining to various interests outside of academics as well as a student media center which includes student radio, web TV, and newspaper. Bocconi offers extensive student services including a counseling department that provides individual counseling as well as support around acclimating to a new country, time management guidance, and other challenges students may be facing.

Bocconi has a dedicated department of other 70 employees who work on job and internship placements. This department size speaks to the focus Bocconi puts in assisting their students in finding internships and jobs. Though the majority of students who graduate from the bachelor’s degree programs go on for a master’s degree, the job placement department has a dedicated team to help undergraduates with internships and job placements. 96.4% of the graduate students are employed one year after graduation, with 51.2% of them employed abroad. Top recruiters include Accenture, Goldman Sachs, Google, L’Oreal, J.P Morgan, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, the United Nations, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and many more!

As I have mentioned many times before, it is crucial that we look at quality indicators beyond rankings-whether looking at schools in the US or colleges in Italy. I believe that these quality indicators include a classroom environment that fosters interaction and cultivation of critical thought, international exposure, development of skills needed for employment, student supports, and outcomes pertaining to employment. Bocconi checks all of these boxes and more. Though it is not one of the least expensive schools in Europe, it is still comparable to in-state tuition fees when you factor in the difference in duration. Further, there is a very favorable probability of a high return on investment as it pertains to learning, employment, and personal growth.

College in Europe: The Escape Plan From The Madness of US Admissions Process

I just read that there are over now almost 40 schools in the US that charge more than $65,000 per year.  SIXTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS PER YEAR!  That is absolutely mind blowing to me. What is just as shocking to me is the cut throat admission process which is actively hurting our kids. A recent Psychology Today article notes that it is this aspect of the high school experience that is creating a mental health crisis on campus.

I’ve talked recently about what I’ve learned about the crazy US admissions process. I’m not even living this and thinking about it stresses me out! Why don’t more people opt out of this costly, stressful, and arbitrary system? I think it’s because many don’t know that there actually is a better way! Let me tell you about how things can be different.  When we founded Beyond the States, our son Sam, knew that he was interested in studying in Europe. Going into his freshman year, he knew some countries required US students to have either an IB diploma or up to (but no more than) four AP scores of 3+.  He decided to take the four AP courses throughout sophomore, junior, and senior year in order to keep all his options in Europe open. Though I have issues with APs, spreading the four courses out over three years seems very doable.

Sam knows that he is interested in studying the Middle East, specifically the various conflicts in the region.  One school in the Netherlands has two programs he is interested in; an International Studies program and a Security Studies program. The International Studies program allows him to choose a regional focus area from their offering of seven, one of which is the Middle East. This focus is chosen after the first semester of study. Students study the history, economy, culture, and language of their chosen region, along with general courses on international economics, politics, and globalization.  During the third year, students can do an internship or do a semester abroad in their region of study. The final semester is spent in a practice course, which teaches them to apply the knowledge from the program through case studies with international organizations. A thesis is also completed in the final semester.

Students in the Security Studies program “learn to analyse contemporary security and safety issues and devise strategic solutions”. The first year introduces students to the threats and the vulnerabilities through looking at Syria and Iraq as well as the threat of natural disasters that affect infrastructure like Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant.  The second year, students learn more about strategies for protection by studying the challenges of terrorism and counterterrorism, cyber threats and risk management, as well as war and peace building. The third year student can specialize through a minor, study abroad, or do an internship.  The third year ends with an integrated project and thesis.

Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? Both of these programs are at Leiden University, in the Netherlands, which is ranked in the top 100 schools globally. As you may know, I’m not that interested in rankings. I only mention it because once I tell you about what the admission process looks like, you might make the incorrect assumption that it’s not a good school.

At many schools in Europe, including Leiden, the focus is on the fit between the student and program as opposed to the “holistic” process in the States.  Neither of these programs has an enrollment cap, which means that if an applicant applies by the deadline and meets the admission requirements, then he is admitted. The Netherlands is one of those countries that have an AP requirement for their research universities.  Sam should be able to meet that requirement.  He will need two reference letters, one of which is academic.  These are not shielded in secrecy like they are here. He uploads them to the school himself. That way if, by chance, one of the recommendations is not as strong as he would like he can either talk to that teacher or ask someone else to write one for him. He will also need to write motivation letters-a separate one for each other programs he applies to.  These do not have to reveal any emotional revelations or talk about any trials and tribulations he encountered through his life. He will just need to write about his interests and future goals as they pertain to the program and speak to why he is interested in the particular program, specific school, and specific city and country.  Given that he has spent his high school years exploring his interests (the Middle East is one of them along with -full disclosure- playing video games), this should not be particularly challenging.

So, not only does Sam not have to pad his resume with all sorts of activities and accomplishments in areas that don’t interest him, he also doesn’t have to take ACT or SAT prep course as the scores are not used in the admission decision. Further, Leiden uses rolling admissions which begin in October each year, so Sam will be able to apply in October and receive a decision 6 weeks later – well before Christmas!  Just like the acceptance offers in the US, this will be a provisional offer which requires him to graduate high school and obtain a 3+ on his final AP.   Ready for the kicker?  Each of these programs only takes 3 years to complete and cost just around $12,000 a year -and that’s on the high end of tuition in Europe! What a breath of fresh this all is!

Would you like to learn more about how and why we made our plan to send Sam to Europe for college? Would you like to see the thousands of affordable, English conducted options? If so, then check out our membership options. Members of Beyond the States gain access to our database of over 1,700 English-taught bachelor’s programs. Graduate members have access to 5,329 English-taught master’s programs.

European Study Abroad: How to Study in More than One Country without Going Broke

In our previous blog, we talked about the importance of global citizenship and the role international exposure plays in that development.  We discussed the financial challenges the US study abroad programs present as well as the fact that some of these programs even limit integration with non-US students. Less than 10% of US college students study abroad. In contrast, study abroad is an integral part of being a full-time student in EuropeThe EU sees study abroad as aligned with their policy agendas for growth, jobs, equality,  and social inclusion.  Further, the EU has set a goal that all citizens should have the opportunity to acquire at least two languages, something that the European study abroad programs also foster.

They note that this international exposure leads to “improved learning performance; enhanced employability and improved career prospects; increased self-empowerment and self-esteem; improved foreign language competencies; enhanced intercultural awareness; more active participation in society;”.  These are exactly the reasons we think studying in Europe is important as well!

Unlike the US university system, which views studying abroad as an opportunity to generate high fees from unwitting students, the European study abroad is promoted by the EU who puts money INTO encouraging students to study in outside their home country. This is one reason why the number of English conducted programs has increased over the past couple of decades. Having these programs taught in English encourages European study abroad.

The EU has a program called Erasmus+. This is an umbrella organization that encompasses many European study abroadprograms that encourage mobility among young people. The student mobility program is one that all degree students at participating European universities can participate in, even international students!

So, if you are a student at a European university that participates with Erasmus, (and most do) you have the opportunity to spend up to twelve months of your program on a European study abroad (and sometimes outside of Europe as well). This can be studying at another university or doing an internship in another country or a combination of the two. You can use the twelve months for each level of study (meaning you can participate during your bachelor’s degree program and then again during your master’s program). There are logistical benefits to the Erasmus program, for instance, you are assured that your credits will transfer, there are structures in place to assist with housing and student life, and all internships have a written agreement that includes a clear focus and specific project that will offer the student exposure to an occupation, industry or field (no fetching coffee). I recently worked with a student who really wants to study in Spain, but there were not a lot of English conducted full degree programs in her area of interest.  She decided that she would be fine spending one of the three years of her program in Spain, so will apply to schools in other European countries with the plan to study in Spain through Erasmus.

There is also a financial benefit to European study abroad. Students on Erasmus continue paying the tuition of their main school, even if the tuition at the university they are visiting is more expensive. Think of Jared, who is only paying $1,000 per year.  Almost any other school would have a much greater tuition, but he would continue to pay the KU Leuven rate while studying elsewhere through the Erasmus program.  Further, students can apply for an Erasmus grant which provides monthly stipends of 150-500€ per month depending on the cost of living of the country. Here’s the other great thing – students can do the internship (with the grant) the year after they graduate so long as they complete the application and selection process during their final year of studies. Given that employers hire 50-75% of former interns, this is a fantastic opportunity to get a career off to a strong start.

You don’t hear much in the US about study abroad opportunities in master’s degree programs. In Europe, not only is the student mobility program open to master’s degree students in European study abroadEurope (again, even international students) there is also the Erasmus Mundus program.  These are really interesting and often integrated programs that are developed and implemented by a consortium of higher education institutions in at least two different countries. Students study in at least two countries and receive a joint degree from the universities of the consortium.  There are 94 of these programs that are conducted entirely in English. There are options for just about every field of study that you can think of: Agriculture,  Arts, Design, Humanities, Social Sciences, Health Sciences, Computer Science and Technology, Business, and more. These programs are relevant to today’s issues and often involve professionals from related companies which helps students understand how to apply the knowledge – not to mention network!

Some examples of the programs are:

Journalism, Media, and Globalization

Study in Denmark, the Netherlands, UK, Germany

This program provides “a unique educational experience with students studying and living in at least two European countries. The first year of the degree is spent in Denmark with the entire cohort, and the second year sees students split into smaller groups and move universities to specialize in one of four distinct areas of journalism: War and Conflict, Business and Finance, Media and Politics, or Journalism and Media Across Cultures. Students learn to combine academic, theoretical knowledge with journalistic skills, and to analyze, interpret and generate knowledge about the global changes that increasingly challenge traditional boundaries.”

Food Science Technology and Business

Study in Belgium, Portugal, Germany

This program helps “foster innovation and technology in order to cope with the future needs and sustainability in food science, technology, and business? The aim of the program: To foster and develop knowledge and awareness of scientific trends and health issues in food science, technology, and business in a global context. In addition, the course seeks to enhance student’s professional competence in areas such as safety, management, and ethics.”

Medical Imaging and Application

Study in Spain, France, Italy

“Medical Image Analysis and Computer Aided Diagnosis (CAD) systems, in close development with novel imaging techniques, have revolutionized healthcare in recent years. Those developments have allowed doctors to achieve a much more accurate diagnosis, at an early stage, of the most important diseases. The technology behind the development of CAD systems stems from various research areas in computer science such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, pattern recognition, computer vision, image processing and sensors and acquisition. There is a clear lack of MSc studies which cover the previously mentioned areas with a specific application to the analysis of medical images and development of CAD systems within an integrated medical imaging background. Moreover, the medical technology industry has detected a growing need of expert graduates in this field.”

Migration and Intercultural Relations

Study in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Norway, Germany

They “address issues that currently rank highly on the global agenda – and need expertise on transnational, transcultural and transdisciplinary level. Migration and mobility, flight, displacement, and refugee – globally and (supra)nationally discussed primarily on a policy level – touch decisive dimensions in economic and social development, demography, international relations, political theory and cultural cooperation, to name some, not all of the key areas. Sustainable answers bridging the interests of nation states (incl. their welfare systems and labour markets) with human rights, democratic values and globality have yet to be found. Research on intercultural relations and intercultural communication is closely linked to these questions and frequently key to the understanding of problems and conflict.”

Most of these programs cost around 9,000€ per year (convert to $) for a two-year program, but Erasmus offers scholarships for each of the programs. These merit-based scholarships cover 100% of the tuition, 1,000€ per month for living expenses, and even money for a travel allowance (the amount is determined by how far your home country is from your study country). The scholarships are quite competitive, but most of the programs offer other scholarship options as well.

The fact that these EU-funded programs are open to international students really speaks to how highly the EU values globalization. They want students from around the world to study with them because the outcome is positive for the world as a whole and benefits Europe. If you have read our blogs, you already know that you have an incredible number of options for a high quality and affordable education in Europe-conducted entirely in English. You also have the opportunity to study in more than one foreign country without extra cost, all while gaining relevant skills and knowledge for the workforce.  There are over 1,700 English conducted bachelor’s and over 4,200 master’s programs throughout continental Europe. Let Beyond the States be your guide to all the exciting educational options in Europe by becoming a member today.

Are US Study Abroad Programs a Good Path to Global Citizenship?

I’ve talked before about the importance of exposure to cultural diversity and how grateful I was to have it as an integral part of my life growing up in Chicago.  I knew that this was something my kids would not have in their day to day life growing up in our homogeneous town of Chapel Hill, NC. Tom and I made it a priority to expose them in different ways with an eye towards global citizenship. We made it a priority to travel internationally from the time they were young, even when it meant long flights with cranky kids or making financial sacrifices.  As they are older now, we see them developing the qualities associated with global citizenship.

“Global Citizenship” is a bit of a buzz word, but something that is important to many individuals and global citizenshipfamilies. A global citizen is one whose identity includes, but expands beyond, the country in which they grew up. Global citizenship means being aware of, respecting, valuing and identifying with the world community, not just your home country. Since the countries of the world are part of their identified community, global citizens are just as devastated by atrocities occurring around the world as they are about those that occur in their home country.  Thus, the problems occurring in different countries around the world have global citizens attempting to affect change around the world’s problems.

Experiencing other cultures can help lead to global citizenship.  Through travel, you can see similarities and differences of each culture. You can incorporate parts of the cultures into your own life.  In our home, we always take off our shoes like they do in Japan and Sweden and try to include various hygge throughout following the Danish tradition. I love a good post lunch nap (Spain & Italy) and our pantry reflects food discoveries we have made in various countries. Further, I adapt the guidelines of Italy regarding acceptable levels of wine consumption!

Interacting on a personal level with people from different countries enables a greater perspective on world events.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, I had a really eye opening discussion with a 30 something hipster in Prague about his own experiences as a child under communist rule and his thoughts on the current situation in the US. While the qualities associated with global citizenship are important for personal development as well as increasing the problem solving around world issues, it is also highly valued by employers.

According to the Institute for International Education in 2016, 268,910 of the 1,785,452 US college students attended a study abroad program. That’s 15.1% of all students. Many students in the US hope to experience the world through these study abroad and many do. I have to tell you that I think these programs are the biggest rip off of all time. It’s yet another example of the problems associated with universities running like big business. In addition, some of the programs decrease the true impact international experiences can have. Let’s talk about a few examples.

global citizenshipThe University of Illinois (U of I) has many study abroad choices. One is with KU Leuven, in Belgium. Students attend classes at KU Leuven with KU Leuven students learning from KU Leuven professors.  Students doing this exchange can expect to pay over $15,000 for one, single semester!

Here’s the crazy thing- The tuition for an entire year for an international student is right around $1,425-as opposed to the $4,525 U of I charges for one semester of access to the same classes! U of I study abroad students pay just over $600 a month for housing that U of I arranges in a student residence with all the other American students. An international student can find easily find housing in student residences for $375 per month. Then, of course, there are the tremendous number of fees in addition to tuition at U of I (reduced, but still!) you will pay during your semester abroad. A full time international student at KU Leuven will pay less for his entire degree than an Illinois semester abroad student!

Some schools use a private study abroad provider. With many of these, students live a fairly self-contained existence and take classes through the provider, not even on the campus of a university. It reminds me a bit of a cruise and experiencing the semester as a tourist as opposed to a visiting student. There is a reputable provider who offers a semester in Copenhagen for $25,500.  For one semester!  That does include housing and some meals, but not transportation to and from the US. Let’s compare that to a student at Copenhagen Business School(CBS)-a prestigious school with triple crown international accreditation. Yearly tuition at CBS is right around $10,000 and rooms in student residences can be found for $400 per month.  Thus, you could be a full time student for two years with housing for what it would cost for one semester of study abroad.

For students who desire an international experience, I highly recommend exploring the 1,700+ English conducted full bachelors programs offered throughout continental Europe by becoming a member of Beyond the States. Not only are the financial benefits tremendous, but true immersion in another culture provides a path to global citizenship. Beyond the States offers a variety of ways to help students and their families navigate the European programs, admissions processes, housing and more with packages starting at just $89. 

European schools have a number of programs and policies in place to increase internationalization of their students-even if you are already an international student! Next week’s blog will piggy back on this week’s topic.  You see, European schools have a number of programs and policies in place to increase internationalization of their students.  We will look at the programs avaliable that enable students in Europe (even international students!) to study at school’s in more than one country (as a bachelor’s or master’s degree student) with no additional fees-and the possibility for a monthly stipend!

Four Tips to Navigate European College Admissions

European college admissions My 16-year-old son, Sam, recently came home from school and said he needed my assistance choosing his courses for next year. I was intrigued, given that most of my advice is unsolicited and met with resistance, and also because he wanted to talk before he even made his giant bowl of ramen or cereal for his after school snack. It seems that the counselor spoke to his class about the college admissions process and course registration for next year and Sam had fallen victim to some of the fear mongering.  He began asking me if he should take certain classes (that he had no interest in) because they would look good on his applications. Since he will be completing the European college admissions process, his path will be different.

European college admissions If Sam were applying to schools in the US, these would be valid concerns. I recently read “Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid into College” by Andrew Ferguson, which chronicles his family’s experiences as his son applies to college.  Let me tell you, this is an enjoyable and readable book, particularly if you know that you are not going to have to jump through these hoops. Instead of stressing out about the upcoming process, I was able to read it feeling grateful that we would bypass these struggles. He learned that the typical college admissions counselor spends an average of just five minutes reading each application. With so many highly qualified applicants, admissions counselors often have to look for reasons not to admit an applicant, whether it’s that the applicant doesn’t have enough AP classes, their class ranking is not high enough, their SATs/ACTs are mediocre, there aren’t enough extracurricular activities (with leadership roles preferably), or their summers aren’t filled with sufficient enrichment. But wait! Too many extracurriculars may indicate that the applicant lacks focus. Also, the applicant shouldn’t focus on just one type of extracurricular or it might look he doesn’t have a diversity of interest. The list of reasons not to admit an applicant goes on and on…I can’t even imagine how I would cope if we had to navigate that system. I was able to confidently reassure Sam that his experience would be very different. You see, European college admissions decisions are based on the amount of space in the program, whether or not the applicant has the requirements needed to succeed in the program, and whether or not the program and applicant are a “good fit”. Some programs at very reputable and highly ranked schools are non-selective. These programs don’t have an enrollment cap so, if you meet the objective admissions requirements (be that GPA, a set number of AP test scores, etc.), you’re in.  Is this the “holistic” approach taken by US schools?  No, but it’s certainly less subjective and more transparent. Not only is the holistic approach highly subjective, but it also has led to the highly competitive admissions process.  This competition is not just at the Ivies and their counterparts. Even schools that many haven’t heard of, like College of the Ozarks in Missouri,  Jarvis Christian College in Texas and Rust College in Mississippi accept less than 16%! It is virtually impossible to excel in every category colleges are looking at so students (or their parents) almost always feel inadequate and vulnerable to rejection.Here’s the advice I have given Sam about how to prepare for European college admissions process:

1. Be aware of admissions requirements of different countries have and plan accordingly.  

There are a few countries that require American students to have either an IB diploma of a certain number of AP scores of 3+. Sam knew that he was interested in one of these countries last year, so he is spreading out the 4 AP courses he will need through his sophomore, junior, and senior year and will not take more than two in a single year.  He’s not interested in Germany, which has requirements that pertain to GPA, SAT scores, and courses were taken, so we aren’t focusing too much on the SATs. One of the programs Sam likes has a math requirement which can be met through an AP or a SAT/ACT score. Math is not Sam’s strongest subject, so he would rather not take an AP math.  We will see how he does on the ACT and then if it’s not high enough, we will determine whether he is close enough to raise the math score through some self-study (or a tutor) or not.

2. Follow your interests as opposed to padding your resume

After assessing whether an applicant meets the admissions requirements (which are the indicator of whether or not there are the needed skills/knowledge to succeed in the program) the other thing schools in Europe look at is whether or not the student is a good fit for the program and the program is a good fit for the student. Fit is usually evaluated through a motivation letter. Sam is interested in international relations and area studies, particularly pertaining to the Middle East.  Arabic was only offered for one year at his high school, which he took, and then has continued with self-study.  After the counselor visit, he was concerned about Arabic only showing on his transcript for one year. I assured him that this is something he could address in his motivation letter.  If you are applying to a program that is a good fit, not only in terms of subject matter but also in terms of city and country, you will be able to speak to it in your motivation letter. Choosing to apply to schools in Europe is not the status quo, so you likely have reasons behind it.  Talk about that in the motivation letter. Talk about why that particular city or country interests you whether it’s the history of the area, different outdoor activities it offers that are aligned with your past interests and activities, your own heritage, etc.  Relating these interests to your future goals will be of much greater interest to these programs than an endless list of clubs you were involved in.
And let me mention for a minute how much I prefer this to the essay requirement in the US.  Ferguson talked about the US college essay questions that force emotional catharsis on the applicants with intrusive questions.  His son, like most 17-18-year-old boys I know, struggled greatly with this. Further, how does being in touch with one’s emotional side and willingly expressing innermost thoughts to strangers relate to future success in college?

3. Take Statistics!

European college admissions I know many kids who take the calculus route because they think it looks better to colleges.  Most schools in Europe aren’t looking at your course selection, except those courses that pertain to their admissions requirements. They don’t care if you took earth science over chemistry (unless it’s a requirement of their program). Certainly, there are fields of study for which calculus would be more valuable.  For students studying business or social sciences, I highly recommend taking statistics.  It is often a required course for the first year and is less of a struggle with a little background.

4. Don’t get caught up in the admissions stress around you

I recently spoke with a father whose son is particularly interested in a school that requires 4 AP scores.  The father noted that since they don’t know if he will have the required scores needed for European college admissions until late in his senior year, they will also be applying to American schools as backup.  He wasn’t happy about this due to the cost and admissions process here.  I assured him that there were other programs at schools without the AP requirements that would also be a good fit and encouraged him to explore some of the options. As a matter of a fact, most of the programs in Europe don’t have the AP requirements.  With over 1,700 English conducted options throughout continental Europe, there really is something for everyone’s interests, strengths, and qualifications.

Sam is not planning on applying to any schools in the US.  Of course, now that we know about these affordable high-quality options it would be hard to justify the expense of US schools.  Just as important, though, Sam is super excited about going to Europe and the benefits it will provide not only from an academic perspective but also for the travel and life experience opportunities. Of course, the immediate benefit is that he does not have to jump through the ever moving admissions hoops in the US. Opting out allows him to pursue his interests in and out of the classroom and still have a tremendous number of excellent academic options at the end of the road. And it allows all of us to relax.

University College Groningen: a Deep Dive

I was really excited to visit Groningen again.  When I visited last year, it was just for a few hours.  This time I was there for 3 days exploring the town and meeting with administrators and students from Groningen University College (UCG). Since so many of you have expressed interest in Dutch universities, particularly the university colleges, we are bringing you what we are calling a “deep dive” into UCG.

Let’s start with the city. Groningen is located in the northernmost part of the country, about a two-hour train ride from Amsterdam. It is the youngest city in the Netherlands, with half of the population under 35. Further, 25% of the residents are students. Because Groningen is the urban center of the northern Netherlands and has such a large student population, its cultural scene is remarkably big and diverse with an strong underground music scene, a comics museum, a tobacco museum, and a science museum. It has a vibrant nightlife, dominated by students.

As is the case for many European schools, there is no true campus, and buildings are located throughout the city. They’re easy to identify with the red triangle visible in the picture on the left.  In some cities, this seems disjointed but in Groningen, it feels as though the city and university are very connected and the town serves as one big campus. There is a really community feel throughout the town. Almost everywhere I went, I observed people running into people they know.  Like most places in the Netherlands, English is widely spoken. People are also really accommodating and friendly about the use of English. I was in one cafe that did not have an English menu and the waitress offered to translate the menu for me verbally!  Thanks to Google Translate I did not have to take her up on that.

The majority of my time in Groningen was spent learning about UCG in depth.  University colleges in the Netherlands are the liberal arts program within a research university, and they are self-contained. UCG is a department of the University of Groningen, which is a top 100 school in the various global rankings.  Though the overall university is one of the oldest schools in the country (founded in 1614), UCG is still a fairly young program, having started in 2015. They stayed intentionally small with around 30 students admitted each year for the first two years in order to straighten out any kinks that arise with any new program. By the third year, they admitted 86 students and anticipate a larger number next year as well.

UCG requires that each student lives in a student residence for one year.  UCG students are generally placed together in the residences, which consist of a very large single room with bathrooms, kitchen and living area shared with seven other students. Here’s a video tour of the residence. These cost 480 Euros a month. After the first year, students can stay or take advantage of the many other student housing options in Groningen including the new Student Hotel, apartment rentals, or even a houseboat rental!

What’s Your Major?

Each University College in the Netherlands has a different distinguishing quality.  At UCG, their focus is maximizing the integrative aspects of their program, combining more than one area of study.  They take an interdisciplinary approach and use project-based education.  During the first year, student take core credits in Global Challenges, Research and Methodology, and Integrative Projects and Academic Skills.  The other half of the year is made up of credits from Sciences, Social Sciences, or Humanities.

Like American schools, students choose their major in the second year, after being exposed to the various fields of study. UCG has 5 majors students can choose from: Physics of Energy (which includes Applied Physics, Astronomy, Math and Industrial Engineering), Health and Life Sciences (Global Health, Immunology, Human Anatomy, Genetics, Cell Biology and Biochemistry), Cognition and Behavior (Sociology, Environmental Psychology, Biopsychology, Cognition and Decision Making), Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (International Law, Ethics, Global Economics, Political Science, Cognitive Neuroscience) and Reflecting on Culture, History and Criticism (Culture and Media, History, Religion and Diversity, Cultural Geography, International Relations, Philosophy). Students have a lot of freedom within their major.  A student with a Reflecting on Culture, History and Criticism major, for instance, can have (but isn’t required to have) a lot more variety in their courses than a student who is in a pure culture and media program. Students also have the opportunity to create their own major by combining areas of study. UCG students are also able to take courses offered by the overall university (which has 29 English conducted bachelor’s programs) which add to the possibilities and flexibility.

Integrative Projects is a required course of each of the three years, culminating in a 15 credit Capstone Project. Since this is such a key feature in the UCG approach to education, I had a lot of questions about it. The goals of integrative projects is to teach students to communicate across the disciplines, acquire scholarly knowledge, and learn useful ways to apply that knowledge.  The first year, students are given topics such as immigration or global warming and their projects include building communication and presentation skills and developing research approaches. The second year projects focus more on acquiring the scholarly knowledge through a chosen project and the third year students have to set up a project with defined goals for their Capstone Project. Some examples of the projects can be found here

There is a lot of value to having these projects continuously through the years. We already know that the classroom diversity related to the students’ country of origin adds to the educational experience. Now we are adding to that working with students with different academic focuses. Integrative projects also have students working with people who have different academic focuses. In the corporate world, multidisciplinary teams are the norm, so the students are learning skills seen as valuable by future employers. Further, many research universities have a singular research focus at the expense of applied knowledge. The integrative programs provide that applied knowledge component that is often missing.

Support for Students

Students at UCG have a lot of support. Students are assigned a faculty advisor who works with them for the entire 3 years.  The advisors and professors and even the dean serves as an advisor. The advisor helps with course planning, academic struggles, internships, and preparing for future plans.  The dean explained to me that they believe that there is an implied contract between the students and professors to complete the program in three years and faculty is committed to helping students achieve this. The close relationship between students and faculty serves as a personal support as well.  I was told about a regular Dungeons and Dragons night that a group of students and professors participate in!

One of the benefits of attending a university college is that you have the benefits of a small school experience, but also the resources of a large university.  Students at UCG can join any of the clubs of the University of Groningen and also have their own student association just for UCG students, called Caerus. This group arranges social and academic activities including parties (lots of parties), dinners,  and workshops. You can get an idea for some of the things they do on their Facebook page

Any Drawbacks?

If you are a Beyond the States member, you probably know that I look to find and report the challenges or drawbacks of the schools I visit as well.  I had trouble finding many weaknesses here. The ones I did find were pretty small in significance.  For instance, some of the other university colleges have more architecturally impressive buildings. The building at UCG is well maintained and has some wonderful features, but not to the level of some of the other schools.  That said, a new building is being built near the square and is anticipated to be complete by 2020.

The main problem is that the overall admissions department for the university is quite rigid in their interpretation of the admissions requirements set by Nuffic (the Dutch government).  American students who don’t have an IB diploma are required to have 4 AP scores of 3+ to be admitted to a Dutch research university. Nuffic allows schools to determine whether they allow substitutes for the AP tests with things like college courses.  Some schools also have a math requirement that can be met through an AP test, an ACT or SAT math score, or a math entrance exam.  Groningen University College does not allow for any of these substitutions and the math requirement must be met through an AP score. This is something that I hope they will have more flexibility around in the future, but for now, it is what it is. Please note that the University of Groningen does not have the same math requirement as the university college. The positive side of this is that the admissions requirements are totally transparent so if you don’t have the qualifications, I don’t advise applying.  I met with the Admissions Director of the UCG program and you can find more about the admissions process in this video interview.


Would You Like to Learn More?

UCG has some great ways to explore the program from afar. First off, their website has some really good videos that speak to students about their majors.  There’s a Day in the Life video here. They also have a virtual student for a day program where you can choose from options like webinars, talking to a current student, a Q&A about an academic program, and attending a lecture – all from the comfort of your own home!

UCG charges 12,000 Euros per year (convert to $) and is a three-year program.  Check out our cost comparison of another student we worked with who is studying at a comparably priced university college program in the Netherlands. Non-EU first-year students can apply for the 5,000 Euro Holland scholarship for their first year of study.


Firsthand: Student Life in Brussels

As I mentioned in my last blog, Brussels is not my favorite city in Europe. Recently, I spent some time with Jared, and his friends, Sebastian (from Luxembourg) and Lisa (from Atlanta) to find out their opinions on student life in Brussels.

They all appreciate the offerings of the urban atmosphere.  Of course, no car is needed and they are able to get anywhere they need to go on foot or by train.  Though Brussels student lifeBrussels is known as a somewhat ugly city, the Grand Place is truly beautiful.  In some cities, it is hard to find student residences in the city center. Jared and Sebastian, however, live very close to the Grand Place and Jared frequents a coffee shop right in the square. If I were experiencing the Grand Place and it’s surroundings on a regular basis, my impression of Brussels might be different.

Jared and his friends all appreciate the perspective gained from the different backgrounds of the students in their classes and residences.  In some cities, diversity is limited to the university student population. This is not the case in Brussels, which is an incredibly international city.  The diversity is further increased by the fact that one’s social life is more often associated with their place of residence than solely with their program or school. This allows students to have friends from schools all around the city.

student life brusselsBelgium has two official languages. Flemish, a dialect of Dutch is spoken in the northern region, while French is spoken in the south. Brussels is actually in the northern region but has special status as the Belgian capital and both languages are spoken. I had a really interesting conversation with Sebastian about how the Belgian economy and population in different areas affects the perception of Belgians who speak each of the languages.

Alright, let’s get to the elephant in the room which is, of course, safety in Brussels. Jared and his father were in Brussels on March 22nd, 2016 visiting KU Leuven when the bombing of the metro and airport occurred. Despite this first-hand experience, he still chose to make Brussels his college home. Jared, Sebastian, Lisa and I discussed their perceptions of safety, as it pertains to terrorism in Brussels. They all had a really good perspective on it and noted that terrorism can and has happened in many cities around the world, including US cities like Boston, San Bernadino, and Orlando. There is also a strong police and military presence in the city, which has increased since last spring. We discussed how horrible events can create a “new normal” of sorts. An example in the US is the regular lockdown drills in elementary schools due to school shootings. Any safety concerns that Jared and his friends have were around safety precautions you need to take in any urban area, and were not related to terrorism at all.

Universities in Brussels also have unique opportunities for the refugee issue.  Vrije University Brussels, for instance, has a “Welcome Student-Refugee” program to help refugees continue their studies.  They had 18 students enrolled in the program in the fall of 2016. Some of these students are in English-conducted Social Science program.  Students in this program include refugees as well as students from expensive UK private high schools.  Talk about a range of perspectives in the classroom!

Jared and Lisa both attend KU Leuven’s International Business Program.  Though the campus is in Brussels, Lisa lives in Leuven which is about 20 minutes by train. I really wish I had the time to visit Leuven on my trip. Belgium has some incredible cities (I know it’s cliche, but I LOVE Bruges), and it sounds like Leuven is one of them. Over half of the 100,000 residents are students, which means that it has the accommodations of a student town and active student life. The city is filled with medieval architecture, has a low cost of living, and is very safe and compact.  The city is also known as a technology hotspot and is part of Health Axis Europe which is a “a strategic alliance initiated by the biomedical clusters Cambridge (UK), Leuven (Belgium), Heidelberg (Germany), Maastricht (Netherlands), and Copenhagen (Denmark) in order to cross-leverage innovation resources and thus jointly increase the international competitiveness.”  Sounds like some great internship and job opportunities there!

An administrator told me that one needs to really know Brussels to appreciate it. Given the diversity, culture, opportunities provided by the UN and NATO offices, and ease of exploring Belgium and Europe as a whole, I’ve decided that I was premature in my negative opinion.  Student life in Brussels has a lot to offer.

Vesalius College: Small School Benefits in Brussels with Large School Facilities

Let me just start by saying that, though there are many parts of Belgium that I think are incredible, Brussels has never been my favorite city in Europe. That said, I have learned that the city has a tremendous amount to offer students.

The first has to do with the price. The government subsidizes public universities and I visited two schools during this visit with tuition under $3,000 per year.  Remember that these are three-year programs so you are getting your full degree for under $10,000!  The school that impressed me the most on this trip, however, is a private school.  At $12,500 per year, it is not the bargain of the Belgian public universities but still offers great savings compared to US schools, tuition at Vesalius College is less than in-state tuition at many public universities such as Michigan, Illinois, and UMass. This becomes even more apparent when you factor in the benefit of the three-year program. Not only is this a year of tuition and fees avoided – it’s also a year sooner in the workforce generating income and experience. The school also offers merit-based scholarships which provide a 50% tuition reduction.

This school is Vesalius College. It was founded in 1987 by Vrije University Brussels (VUB) and Boston University to provide English conducted bachelor’s programs that merged the best parts of the European and American approaches to education. Though Vesalius Collge is right across the street from the VUB campus and is technically part of the school, it has its own private school status and functions independently from VUB.  That means that students are able to enjoy the amenities and facilities of VUB (clubs, sports facilities, libraries, etc) without the struggles that often accompany a larger school.

Vesalius College offers bachelor’s programs in Communication Studies, Business Studies, International Affairs and International and European Law. Though they tout a liberal arts education, they are referring more to the interactive teaching style and not the broad education that involves students choosing a specialty/major after introduction to various fields. Though all of the programs have strengths, I want to focus on the International Affairs program.

The first strength that Vesalius College offers International Affairs students is the fact that their students come from 60 different countries.  Combined with the interactive teaching style, small classes (large lectures are even limited to 30 students) and group work, students are exposed firsthand to perspectives from around the world which I believe is a key component to International Affairs.

The school uses “Theory-guided, Practice Embedded and Experiential Learning”. Though it’s a mouthful, you can certainly see that it is implemented in their curriculum.  Of course, students get the theory component in the classroom.   There are some interesting and timely classes like Legal Aspects of Migration, NATO and Transatlantic Approaches to Security, and Global Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism, and De-Radicalization. Students are also able to choose from a broad array of electives at partner schools which include VUB, Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, Institute of European Studies, and the Royal Music Conservatory Brussels. Unlike many other Belgian schools which base grades almost solely on final exams, courses at Vesalius College are continually assessed through projects, papers, and exams. Further, the fall semester ends in before winter break, so students don’t have to spend their holiday studying for final exams.

For the practice and experiential components, International Affairs students really benefit from the school’s location in Brussels, the de facto capital of the European Union. The school has guest lecturers that include speakers from NATO, the UN, various relevant EU committee chairs and directors, ambassadors, and foreign ministers. Students must participate in a capstone project, which involves working with high-ranking diplomats on foreign policy issues and also have the option of doing internships (for academic credit) with the UN, NATO, and various embassies.

Vesalius CollegeVesalius College’s modern building is located across the street from the VUB campus and is about 20 minutes from the city center.  The school has its own cafeteria which sources many of its ingredients from organic farms and won the SMC Sustainable Seafood Certificate in 2013. Of course, as previously stated, students can also cross the street and use the large array of VUB facilities.

Coming as an international student to a foreign city can be overwhelming, so Vesalius has a number of support systems in place to smooth the transition. Though they don’t have their own student housing, the school does assist students in finding space in the student residences throughout the city.  Each student is assigned a study advisor (a professor) and a separate career advisor which speaks to the priority of educating students and also making them employable. Though student life is enjoyed with students from schools all over the city, the school has a real community feel. The small size allows the students to really get to know each other and their professors. This community feel was something I noticed when I was observing students while waiting for my meeting to start.

Students are sometimes concerned about going to a small university.  Often their concerns center on student life.  I had dinner with Jared from North Carolina and his friends Lisa (from Atlanta) and Sebastian (from Luxembourg) while I was in Brussels and this was one of our topics.  Though Jared knows Lisa from class, most of his other friends are from his student residence and attend various schools through the city. Jared and Sebastian both told me that their social life is more from their student residence and less from their academic program. Further, even when one attends a large university (like Jared at KU Leuven), the majority of their classes are held within one department so larger schools have a small school feel as well. Given that students at Vesalius College have access to all the clubs, facilities, and even classes of the larger VUB, the school size does not present limits but does provide advantages.

Preview: Next week, I will be writing more about what I learned from Jared and his friends about student life in Brussels…

Study in Hungary: Options for International College Students in Budapest and Pecs

I arrived in Budapest to write about the options to study in Hungary for my third week of travel.  I had a long train ride without WiFi from Prague, my taxi driver overcharged me, and I had trouble checking into my Airbnb – which was a bit of a study in hungary, study in budapestdump. These factors, along with the fact that I hadn’t seen the sun for almost a week and that I was tired of Eastern European food, had made me quite grouchy for my first few days.  By the end of the week, though, the sun was out, I’d learned about some amazing programs for international students to study in Hungary, discovered langos, and finally understood the appeal of Budapest!

Budapest is split in two by the Danube River. Buda is on one side and Pest is on the other.  Most schools are on the Pest side where it is more residential with an abundance of cafes, bars, and such. In some parts of Pest, I had trouble determining whether an area was trendy or sketchy.  Turns out, most were trendy.  There are these popular things called ruin bars that are set up in abandoned buildings.  I planned to grab a pre-dinner drink in one near my apartment at the Red Ruin bar but walked in and right out, when I realized I was much too old for this crowd.

study in hungary, study in budapestThe Buda side of the River is absolutely beautiful. Of course, the benefit to staying on the Pest side is that you get to see that view every day.  I walked across the bridge to explore the Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion and St. Matthias church.  It was an incredible experience, though crowded with tourists. I’m glad I stayed on the Pest side.

Cost of living is incredibly affordable here for students wanting to study in Hungary. A train ticket without a student discount is right around $1. Most of my meals cost under $5, rooms in student residences generally cost under 200€ (convert to $) per month, and you can live large in a large nice shared apartment for under 400€ a month. The city and public transportation are easy to navigate – after just a few days I rarely had to glance at Google Maps.

The American students I spoke with in Budapest are incredibly happy with their decision to study in Hungary and their experience.  Interestingly, this is the first time in Europe for both of them and the affordability was one of the decision making factors they used. Matthew is a nontraditional student (age 39) from Washington state who decided to study in Budapest with his wife and two small children to pursue a master’s degree. Chris is a from a small town in Louisiana and attended LSU for two years before making the move to study in Budapest. Even with airfare factored in, he is paying less to study in Hungary than he was as an in-state student at LSU (Who knew LSU was $32k per year all in??).  The impetus for both Matthew and Chris was a strong desire to see the world and experience diversity.  They both appreciate the various international backgrounds of their friends and the students in their classes as well as the opportunity this diversity provides to learn different perspectives on world events and even day to day living. Chris also said that he appreciates the much smaller class sizes.  He noted that at LSU he had many classes with 800 students and no personal contact with the professor, while during his study in Hungary, most of his classes here have less than 20 students and professors are accessible in and out of class time.

Matthew and Chris attend Budapest Metropolitan University, a private university of applied science that was founded in 2001.  The school emphasizes hands-on, practical learning that leads to employment.  In fact, 86% of their graduates have employment within 5 months or graduation and 33% of those are hired where they completed their internships – a major benefit of studying in Hungary.  The school has relationships with 400 Hungarian companies and 300 international companies for internships and job placements.  The Career Center holds programs throughout the year to prepare students for employment. For instance, at the beginning of each semester students take a Career Management class. This practical training is run by various companies and helps students learn skills around project proposal, professional communication, and overall presentation.

Budapest is an interesting place to be for students in Metropolitan’s media related programs. Many American films shoot here. Students have done internships with the production companies working on films like Angels and Demons, Inferno, and a yet to be released Jennifer Lawrence movie.

The facilities at Budapest Metropolitan University are fairly typical for a university of applied science.  Though they aren’t held in architecturally impressive places like many of the older public universities, the buildings are well maintained and have modern equipment. The school has 12 English conducted bachelor’s program that are 3-4 years in duration and range from 4,200-6,000 Euros per year.

The school I am most excited to tell you about is not in Budapest, but in Pecs (pronounced “paytch”).  When I planned my visit to review options to study in Hungary, I knew I had to visit this school. Pecs is a student town, with almost 15% of the 150,000 residents attending the University of Pecs. Students and administrators note that the smaller size of the city helps students feel less overwhelmed than they would in a larger city. University buildings are not far from the city center, which holds cafes, pubs, cinemas (that show English movies with Hungarian subtitles) and other popular student destinations.  There is a brewery in town which was founded in 1848 and produces eight kinds of beer. Students can also take advantage of nearby hiking or trips to nearby Croatia.

Though Pecs is a good three-hour train ride from Budapest, it has culture on its own.  In 2010 it was named a European Cultural study in hungary, study in budapestCapital for the year and it also holds a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I had grown accustomed to seeing the Soviet influence on architecture in this part of Europe, but Pecs holds architectural influence from the Ottoman occupation in the middle ages, mostly in the form of churches which were turned into mosques and then back into churches.

The University of Pecs is the oldest university in Hungary, celebrating 650 years,  and is globally ranked. I was impressed by the number and variety of programs they offered in English for such reasonable tuition.  I was even more impressed after my visit. Pecs is a large university, with 20,000 students, but each department is self-contained with its own International Student’s Office, Student Union and more.  The buildings are spread out throughout town, but students who stay in the dorms are generally placed in the dorm close to their department.  There are easy public transportation options for students who choose to rent an apartment in town.

The university facilities are impressive and diverse. Though some are in old historic buildings and others are in modern buildings built for the university, all are well maintained with up to date classrooms and labs.  The school offers 18 English conducted bachelor’s programs and 3 integrated bachelors/masters programs in medicine, pharmacy, and dentistry. The bachelor’s programs include various offerings in the fields of health sciences, business, social sciences, humanities, computer science, engineering, math, and science. Most of these programs are three years in duration and range from 3,200-6,900 Euros per year.

During my visit to Pecs, I met staff in the student residences, administrators from two different faculties, students from the medical program, and others.  What struck me in every single one of these meetings was how highly international students are valued and taken care of at the university. There is an office to help international students who study in Hungary in each of the departments, and even in the dorms. The departments offer all sorts of assistance to international students, including a group outing to get student residence permits, a course called “Providing a Soft Landing at the University and Pecs”, and a magazine for international students that is published a few times a year.  They continue to add English conducted programs that are of interest to international students and hold student focus groups to see where they can improve. The students I met with were very happy with their experience at Pecs (Members can see more about their thoughts on the General Medicine program page in the database).  When there are so many universities with good and affordable programs in Europe, a school’s approach to international students is an important factor to look at. Pecs certainly stands out in this area.

Was I this impressed with all the schools I visited?  Nope. As a matter of a fact, I visited a globally ranked school that I would not advise Americans apply to due to their attitude towards international bachelor’s students. Beyond the States members (Join now) have access to our database of all the accredited English conducted bachelor’s degree programs in non-anglophone Europe.  Many listings have a “Jenn Says” section that contains all the information – positive and negative – that I learn when visiting schools.

Prague: Universities & Colleges for International Students

prague universities, prague study, study in prague, study in english in prague, czech universities, czech colleges, prague colleges, prague universities in english, prague universities, studying in czech republic in english, study in czech republic for international studentsBefore visiting Prague universities for Beyond the States, our international travel destinations were determined by an interesting food scene or visiting family overseas.  Those criteria prevented me from getting to Prague in the Czech Republic earlier, a fact I truly regret. Prague is seriously one of the most beautiful cities in Europe to study abroad – even in the dead of winter. One thing that I liked about it is that you could see and appreciate the architecture throughout the city without going into the touristy areas.

Prague Castle is worth checking out, but what I really enjoyed was the Museum of Miniatures that I learned about in the Atlas Obscura. This is actually a small room that has micro miniatures which you view through mprague universities, prague study, study in prague, study in english in prague, czech universities, czech colleges, prague colleges, prague universities in english, prague universities, studying in czech republic in english, study in czech republic for international studentsicroscopes.  I’m already a sucker for miniatures so I was all about this! Micro-miniaturist Anatolij Konenko created the collection which includes a caravan inside the eye of a needle, a flea with tiny horseshoes and a replica of Swan Lake on a poppy seed-a poppy seed!! There is also a sailboat on a mosquito wing, golden horseshoes on a flea, and the Lord’s Prayer written on a hair.  If only they had a small gift shop…

Prague felt very livable to me. One factor I look at when assessing livability is the accessibility of modern day conveniences. I’ve stayed in some cities where I have walked endlessly just to find a place to buy bandaids.  Supermarkets, convenience stores, and drug stores were easily found in all the neighborhoods I visited in Prague. Other services, like places to exercise or nail salons, were also easy to get to. The city is fairly compact and walkable,  but also with good public transportation. I felt safe everywhere I visited throughout the city and learned that the Czech Republic is actually the 6th safest country in the world just ahead of Switzerland and far ahead of the US which ranks 103rd out of 162.

As I noted in our last blog, I do wish I had paid more attention to current events in high school, particularly those that related to the Cold War (1947-1991). The owners of my Airbnb were a hip young couple in their 30s.  Matej picked me up from the airport and during the drive back told me about his own memories of the time.  His dad was in a band and had to flee the country in the 80s, as he was going to be imprisoned for playing Led Zeppelin songs.  Matej remembers waiting in long lines for simple things like toilet paper to be rationed. He also recalled the excitement through the country after the largely peaceful Velvet Revolution, the period of upheaval and transition, that took place from November 17 to December 29, 1989.

Anglo-American University: Affordable with Small Class Size

prague universities, prague study, study in prague, study in english in prague, czech universities, czech colleges, prague colleges, prague universities in english, prague universities, studying in czech republic in english, study in czech republic for international studentsOne of the Prague universities I want to tell you about is Anglo-American University. As in Poland, private schools only came into existence after the end of the Cold War. Though AAU is a fairly young school, in terms of Prague universities, founded in 1990, it is the oldest private institution of higher education in the Czech Republic. There are a number of schools throughout Europe that are accredited by US agencies and they use that as a way to charge American-sized tuition.  One of the many benefits of college in Europe is the affordability, so I tend not to give those schools much attention.  Anglo-American University interested me as all of their programs are English conducted, they tout an American style of teaching, and they have WASC accreditation, an agency that also accredits schools like Stanford University. Despite all of that, their tuition is incredibly reasonable at under 4,500 euros (currency conversion) per year – making AAU a Prague university value!

The facilities at AAU are incredible.  They recently moved to a location in a great part of the city near the Prague Castle. It’s a historic building that they renovated for school use.  I can’t even begin to tell you how beautiful it is, so it’s worth checking out here. Be sure to look at the computer lab!

AAU has seven bachelor’s degree programs (all of their programs are conducted in English). Like most schools in Europe, students apply to an actual program but since there are a lot of electives students can generally do an internal transfer to switch programs after the first year.  AAU prides itself on small class size (max of 25 students), interactive group work and class discussions. The small student body does not mean that students have a limited choice of classes.  Over 200 courses are generally offered each semester. Some of the classes sound really cool as well.  Isn’t it a great time in our world to take a Psychology of Aggression course?  There is also a class about NATO in which different NATO representatives give virtual lectures throughout the semester.

The small student body allows students and professors to get to know each other and professors are accessible to students inside and outside of class.  The small school size presents less potential social issues than in the US.  While there are a number of ways to get involved socially at AAU, staying in a student residence opens up your opportunity to experience student life in Prague as a whole.

Charles: A Prague University with Liberal Arts

On the other end of the school size spectrum in Prague universities is Charles University.  Charles University is enormous with locations all around Prague. Charles University was founded in 1348, making it one of the oldest universities in the world. There are 52,000 students at the school and the school is globally ranked. Liberal Arts programs appeal to a lot of US students partly because it’s what we are familiar with and partly because many students don’t know what they want to study when applying to college.  Most of the liberal arts options are in the Netherlands, which have a 4 AP requirement, so I was interested in learning about the option offered at Charles University.

The Liberal Arts program at Charles University is fairly new. It started in 2012 and has about 45 students per class.  Though it is called Liberal Arts, after learning about it, I think it’s more similar to the integrated programs like the Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) or Philosophy, Politics, Law & Economics (PPLE) programs offered at many schools.  Of course, integrated programs are also a great option for students who aren’t sure what they want to study or can’t decide on just a single area of study. During the first year, students take introductory courses in European History, Anthropology, Economics, Psychology, and Sociology.  They also have four different small seminars and choices for electives. Electives account for more than a third of the required credits, so it is here that students can focus on their areas of interest within the disciplines.

Comprehensive exams account for 40 of the 180 total credits.  These are not formal classes, but independent work that is done through the semester (during the 2nd and 3rd year) preparing for the exam.  Students are required to take comprehensive exams in four different subjects.  For each of these, they choose a set number of books to read off of a list (usually they choose 12).  They then give a presentation and have an oral exam about the reading they did.  Needless to say, this requires that the student is independent with good time management and study skills.  The programs end with a bachelor’s thesis, another opportunity for the student to focus on their specific area of interest.

This department is about 20 minutes on the metro from the city center, in a less picturesque area of Prague. Large universities sometimes concern me as getting through bureaucratic levels in one’s own language can be a headache enough without throwing language barriers in the mix.  However, students take the majority of their classes within the department and the International Students Office and Student Administration Office within the department can meet most of the students’ needs.

Summary of Prague Universities

If you’re interested in studying in the Czech Republic in English, there are 45 English conducted bachelor’s programs in the country, 32 of which are at Prague universities.  The average tuition in the Czech Republic is just €4,260 (convert to $). Prague universities provide great options for students who want to take advantage of the affordable tuition of Eastern Europe while living in a livable and beautiful city.  I have to tell you, I’m actually glad that I’m not a big fan of the heavy meat-based Czech foods otherwise I would have had trouble leaving!