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Is a Degree from Europe “Good” in the US?

I often get questions about whether a degree from Europe will be “good” in the US.. Degree accreditation and recognition can be confusing, so today I’d like to dive into this a bit.

Let’s start with accreditation. Accreditation is basically a stamp of approval by an accrediting agency that deems that university programs have met certain standards set out by whoever the accreditor is. The most important thing is to make sure that the accrediting body is recognized by the country of the university. In most countries, other than the US, accreditation is granted by a governmental body which is usually the Ministry of Education. Since public universities in Europe are heavily funded by taxes, the accreditation process is quite thorough. Since there is only one accrediting agency per country, the criteria used is consistent.

I sometimes hear from people who say that they want to narrow their search to European universities with US accreditation. You will not find a public university in Europe that has American accreditation simply because these are not American institutions. There are some private American universities based in Europe and these universities generally have both American accreditation and accreditation by the country in which they are functioning.

It’s important to note that, just like in every country, there are schools in Europe that don’t have the accreditation necessary to be fully recognized in their country. I sometimes get emails with a link university website asking why we don’t have it listed in our database. We require the full accreditation, even for private universities (except for Greece due to a law they have around private universities), for inclusion in our database. This is just one thing that sets us apart from the other portals you will find online.

In the US, the government doesn’t give accreditation itself but approves various accrediting agencies (as does the Council for Higher Education Accreditation).  These are often, but not always, regionally based like Middle States Commission on Higher Education and WASC Accrediting Commission.  There are also national accrediting agencies as well as specialized accrediting agencies (for degrees like law, nursing, medicine, and such).

One issue with this method is that the criteria used for accreditation is not necessarily consistent across the board, since there are a number of agencies involved. The other is that schools can be accredited by an agency that has not been approved by CHEA or the DOA, effectively making the degree worthless. It can be confusing for students because the school can claim-and honestly-that they are accredited. It’s important to note that these degrees aren’t recognized because they are US institutions that aren’t accredited by approved agencies in the US. This is VERY different than how degrees are viewed from universities in other countries that fulfilled the accreditation requirements within that country.

Recognition of the diploma is a different concept. The term can mean a few different things and can be used to mean an informal recognition or an official/formal process. If you are returning to the US after graduating, you will need your diploma recognized (either formally or informally) as valid by either an employer, graduate school, or a licensure board. Let’s walk through how having a foreign degree may affect each of these.

If you return to the US for graduate school, you won’t be an international student but you will be applying with a foreign degree. There were more than 1 million international students studying at universities in the US during the 2019-20 school year. This indicates that admissions departments are very familiar with assessing foreign degrees. Most use a credentialing agency to assess the degrees and ensure that they are valid, which is part of the admissions process. To note, you will still need to take the GMAT, GRE, LSAT, etc and meet any prerequisites the university has.

The exception to the ease in which you can apply to graduate school in the US is medical school.  If going to medical school in the US is the goal, the decision to study outside of the country should be carefully evaluated. Many US medical schools require a degree from the US and those that don’t do require at least one year of coursework from an American or Canadian university (usually science classes). It’s not an insurmountable problem, as some of the credits could be gained in the US or Canada during a semester abroad and potentially even summer classes. The specific requirements around the US programs you are interested in should be explored in depth before deciding to study outside of the US.

When applying for a job, you will likely not need to take any official steps for recognition. Many companies are multinational and/or have been employing people from other countries for many years so seeing degrees from other countries is commonplace.  Further, most of the students who pursue universities abroad would be seeking employment with companies that have some aspect of internationalization, simply because their own interests and values related to global citizenship is one thing that led them to study abroad in the first place.

But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that the student is applying to a small company in a small town and is concerned that the HR department is unfamiliar with the value of a foreign degree.  The student could either attach a statement about the school to their resume, with information about accreditation and rankings by US sources or go through the degree verification process (more on that in a bit). That said, no company can be familiar with all of the higher education institutes in the US alone. Because quality and accreditation varies so widely, when the “quality” of the degree matters for the job, there are often systems in place to evaluate this whether the degree is from the US or elsewhere.

There is also evidence that the name of the university matters very little in the hiring process, and this becomes even more true with there is relevant experience (including internships) on the applicant’s resume. Certainly the soft skills gained by studying outside of your home country is something that employers are looking for, and these could be highlighted in a cover letter. (LINK TO BLOG)

Professions that require licensure are a different matter. These include many careers related to health care, education, social work, psychology, law, and architecture. There are some fields of study, like education, that really do need study completed in the country in which you intend to work.  If you want to be a teacher in the US, you need to learn about the curriculum and policies specific to the US. In fact, the majority of the English-taught education type programs in Europe focus on teaching at international schools as opposed to the education system in that country. A university in Finland, for instance, wouldn’t have an education program about the Finnish education system taught in English because teachers in Finland need to be fluent in Finnish.

The most important thing to note about the careers that require licensure is that most-not all, but most- are going to require a master’s degree before licensure.  Many of our members intend to work in Europe after graduating.  However, if you are sure that you want to eventually work in the US in one of these careers, perhaps getting your bachelor’s in Europe and your master’s in the US is a solution.

The other thing to recognize is that most of these careers are still possible with a degree from abroad, though there will be hoops to jump through. In most cases there is a process to go through to get your degree validated and ensure that it included certain learning objectives. I have my LCSW, so I’m somewhat familiar with sites around licensure and decided to look at the specifics around licensure with a foreign degree.  For this particular profession, the Council on Social Work Education will assess information sent from the university about the competencies and expected outcomes related to the program.  Though you have to dig into the site a bit, they list all of the expected outcomes they are looking for. You can use this type of information when choosing a program to look at how their expected outcomes compare to the standards required for US licensure in your field of interest. In other cases, you many need to get your own credential verification by an agency like World Education Services, which costs around $200 (depending on the type of evaluation needed).

There are a lot of opinions out there about recognition and accreditation. I sometimes see them presented as “facts” as comments on the facebook ads. Before sending my son (and soon my daughter) to school in Europe, I thoroughly researched whether this would hold them back in their future.  If you are still doubtful, I encourage you to do your own research. Look at the admissions pages for graduate school programs in the US, look at LinkedIn to see where people with degrees from abroad are working, and check the licensure board websites of fields of interest. I think you will be happy to learn that pursuing the affordable and life changing options in Europe will, in most cases, keep these doors open for you!

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Creating New Traditions

For my entire life, even when I lived in an apartment as a college student, I’ve had a real Christmas tree. After Tom and I got married and had kids, there were a number of traditions involved around choosing and setting up the tree every year. We lived in North Carolina for sixteen years before moving to Portugal this year.  There were beautiful Fraser fir that we bought each year from Mr. Johnny, a fixture in the community. Some years, he would throw the tree in the back of his truck and bring it to our house (which was easier than trying it on my car). Each year we would catch up on his health issues, my kids, his business. This was something I enjoyed and looked forward to as much as the actual tree.

Live trees are not as much of a thing here in Portugal.  Most of the options make Charlie Brown’s tree look lush and full. They come stapled to a board, so keeping them fresh in water isn’t an option. I was on the fence about what to do about a tree this year. After seeing my brother’s solution, which involved zip tying two of these sad trees together, I decided to break tradition and bought a fake tree.

 

This experience has me thinking a lot about traditions. Like our students who are in Europe, living in a different country requires a certain level of flexibility when it comes to our traditions from home. It also introduces us all to new ones that we may want to incorporate into our lives.  This, of course, is not exclusive to holidays but also includes student life.

When we think of student life traditions in the US, many of us often think of events around sports or maybe those around Greek life.  Most of these traditions relate in some way to parties and social life.  There are student life traditions in other countries too and certainly no shortage of parties (in non-corona times at least).  These traditions provide the same outcome as those in other countries. They can lead to a sense of belonging and community, provide meaningful shared experiences with others, and are also just fun!

Finland has a number of student life traditions that provide good examples of this. The first involves coveralls. Students buy a set of coveralls that are associated with their university or sometimes even the department at their university and wear them to parties (usually with something creative or fashionable done with the top part of the coverall). Since student life is tied more to the city than the school, you see many different colors of coveralls at parties!

Students then earn patches for their coveralls at parties, pub crawls, and other activities. Patches can also be purchased at specialty stores or from students who have a business designing them.  Wearing sweatshirts with the university name really isn’t much of a thing in Europe so the colored coveralls are a way of being a part of the student community in the city as well as representing your own university (and potentially department). The patches and colored coveralls provide easy ways to start conversations as well when meeting new people.

Then there is the singing….When I was in Finland a few years ago, I met with an American student in Mikkeli who told me about how much she loves sitsit. These are student dinner parties with all sorts of rules and traditions around singing and toasting. Sometimes these are formal events, sometimes a theme/costume party, sometimes with dancing, but there is ALWAYS singing. This is a very Finnish tradition (though Sweden has some similar traditions) so participation can make students feel not only a part of student life traditions but feel a part of  Finnish student life.

Covid has made it hard to learn about many Portuguese Christmas traditions this year.  I like the idea of seafood on Christmas eve, but it may be a hard sell for Sam and Ellie.  I’m sure we will all pass on the idea of a codfish heavy meal, but perhaps we could adapt the Christmas eve tradition of Northern Portugal with the inclusion of octopus in our meal.  I’m interested in creating new traditions that appeal to me from other countries as well. I started making glogg every December after falling in love with it on a winter trip to visit schools in Scandinavia. I also love the idea of the Jolabokaflod in Iceland in which includes exchanging gifts of books and spending the evening reading. We have found some ways to include some of our past traditions here.  For years, we’ve been getting a smoked goose in the US, which only required roasting on Christmas day.  We sourced a goose for a local butcher and found a restaurant that will smoke it for us. That, along with homemade mac and cheese, will provide some sense of tradition for us, even without a real tree!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Challenges and Benefits Around Language Learning

As most of you know, we moved to Portugal in March of this year. I’m attempting to learn Portuguese right now and, man, is it hard!  Having never learned a conversational language (I took 4 years of Latin in high school), this is not coming naturally to me!  Though I’m far away from being able to speak (beyond pleasantries) or understand (people talk so fast!), my reading is improving a lot. I get really excited when I can read things in the grocery store, menus, or parts of emails.  I can’t wait until I can communicate somewhat effectively, if only basic communication.  We need A2 proficiency to apply for citizenship in 5 years. This is just one step up from beginner, so I’m confident I can get there. My goal is to take (and pass) the test by spring of 2022. By then, we may know our longer term plan and I can either continue my Portuguese to get to a level beyond basic communication or start learning the language of the country we intend to eventually move to.

Suffice it to say, I’ve been thinking about language learning a lot! I have so much admiration for people who are bilingual! I can’t imagine being able to switch between languages with such ease!  It’s also amazing how quickly some people pick up languages. My nephew spent the first six years of his life in Turkey. He spoke English, Turkish, and even Greek (he went to a Greek preschool) at the age of 5. He is 10 now,  living in Lisbon, and has on more than one occasion schooled me on the basics of the Portuguese language. Covid “bubbles” prevented Ellie from taking Portuguese at school this year but, even without formal classes, she is quickly learning various phrases from her friends. I don’t doubt that when she starts taking classes, it will come much easier to her than it has for me. Sigh.

Sometimes I hear from people (usually in those facebook ad comments I’ve mentioned before) that seem almost offended by the suggestion that students don’t need proficiency in another language to go to schools in Europe. Some insist that students need proficiency for day to day life. Or they think that we are suggesting that language learning isn’t important. Let’s unpack this a bit today.

The first thing to recognize is that English-taught degree programs don’t exist with the purposed of  accommodating or appealing to us at Americans. Honestly, they don’t even exist as something specifically for native English-speakers.  Whether good/bad, right/wrong, English is the most widely spoken language in the world. Therefore, English-taught programs exist to accommodate ALL international students in the world who have a defined level of English proficiency.

Living in Europe has made me realize the importance of both bilingualism and the function of a common language.  Just like someone might live in New Jersey and spend just as much time in New York, someone can live in a border city in Spain and work, eat, or socialize in France.  This person would need to know France and Spanish or another language that people are likely to know.  That language in the world right now is English.  The use of a lingua franca is especially evident in the EU where, even with the UK leaving, English will remain one of three official languages in the EU Institutions. Interestingly, even without including the UKEnglish is spoken by 44% of the EU population, while Germany is spoken by 36% and French is spoken by 29%.

It’s certainly possible in many countries to get by without knowing the language. Countries in Northern Europe in particular have extremely high English proficiency. That said, I personally think it is a sign of respect to, at a bare minimum, know things like “Excuse me” for when you bump into someone, “Do you speak English” so it’s not viewed as an assumption or entitlement, and pleasantries like please and thank you.  Certainly, life is easier when you go further than that.  While the google translate plug in has been a game changer for me, there are certain translations that are a bit odd. I remember looking at a menu online with an item that translated as “fingernails”.  I was tempted to order it just out of curiosity! Knowing things like food words and numbers has helped me tremendously, both at the grocery store (there’s nothing worse than standing there trying to get the camera translate app to pick up the words on the label),  the farmers market, and when ordering at restaurants.

International students in Europe have a large number of options for language learning. Some programs have language classes built into the curriculum, though it’s not usually the language of the country they are living in. There are many programs that have a regional focus-whether it’s a business or global studies type program-that include langue learning. For instance, students in Maastricht University’s Global Studies program can choose from Arabic, Chinese Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian or Spanish. Students in all programs at Bocconi University must learn two languages during their studies and need to achieve B2 in one and B1 in the other by the time they graduate. These classes are built into the curriculum and include choices of French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and German.

Outside of the curriculum, the university almost always offers some sort of opportunities for language learning. Some universities provide an online language class for incoming first year international students.  Leiden University, for instance, offers a five week course and the “lessons are based on realistic scenarios from the life of an international student at Leiden University.”  I think this is really key, as the students are leaning some of the specific phrases that they will actually use in their day to day life as a student (which are, different than the phrases that I as a middle aged woman would use in my day to day life!).

Some universities offer formal language classes for their international students. Others have regular language cafe events which allow students to practicing a language with a native speaker of that language while also helping that student practice English. Other schools have Language Buddy programs for new international students, which can help with both language and culture.

Of course, online resources have come such a long ways!  I remember when we used to buy language programs to help us with language when we would travel. These were almost never effective for us!  Now, though, I’m using an online resource called Practice Portuguese that’s incredibly helpful! For me, the regular use of this program has been far more effective than the more structured online classes I’ve taken! Finding European Portuguese specific resources has been tricky, since most are focused on Brazilian Portugueses, but there are a ton of others for more common languages like Drops, Mondly, Memrise, and Duolingo.

So, other than making day to day life a bit easier, what are the benefits around language learning? For one, it makes integrating into local life instead of just international student life easier.  Certainly, if you are at a group event with students from various part of the world, the common language (English) will most likely be used.  If, however, you are at a party where the majority of the people are from the country you are studying in, they will most likely be speaking their own first language.  Knowing the language opens up social opportunities and social communication with other students.

Additionally, language proficiency improves your job prospects. Of course, it increases the pool of jobs you are qualified to  apply for, but also helps you even when applying for jobs that don’t require any other language. This interesting article cites research that shows that knowing more than one language leads to a “have a greater capacity to understand people from a wider variety of backgrounds, and also have a better understanding of themselves”, reduces decision bias,  makes people better problem-solvers and “better able to function optimally in chaotic situations”. These are soft skills that employers are looking for! Not to mention the fact that language learning in and of itself is an achievement that will help the applicant stand out!

I would guess that Sam is probably close to B1 in both French and Arabic and A1 for Dutch. His goal is to get to B2 proficiency in both French and Arabic by the time he graduates and A2 for Dutch. This would open up a number of job opportunities in many different countries.  Further, having that level of proficiency will allow him to speak to people in their own native language (beyond pleasantries..), and provide him with a greater understanding of the world. I too look forward to experiencing some of the less tangible benefits to language learning!

Ready to start exploring the incredible options in Europe? Our membership prices will go up in January, so join our Master’s or Bachelor’s membership now to lock in 2020 rates!

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Germany Update

I love it when I learn something new about universities in Europe from a member!  I was on our live member Q&A call on Sunday when a member asked about something she saw on the Germany higher education site (daad site) about APs.  Germany did not consider APs as recently as just a few months ago, so I told her that I would look into it and get back to her.

I have very exciting news to report about this! First, though, let me give you a little bit of backstory.  Students often come to me asking about Germany. Some students are interested in the culture, after taking some German in school. Others are excited by the tuition (which is free to international students at most public universities). Germany used to require that American students submit SAT scores to apply but, a couple of years ago they stopped accepting these scores. That meant that American applicants needed either an IB diploma, 2 years of college credits (with a number of course requirements), or a full Associate’s degree. For many students, Germany was off the table.

It’s now a feasible option again, though still quite difficult. The first requirement pertains to the courses the student takes in high school. Most of these are pretty much aligned with the college track graduation requirements in the US. These requirements include 4 years of English (honors for one), 2 years of a foreign language, 3 years of social studies,  2-3 years of math (Algebra II or Trig and Precalc), and 2-3 in Science (2 courses in either math or science, 3 in the other).  This is all doable.

In addition, students need to have 4 AP scores of 3+. These scores make students eligible to apply only for specific subjects. There are two different combinations of specific scores needed. Students who want to apply to programs related to Humanities, Social Sciences, Law, and Economics need scores of 3+ in:

  • English
  • Foreign language (French, Spanish, Latin, or German)
  • Math or natural science (Calc, Bio, Chem, or both Physics C tests
  • Additional score in European History, American History, Computer Science or Macro+Micro Economics

Students who want to apply for programs around Math, Science, and Technology need scores of 3+ in:

  • Math (specifically Calc)
  • Natural Science (Bio, Chem, or both Physics C tests)
  • Language (French, Latin, German, Spanish or English Lit or Lang/Comp)
  • Additional score in European History, American History, Computer Science or Macro+Micro Economics

In order to keep all the options open, a student could take five APs that include Calc, Bio or Chem, English, Foreign Language, and one of the additional tests noted.

I don’t often recommend German universities. In addition to the fact that they were impossible for most American students to apply to for the last few years, I also found that many of them had a rigid and old school approach to education. It’s often (not always) very lecture oriented and not as interactive as many of the students I work with are looking for. There are some indications that this might be changing, or at least that are some new options with a different approach. The Global Environmental and Sustainability Studies program at Leuphana University, for instance,  certainly points in that direction. I recently wrote chose this to profile in a Beyond the States Program of the Month. These are generally accessible only to members, but in celebration of the good news around German admissions, I’m sharing it here as well!

There are affordable and high quality options in other countries as well! In fact, of the 1900+ programs in continental Europe, only about 350 have the AP requirements.  It’s a great time to start exploring since there are a few days left to take advantage of our FREE 5 COURSE BUNDLE!    This offer is good through 11/21/20, so act now to take advantage of the knowledge AND savings!

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Wrapping My Head Around Problem Based Learning

I’ve received several emails since my last blog asking about Sam’s program at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Just like the full university name (I’ve been told that Erasmus University is not accurate, without the Rotterdam at the end…), the program name is also a mouthful. Sam is in the Management of International Social Challenges program.  Students in this program learn about international problems that are multidisciplinary in nature. These include issues like “migration, pandemics, terrorism, climate change, economic stability, international crime”, and more. Students learn to look at and analyze these issues through the lens of a variety of disciplines, including sociology, economics, political science, management, international law, and public policy.

 

As I mentioned in my last blog, one of the standout features of this program is it’s use of Problem-Based Learning (PBL).  This is an educational approach used at a few Dutch universities. Maastricht University, for instance, uses it for all their programs while EUR uses it for just a few of their programs. This approach, along with the block schedule, has impacted Sam’s education experience in tremendous ways!

Maastricht in particular has loads of info on PBL, which is where I first learned about it.  There are a lot of phrases describing it that I feel strongly about…. Things like critical thinking, understanding not memorizing subject matter, public speaking, relevancy, active learning, self-direction, collective learning. I understood that the approach has these values/goals that I think are important in education (and in life!) and I understood that these goals are achieved through small group sessions that are structured in a systematic way, but I couldn’t really wrap my head. Luckily, I’ve been about to pick Sam’s brain and look at some of his course material to get a deeper understanding. I thought it might be helpful to go through an actual example to demonstrate how it works.

Sam has two classes during each of the five week blocks. One is an academic skills classes and the other is specific to the social challenges issue. The first two blocks were for the Globalization and Society class, with block one focused on culture and society and block two focused on politics and economics.  He has one lecture each week for Globalization and Society. In addition, he has one discussion group and two PBL groups each week for the course.

Sam’s PBL sessions are made up of ten students, and the group is the same for the entire five week block. While the weekly course discussion sessions allow students to become familiar with others, these intense sessions allow them to really start to get to know each other as work continues outside of the sessions as well.

Each PBL session has a “problem” assigned, though I think of it more as a topic that students that students then identify problems around. For instance, problems for the first block included things like Globalization and Crime, Cultural Identity, Migration, Ancestral Homelands and Global versus Local. There are certain facts, research findings, or questions that students are provided with, but that is all they come into the session with.

PBL sessions use a step by step process to explore that particular topic/problem. First, the tutor assigns a scribe and a chair for the session. The chair leads the session and the scribe takes extensive notes that the students have access to. Other than that, the tutor’s only role is to get the discussion back on track (if needed), assign breaks, and provide participation grades.

The problem I will use for this example is from the second block. The topic for the week was around whether globalization improves of worsens inequality. The basis for each side of the argument was presented and the goal of the session was to look at different countries (which were assigned) and determine whether globalization improved or worsened inequality in that particular country.

The first step in the process involves discussing the assigned topic, making sure everyone understands it, and defining any unfamiliar terms.  In this group, there were no unfamiliar terms and students progressed quickly to the second step.

The second step involves defining the actual problem and identifying the questions that they need to answer in the process. This step is not about answering these questions, just identifying them. Sam’s group came up with questions like:

  • What is inequality?
  • Does inequality increase with the progression of globalization?
  • Does economic growth lead to inequality?
  • Which countries are negatively and positively affected by globalization?
  • Does inequality increase with the progression of globalization?

The next step in the session is brainstorming around the questions they just came up with and the factors that play into the problem. For this session, students first came up with a rough definition of inequality to use. They then looked at different variables regarding each of the countries assigned.  They looked at when poverty began increasing or decreasing in each of the countries, they looked at education changes in each of the countries, and several other factors including equality, GDP and life expectancy. They also discussed relevant factors like the Lorenz Curve and Gini Coefficient.

The next step is problem analysis, which is primarily about structuring the information from the brainstorming session. This leads to the final step of this session, which is formulating learning objectives.  Students in this session realized that further learning was needed around two key questions.

  • How do we measure inequality?
  • What factors lead to inequality?

In between the PBL sessions, students complete the next PBL step which is to work independently on these questions, using the course texts and other identified material and come back to the next session with the information they gathered.   So, in fact, the first half of each PBL session is actually a discussion of the previous topic. Students go around the group and talk about their findings, citing their sources and discussing the findings before moving on to the steps noted above for the next assigned problem.

There is just so much I love about this process. As a former therapist, I spent many sessions teaching teens, parents, and spouses effective communication skills. Part of the PBL process teaches students to debate their differences of opinion in respectful and elicit meaningful discussion. If only every college aged student could learn those skills!

The academic skills classes that students take each block also tie into the skills they’ll use in PBL sessions (many of which are also useful in life as well). In addition to the more basic skills classes they take in the beginning, they also have skills classes in Research Design, Literature Review, SPSS, Interviewing, Argumentative Writing, Presenting, Negotiating, Professional Conduct, and Data Analysis.

Finally, I really love how this engages the student in the learning process. It’s not just about going and reading the assigned text between classes. It’s about active study strategies, critical thinking, applying theory to relevant real world issues, and doing your part as a member of a group. Learning to learn is such an important piece of being a student.  I think this structure provides students with the skills and resources needed to effective learners as students and-just as importantly-how to apply those skills to their lives beyond.

 

 

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Sam’s Adjustment to Life in Rotterdam

It’s hard to believe that Sam is already midway through his first semester at Erasmus University Rotterdam! As any of you know, he started the summer off by breaking his wrist and had to have surgery. We kept nagging the hospital and insurance company for our part of the bill, which I think they found confusing. When we finally received it, we discovered that his student health insurance covered 100% of the charges. What a great surprise!

Sam spent some of the summer here in Portugal with us, and part of it hiking the Camino de Santiago with friends before moving from the Hague to Rotterdam in August. His student housing in the Hague was almost like a studio apartment-with a kitchenette in his room and only a bathroom that he shared with one other student. He still has a spacious single room in Rotterdam but shares a kitchen and bathroom with one other student. This has turned out to be a great arrangement! Sam’s suite mate cooks-as in balanced meals! They worked out a deal where they split the costs of groceries, the roommate cooks, and Sam cleans afterwards.There is so much I love about this, including that Sam has a green vegetable every day and that cleaning is now part of his daily routine.

New responsibilities have been a theme for Sam the last couple of months. For one, this was his first time having to get his passport renewed all by himself. He’s made three trips to the embassy thus far, with one detail missing each time. The last time it was that the background of the photo was eggshell, so it didn’t meet the white background requirement. It’s certainly teaching lessons about attention to detail. He’s hoping that fourth time is the charm….

There have been a few small school related hiccups that are different than his experience at Leiden last year. It’s hard to know if the differences are due to the amount of assistance provided by the school generally or what is a result of Covid related issues. For instance, at Leiden, we were able to meet the proof of means requirement with a signed bank statement showing the money was liquid. EUR requires students to provide proof of means by transferring them the money. This money is supposed to be refunded once everything passes through immigration. Leiden was very hands in their assistance with the immigration process and this was handled at orientation. Covid prevented the regular orientation at EUR this year so it’s unclear whether there would have been that same level of assistance around this or not. There were a series of glitches that caused delays with the immigration process for Sam (related to the fact that he had a previous student residence through Leiden) so getting the refund took a bit longer and several follow up emails from Sam.

Of course, Covid has affected the mode of instruction at universities around the world. Sam’s program at EUR was scheduled to be conducted using a hybrid model for first year students this fall, with in person small groups and online lectures. The Covid numbers in the Netherlands have increased at a fast rate so all his classes are online and have been from day one. European universities generally don’t communicate with parents, so it’s unclear as to whether an email was sent to students announcing this change before the semester began. Sam has gotten good over the last year or so about checking his email, so I don’t think it was communicated. It wouldn’t have changed anything around this plan but would have been nice to know ahead of time.

Despite the administrative issues and the online learning, Sam is thriving at EUR! One thing that really works for him is the block schedule used for his program. The year is broken into eight different five week blocks. Each week includes a lecture class, an academic skills class, and two problem based learning (PBL) sessions. The PBL sessions are based on the lecture topics so each week is very cohesive. Not having to academically shift gears so often during the day and week is a good fit for Sam’s learning style. Further, when there is a course that he doesn’t like as much, he only has to endure it for five weeks, instead of a long semester. That said, many of the courses are multidisciplinary so even if a class includes economics (which he learned last year is one of his least favorite areas of study…), it’s not the focus of the entire class.

Sam’s program uses an educational approach called Problem-Based Learning. It’s a very systematic approach, so I’ll be writing more on that in a few weeks. Apart from the student centered teaching format, the hallmark of this approach is small group and interactive learning. Even the one lecture class also has an interactive session each week with ten students. This is a different grouping each week, which has been nice since meeting fellow students on campus before/after lectures is not currently a possibility. Each week also consists of Academic Skills class, which is a group of about eight students and two Problem Based Learning Sessions, which are the same group of 6-8 students for both sessions and throughout the entire five week block. These are intensive classes with a lot of out of class work too, so students get to know each other well through this time. The structure has allowed Sam to build community, despite the online format.

It’s no secret that Sam struggled the first semester at Leiden. Much of this was due to the natural exploration of abundant social opportunities. The lock down during his second semester allowed him to develop study strategies that worked, since there were less social distractions. He finished the year with strong second semester grades and confidence in his abilities as a university student. That said, we were both a little nervous while waiting for his grades from the first block exam, particularly since he was prepared yet still thought the test was difficult. We were both received when he (finally) got his scores and learned that he did well! With all that is stress in the world right now, it’s great to have something so significant in his life going well. Helps me sleep at night too!

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Why You Shouldn’t Be Worried About Knowing Your Area of Study

One of the biggest differences in applying to universities in Europe is that you are applying to a specific program, as opposed to applying to just the overall university. This is basically like declaring your major ahead of time and since there generally aren’t any university-wide core requirements, switching majors/programs often means starting over. Don’t stop reading this based on that fact! This doesn’t mean that you are stuck studying only one thing. This doesn’t mean that you must know exactly what you want to study. And this doesn’t mean you have to know what you want your career path to be!

Now, if a student does know exactly what they want to study, there are plenty of programs that focus on that area from day one. Many students appreciate that they can focus on their area of interest from day one, without having unrelated required courses. What appeals to even more students, though, are the multidisciplinary program options. The Dutch have been far ahead of other European countries about this type of English-taught educational offerings. Their universities have not only the largest number of English-taught programs, but also include liberal arts programs and many multidisciplinary options. I’m starting to see this in more and more other countries and today will focus on these types of program options in other European countries.

Vrije University, in Brussels, offers a Social Sciences program. It takes three years to complete and tuition is 3850 euros per year. The first two years provide the broad and diverse knowledge that so many students want. The first year of the program includes classes in sociology, political sciences, and communication studies. The second year seeks to interweave the three disciplines also teaches students to use critical thought in these areas. The thirds year allows for customization as students choose to specialize-like choosing a major in one of these three areas.

The Global Humanities program at the University of Sapienza, in Rome, allows for customization from the very first year! Students take 1-2 required courses each year, and the rest are courses they choose from different categories. The categories themselves are broad and include history, the arts, sociology, anthropology, economics, law, psychology, theology, and international studies. Course option goes beyond basic intro courses with options like
Environmental Law, Gender Economics, Law and Literature, Sociology of Media and Culture, Indo-Tibetan Studies, Global Health, Japanese Narratives, and Human Rights, Classical Archaeology, Latin Literature Medieval Art, and Contemporary History. And there is just a small selection of the offerings! The program takes three years to complete. Tuition at public universities in Italy is like a sliding scale, based on family income, and 2821 euros per year is the maximum annual tuition charge for this program.

Global Studies and International Studies type programs are a popular multidisciplinary program type for students with diverse interests around social sciences and cultures. The the University of Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona, offers a three year Global Studies program that costs 6800 euros per year. The premise is that in order to develop a comprehensive view or world issues, students must look at the problems through the lens of different fields. Students take required courses in data analysis, global history, global communication, research methods, finance, economics, international relations, law, sustainability, cultural studies, business, and politics. They are required to learn another language and take electives focused on global issues as well as those that pertain to a region of their choosing.

Students who love math and science can consider the Science program at the the University of Helsinki. All students take courses in math, computer/data science, physics, and chemistry during the first year, and then they choose one of the four areas to focus on. Students can choose to combine more than one track and/or can take electives from the different tracks as well. The program takes three years to complete and costs 13000 per year.

Though it’s structured differently than in the US, students in Europe are still able to explore varied academic interests. Even those students who choose a more specific area of study can pursue interests outside of their program through the semester that is set aside for electives during study abroad. It’s not necessarily better or worse than the system in the US, just different, and the same goals can be achieved.

The options on this list represent just a few of the great options. My visits to schools and research did for other best-fit lists and such have helped me identify many more-including several programs that aren’t obviously multidisciplinary from the title name. I would love to help you find great options that fit your interests too! Act now and receive one-month free membership with your purchase of a best-fit list. There is no long term commitment for membership, simply cancel within the membership portal 7 days before your next billing date and you will not be charged again!

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Ellie’s Prep for European Admissions

I just finished reading Jeffrey Selingo’s new book “Who Gets in and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions”. I’m sure I’ll be doing a post in the future about what I’ve learned as it’s a fascinating read! Some of the most disturbing chapters are those that describe what he heard when he sat in on admissions sessions at different universities, when the admissions counselors decide whether a student would be admitted or denied. There was the student who applied to Emory with strong grades and a rigorous curriculum but the admissions counselors felt he was “lackluster”. They were also concerned that the candidate stated an interest in neuroscience, but they didn’t see any examples of this in his file. They voted to deny, but he was moved back to the admit pile later in the season because he is a legacy and child of an employee. This account disturbs me on so many levels! Not only are the reasons they voted to deny him crazy to me, but the reason he was admitted bothers me just as much…

The book also talks about the importance of “demonstrated interest” in US admissions and how some schools assign as much or more weight to this as they do recommendations, essays, class rank, and activities. Of course, this is an easy criteria to game, as demonstrated by the mom who opened all the emails Tulane sent her son when he was away for the summer. Guess what? He got accepted (but chose to go elsewhere).

Can I just tell you how glad I am that my kids haven’t had to participate in such a flawed process? As I’ve said before, the transparent admissions process in Europe has affected our families’ lives as much as the savings. I want my kids to work hard but to do so in ways that are meaningful to their lives, learnings, and goals-not the way dictated by a rigged system.

As I discussed a few weeks ago, my 16 year old daughter Ellie will be applying to schools in Europe. The straightforward process has given Ellie the freedom to choose the majority of her courses around her interest areas, without worrying about what colleges will think of her selections. She knows the specific courses that are required by different programs, and she is taking those, but our focus has been around exposing her to academic courses in her interest areas. Having an idea of how her interest areas translate into academic subjects will help her have a better idea of what she wants to study.

Our admissions strategy has been to keep as many options open as possible. In Europe, the admissions requirements are defined. The goal of is to meet their requirements, not to be better than all the other applicants in a number of different categories. Though there are exceptions (we’re talking about an entire continent after all) applicants’ achievements are usually compared to the set admissions requirements. If anything else is assessed, it is generally about the fit of student to the program and program to the student.

Non-selective admissions is difficult thing to wrap our brains around when we are used to the American process. It’s especially when we have bought into the belief that selectivity is correlated with quality. I’ve discussed this more in depth in different posts over the year, as well as this podcast interview with an administrator from the University of Groningen (which happens to be a top 100 globally ranked university that also uses this type of admissions). I really encourage you to listen as it will help you challenge any of your perspectives that don’t apply when applying to universities in Europe.

Ok, back to the strategy. We knew that, in order to keep the majority of her options open, Ellie would need an IB diploma or four AP scores of 3+ . Many of the schools with these requirements only require three scores, but we were shooting to keep them all open. I really want to stress that the majority of the programs in Europe DON’T have these “extra” requirements. In fact, only about 350 of 1900+ options do. That said, since we knew this was the route Ellie would take from the beginning, it was easy enough to plan accordingly. We did this knowing that she might not need the scores or IB diploma where she ends up applying and attending.

Ellie started at a new school this year, when we moved to Portugal, and it is one that offers the IB diploma program. Though I think very highly of this curriculum, we decided to stick with the AP route. Ellie took two AP courses and tests her sophomore year so she’s already halfway through the requirements. Her school doesn’t offer APs, so she is taking her final two online this year. Her school has given her independent study blocks during those times so she’s able to still do the work during school hours. The great thing is that she is still taking IB classes. As a non-IB student, the requirements and assessment will be a bit different but she is still getting the content. I feel like it’s the best of both worlds! Further, since she will have all four of her scores before senior year, any acceptances will not be conditional on a score she gets after graduating.

I want to note that students can still apply if they are taking their APs during their senior year, in fact our son Sam went this route. That said, if they don’t get the required AP score, they won’t be able to attend. I advise students to also accept an offer from a school that doesn’t require the APs when they will be waiting on a score after graduating so they aren’t stuck with no plan if something happens with the AP score they are hoping for.

I mentioned that Ellie has her eye on a few Dutch university colleges. These programs are selective, which means that not only does she have to meet extra criteria (usually a math requirement, sometimes an extra AP score), but admissions is not a sure thing even if she meets the criteria. One of the university college programs she is interested in accepts an AP Stats score for the math requirement. Another one requires AP Calc which is just not going to happen…However, this program does allow a SAT or ACT score to sub for the math requirement. Ellie will take the PSAT this fall through school, after which we will determine which of the two tests she will take in the spring. Again, since we know the score she needs to sub for the math requirement, it won’t be a matter of arbitrarily deciding whether or not she needs to take it multiple time.

After Ellie decides on whether or not she wants to study business, sustainability, or something else, she will then determine where she wants to apply. We will hopefully be able to visit some schools in the spring. If not, she will participate in the online recruitment events this year and we will visit in early fall. When she makes her list, it will include a “sure thing” program, which is like a safety school. Here’s the thing-a sure thing program can also be the first choice! If she were applying to almost any other program at University of Groningen or Erasmus University Rotterdam (these are where the university colleges she is interested area), it would be a sure thing since those are non-selective programs. Again-repeat after me-selectivity does not correlate with quality, reputation, or prestige!

Ellie has identified a few programs for business that would be sure things (which may also end up being her first choice), but she hasn’t found one yet for her other interests. Her main list right now is University College Fyslan (for sustainability and multidisciplinary programs), Erasmus University College (where she would decide her major the second year from a large number of topics that interest her), NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences (for Creative Business) and Toulouse Business School (also for business). We’re waiting until spring when she has a better idea of her direction to work on other non-business programs, since it might be moot.

*** Some of the schools mentioned were profiled in College Beyond the States: European Schools That Will Change Your Life Without Breaking the Bank. The book can be purchased on Amazon, or you can buy the ebook here for a discounted price. If you do purchase through amazon, be sure to check the blog about a few changes that have occurred since the book was published. This comes in an email when purchasing the ebook through out site.*******

Ellie isn’t doing any extracurriculars during the school year that are structured in a way that would impress US admissions officers. Most of the extracurriculars at her school aren’t running right now, due to covid, but I’m not sure if she would join even if they were. She’s talked about eventually doing something with the yearbook, if possible, but it will be up to her. She’s the type of kid who pursues her interests in less structured ways which doesn’t affect the admissions process at all! I really do hope you listen to the podcast I mentioned. We talk about things that do and don’t matter in the European admissions process. Extracurriculars just don’t matter.

Ellie is spending her junior year exploring her academic interests, taking AP and IB courses, adjusting to life in a new country (with covid factors as well…), learning a new language, taking care of her dog, making new friends, maintaining friendships from the US, watching “old” teen shows from the 2000’s with me, and relaxing when needed. I think all of these things have value, but a US admissions officer would not. The fact that we can live our lives according to our values AND Ellie can still access a top notch education that will prepare her for the future, expose her to more of the world, and provide life changing experiences is really a game-changer in my book!

Interested in learning more? Even if you are a senior (or already graduated), it’s not too late to explore your possibilities! If you are serious about pursuing these options for 2021, I suggest the Best Fit List, in which I personally hand pick 3-5 programs that meet the student’s interests, goals, qualifications, and budget. Act now and receive one month free membership with your purchase of a best fit list. There is no long term commitment to membership, simply cancel within the membership portal 7 days before your next billing date and you will not be charged again!

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“How Can I Transfer to a University in Europe?”

I’ve been getting a lot of emails from college students in the US these days. Whether it’s due to the political climate in the US, frustration with how their universities (or fellow students) handled the pandemic, or seeing ROI issues around US higher education first hand, these students are seeking alternatives. Some have a year or more of college credits and others are working on their associate’s degree. The question I’m getting from these students is “How do I transfer to a university in Europe?” I wish I had a concise answer, but it takes a bit of explaining and the complications are often due to the differences between the systems.

One of the main differences around bachelor’s degree programs in Europe is that you choose your field of study from the get go and apply to a specific program (like your major) at a university. There aren’t a set of gen-ed requirements for all of the bachelor’s students at a university. Your course requirements are specific to the program you are in. Because International Relations is a popular program choice, let’s look at the course requirements for the International Relations and International Organizations program at the University of Groningen.

The first year of study, students take History of International Relations, International Politics, International and European Law, Academic Skills, Statistics for International Relations, International Organizations, Economics, International Organization, and Political Science. You also start taking a language, with choices for Chinese, Dutch, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, French, or German. You have a variety of course topics, but they are cohesive and in some way related to the program objectives.

You don’t see life or natural science classes on the list of first year courses. Nor do you see philosophy or english comp. These are the types of courses, though, that most students at US universities take during the first year. Since there aren’t these types of gen-ed requirements, the courses would not transfer. Maybe you did have an intro course to International Relations. The university will have to determine, after you get in, if it’s a 100 level course at a US university is comparable in content to their course (and it very well may not be, depending on the country).

You might be wondering whether your gen-ed courses could transfer as electives. The issue is that the courses are structured for each year of the program. Groningen, like many other universities, sets the first semester of the third year aside for a semester abroad, which is when students take electives. Since some programs require or encourage students to study abroad, particularly when the content is international in nature, you would still need to (and probably would want to) take part in that semester. Further, even if the credits are applied to that semester, you won’t graduate early since you have course requirements to complete in the second half of that final year.

Don’t let this discourage you! Let’s look at why this isn’t all horrible news!

First of all, your credits can be used to open up even more opportunities for you in Europe! There are about 350 of the 1900+ programs that require US applicants to have more than just a high school diploma to apply. These requirements can be met with an IB diploma, a certain number of AP scores (usually 3-4 scores of 3+), a year of college credit (not from a community college) or an associate’s degree. If you didn’t got the AP or IB route in high school, you are now apply to these 350 programs! Further, if you have two years of college credit or an Associate’s degree, you can apply to schools in Germany (which has free tuition for international students at most public universities).

Further, as mentioned earlier, most bachelor’s degree programs in Europe take only 3 years to complete. If you spent a year studying in the US, you will still be graduating in 4 years if you finish your degree in Europe. Further, you are likely to spend less than your would on tuition in the US, since the average tuition of bachelor’s degrees in our database is about $7300 per year, with hundreds of options under $4000 per year.

It’s still a good deal if you have two years of credits. Let’s look at the math around this. The average in-state tuition for flagship universities in the US is $11,849 per year. Using this number, after two years of credits in the US, you have $24968 left in your tuition budget. Even if you have to participate in the entire duration of the study program, there are 965 options in our database that fall within that tuition budget!

That said, your credits generally will transfer to the American universities in Europe. There are some really strong and affordable options in this category. McDaniel College in Budapest and Anglo American University in Prague are great options. There are other American schools in Europe that come with an American size price tag. Further, these schools often cater more to semester abroad students than full degree students. The academic and social needs of these groups are very different, so an emphasis on the semester abroad students can effect the experience of full degree students. This isn’t the case for all of the American schools, but something to assess if you choose to go that route.

I encourage students not to limit their choices to just those that will take their credits. You may miss out on some amazing opportunities that are within your budget if you limit yourself to just those that accept the credits. Come up with your overall tuition budget for the rest of your degree, like in the example above and work backwards from there. Yes, it may take you an additional year to finish, but that is one more year you get to spend living in Europe!

Have you taken advantage of our our Back to School Special? Join Beyond the States now and receive access to both the Choosing A Major in Europe and Choosing a University in Europe self paced classes. The regular non-member price for these courses is $75 each. Join now and the courses will be unlocked and waiting for you in the portal-at no additional cost!

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Navigating College in Europe with Ellie

It’s hard to believe summer is ending, mostly because I don’t really remember it starting…From March until now seems like it’s been one long season called Covid.

It’s been a pretty good summer, all things considered. As I mentioned before, Sam hiked the Camino de Santiago with friends, spent some time with us here in Portugal, and then returned to the Netherlands to move from the Hague to Rotterdam. I was concerned that he would check out academically after deciding to change schools in the spring, but he ended the second semester with really strong grades in all his classes. I feel like he’s going into his year at Rotterdam with the confidence he needs for a great year. More on his program and experiences in coming weeks.

As I’ve mentioned before, Ellie spent the 2019-20 school year doing online school for 10th grade (intentionally…). We knew we would be moving midyear and this gave her the opportunity to do a lot of travel before settling down. She’ll be starting at in international school here in Portugal next week for her final two years of high school. She’s already getting a taste of the incredibly diverse set of friends and welcoming international community that many of our members have when they start at European universities. Several kids from Ellie’s new school reached out to her this summer. She’s made friends from Brazil, Denmark, India, Mexico, France, as well as an American who was raised in Singapore. Like our members studying in Europe, Ellie has connected with these kids based on their common interests as well as the shared experience of living outside their home country. She’s especially happy that she won’t have to worry about whether she will have anyone to sit with at lunch on her first day of school!

Because many of you are in a similar stay of the college hunt as we are with Ellie, I want to keep you updated on how we are approaching the process. One of our long term members has a daughter who is finishing up her thesis this semester at AAU in Prague and also has a son who is starting at Leiden this month. She talked about how very different the search process was for each of her kids and that’s something I’m experiencing now with Ellie! Sam’s areas of interest were all related-political science, international relations, area studies. It was easy to find many programs that combined these various interests. It’s not quite so easy with Ellie…

Ellie’s academic interests have developed over the past few years which, of course, is common. We have put less emphasis on exploring specific schools or programs over the last years, and more time thinking about areas of study that match her interests. I’ve sent her links of related programs to look at, not to decide if she’s interested in that particular program, but to get a better idea of what she does and doesn’t like about the areas of study. By doing this, she has been able to decide that, though she has related interests outside the classroom, she’s not interested in studying media studies or programs related to animal protection. The interests that have she has maintained relate to sustainability studies, tourism, possibly marketing, and possibly some areas of psychology. This exercise has helped her determine more specifically what she IS looking for in a program as well. For instance, by looking at various programs related to sustainability, she was able to explain to me that she’s more interested in those with a multidisciplinary approach and less science-based.

One issue that Sam had with his original program is that he realized that he was not a fan of economics. He had never taken an economics course, so didn’t know that in advance. Unfortunately, economics was a part represent in classes most semesters of the program, which is one reason he decided to change. We are trying to avoid that problem with Ellie. She took Environmental Science last year and this year will take Environmental Systems and Societies. This is a multi disciplinary class somewhat aligned with the type of sustainability programs she thinks are interesting. Since tourism is essentially a specialization of business, she is also taking Business Studies this year. This can help her learn now whether this is something she finds interesting and-if so-which aspects are and are not particularly interesting to her. She’s already taken psychology and at this point finds aspects interesting, but not enough for it to be the focus of an entire program.

Since she has a better idea of her interests, we have started looking at specific programs. Right now, there are a few Dutch university colleges that appeal to her. In case you aren’t familiar, let me take a minute to explain. Each Dutch research university has a self contained programs that is considered to be liberal arts. This is because students have a broad curriculum during the first year that often serves as an introduction to the different study choices and choose a major (or theme, depending on the structure) the second year.

Ellie is especially interested in Erasmus University College as they have majors in Sustainability Studies, Business, and Psychology (in addition to 15 others) which keeps her options open. She’s also interested in University College Fryslan, which is one of the university colleges with University of Groningen. The entire program and majors related to the UN Sustainability Goals with majors presented as themes like Responsible Planet (science focus), Responsible Governance (economics and political science focus) and Responsibility Humanity which is most aligned with her interests with global health and psychology focus areas. We’re also looking at other multidisciplinary programs that combine some of these interest areas, like the International Environmental and Development Studies program at Norwegian University of Life Sciences

We’ve discussed tourism and feel like, if she decides that she enjoys business, choosing a business program that potentially allows for classes in tourism will be a better fit for her than a specialized tourism program. NHL Stenden University of Applied Science was on her radar for their tourism program, so she is now looking at their Creative Business and International Business programs. She’s also looking at Toulouse Business School and will likely look at some schools in Finland if she decides on business as well.

Of course, we’ve postponed the school visits we were planning to take this Thanksgiving. Even if travel is doable in November, I don’t think she will get as good of a feel for the schools until covid has passed. We are (FINGERS CROSSED) planning on visiting this spring. By that point, she will be well into her environmental science and business classes and hopefully have some more insight into those areas of interest which will make the trips more meaningful. In the meantime, a lot schools are having many more online events for prospective students, given the circumstances affecting so many. Ellie will likely participate in some of these online events as well, particularly if her list of potential schools and programs grows.

So, that’s how we approached the initial aspects of our search. Having a strategy around admissions requirements, safety school, and related admissions issues is also key. More on that in an upcoming blog!

Interested in navigating the options yourself? Whether you need help determining study areas that relate to your interests or are ready to dive in and explore specific programs and schools our BACK TO SCHOOL SPECIAL is for you! Join Beyond the States now and receive access to both the Choosing A Major in Europe and Choosing a University in Europe self paced classes. The regular non-member price for these courses is $75 each. Join now and the courses will be unlocked and waiting for you in the portal-at no additional cost!