“I read College Beyond the States and found the school I’m going to apply to!”
“I don’t need the help of BTS, the internet has everything I need for free!”
Watch the video to find out why I think all of these approaches are limiting when considering college in Europe.
I’ve had a lot of emails inquiring about the next On Your Mark Masterclass. This is a live course I offer twice a year. Students learn about the what they need to consider when looking for a university (many of these are specific to Europe) and are then guided through the process I personally use when creating best fit lists for students. At the end of the course, they have a short list of 3-5 programs that best fit their interests, preferences, budget, goals, and qualifications. This is a six week class that involves video lessons (at least students are used to these now!), assignments, 3 group calls (Sunday afternoons) with myself and the other students, and personal feedback from me on 3 different assignments.
I will be setting the date for fall soon, but given that many summer plans have been cancelled, I’m thinking of offering it in summer too (if there is enough interest). If you would consider signing up for a summer masterclass, please shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
I strive to be totally transparent about college in Europe. Studying in Europe is a fantastic option but, like anything else in life, their are benefits as well as obstacles. That’s why I thought it was important for you all to know about Sam’s experience, so that you/your kids can be prepared in aspects of his situation applies to you. I realized, though, that sharing his experience had other effects as well. I received so many emails from parents. These emails talked about how they, themselves, also struggled their first year in college (in the US), or how their own kids in Europe had similar difficulties as Sam did, or that they had been worried that their kids would encounter the same in Europe. It’s almost as if there was a taboo in discussing this, and they expressed relief that they could talk about it!
I do want to clarify that I’m not at all disappointed about or embarrassed by Sam’s first year experience. Yes, he failed a class but he did not fail out of school. He realized that much of the course failure was due to the fact that his interests weren’t aligned with the content/teaching style (though, let’s be hones, there was a time management aspect to it as well). What he has learned about himself is a huge accomplishment! Actually, much of this is similar to what students seek in a gap year as it pertains to the outcomes of personal growth, self awareness, and exploring the world. In addition, he has gained insights into his academic needs, which isn’t usually a part of structure gap year programs.
As I mentioned in the last post, I want to explore what we might have done differently, had we known then what we know now. A shift of mindset as it related to the goals of the first year of study would have been a huge one. Standard academic goals for the first year of study are adjusting to a new system, doing well in classes, and the like. I think Sam (and other students in Europe) would have benefited from a very different set of goals. Let me explain.
Many 18 year olds, particularly those graduating from the US educational system, may not know exactly what they want to study or where their academic interests lie (if this is the case for you, check out our Choosing a Major self paced course or the What’s My Major service). Most of the European programs require that you know what you want to study when you apply. While there are broad options, multidisciplinary options, and those that start broad with specializations offered later in the program, the curriculum is structured and rarely has gen-ed requirements that aren’t related to the field of study. In Europe ,the required courses in a Chemistry program will be science related which would not be part of the requirements for a Political Science program. They can sometimes transfer as electives, but that doesn’t account for an entire year of credits. In the US, students are able to easily change their major or even change universities with less trouble (with credits transferred) due to the gen-ed requirements. Most bachelor’s degrees in Europe take just 3 years to complete, but don’t have the flexibility that comes with those gen-ed requirements.
I wonder what would happen if we approached Sam’s first year studying in Europe as sort of a bridge year or an academic gap year. Though I don’t know the best title for it, the goals would have been for him to learn more about what he wanted to study, determine the learning style that is best for him, and to strengthen the academic skills that would help him most throughout his studies (be it study skills, time management, etc). He would have gone into the year knowing that that deciding that he loved this program or finding a different program based on what he learned about himself would have been equally desirable. Had we had this mindset and formalized goals around it, we likely would have communicated more often and in more depth about what he was learning about himself, his interests, and learning style as the year went on and would have planned to make a decision in February, before application deadlines were looming..
This is not an unheard of approach. As you may know, there are a few countries that require American students to have either an IB diploma, a certain number of AP scores, or a year’s worth of college credits (don’t worry if you don’t have these, they only account for about 350 of the 1900+ options). We do have students who enter into their first year at a university in Europe to get the years worth of credits with the intention of applying to a school that requires APs for the second year. That year of credits would not transfer, as it would be used to meet admissions requirements. Some of these students end up changing after a year, and others learn that the program that they thought would be temporary meets their needs.
Of course, the price of education in Europe allows for this. We could pay a total of $220,000 for four years of tuition for Sam to have this flexibility at a liberal arts college like Carleton, Davidson, or Middlebury. We could even pay $36,000 for four years of tuition for Sam to attend a UNC Chapel Hill with in state tuition (though, even here, he may not gradate in 4 years if he changed his major). Instead, we will pay a total of $32,900 over 4 years, which includes the tuition for his year at Leiden and his remaining three at Erasmus University Rotterdam. We will pay less for his four years than we would for ONE year at one of the liberal arts colleges!
Let’s go back a bit further though and look at what we could have done differently during his high school years. First and foremost, I would have insisted that he take an economics class when he decided that the program at Leiden was on his shortlist. There are economics courses each year in the program and it’s the only area he didn’t have exposure to. Once you have your shortlist of programs, see if there are more than one or two courses in a particular discipline in which you haven’t taken any classes in. If you can take a class through school, great. If not, find an online course. This is one reason I think the summer before junior year is a great time to start looking at college in Europe. Not only does it allow you to course plan for APs, if desired, but it also allows you to course plan to determine your interests. This is something we are doing with Ellie. She’s interested in tourism, which includes a number of business related areas. She thinks that business as a whole doesn’t interest her, other than marketing. That said, I don’t think she really knows what business courses entail. She’ll take business as one of her electives this coming year so she can see what does and doesn’t appeal to her about it and evaluate the programs she is considering accordingly.
In retrospect, I think it would have helped Sam to have some sort of outside support (someone who isn’t his mother…). I’ve thought about who this could have been. He’s incredibly close to my father, for instance, but my dad doesn’t understand the European system. He comes from the “what happened to the other 5 points?” school of thought. He certainly doesn’t understand that the European version of A’s are incredibly rare, and not even a reasonable goal. That rules Poppy out for this role… Sam did go meet with the academic advisor at one point, which was helpful, but does not provide what I’m thinking would have hoped him most. I’m thinking of someone who serves as a mentor or coach, to support, motivate, provide suggestions, and provide a level of accountable. There is much less hand holding by European universities to I think this could particularly be helpful for for first year students coming from the American system. Given my background as a therapist and executive functioning skills coach for high school and college students, I may develop a service around this in the coming year, perhaps later evolving into a service that BTS students could provide, after graduating. Right now it’s just a thought, but if you have a student starting in the fall who may benefit from this, do let me know.
When you are pursuing college in Europe, it’s important to learn how to reframe certain social norms or expectations that are engrained in us by our own life experiences and culture. Tom had directed his mother to the last blog so that she could understand a bit more. Her takeaway? “You mean he’s not getting credit for the year!?!” My dad expressed hope that the change will help Sam buckle down. It took a mindset shift of my own to have a very different takeaway. I’m so glad that Sam discovered these aspects about his interests and learning style. I’m also so glad that he didn’t feel that this was a failure and he sought out solutions. He recognizes that the year at Leiden was valuable in so many ways. I’m also so glad that the affordable tuition allows him/us not to feel stuck in a situation that is not the best fit for him! Though he’s bummed to be leaving the Hague, we are all excited to see where this next phase takes him!
We are really starting to turn a corner here in much of Europe. Curves are flattening, restrictions are gradually and methodically being lifted, and we’re even starting to think about late summer travel possibilities. Ellie’s volunteer trip to Thailand was cancelled (of course) so we’re thinking of starting some of our college trips right before high school starts for her. I loved Finland even in the winter so I imagine it will be amazing in late August/early September. Word on the street (ok, in the different higher education facebook groups…) is that universities will be starting back this fall.
Which brings me to Sam’s fall 2020 plans….
I mentioned back in the fall that Sam failed one of his midterms. We talked about where to ask for help and study strategies when he told me about it, but it was a bit too late. Not only did he fail the final, but he also failed the resit in January. Sigh. Part of the reason was that he was so far behind that digging himself out of the hole would be really hard. I also think he got himself in a mindset that prevented him from giving it his all. Sort of a “better to fail because I didn’t really try than because I can’t do it” sort of mentality.
Bottom line is that failing the class really threw him for a loop. This is a kid who got really good grades without having to try in high school. The problem with having a high school curriculum that didn’t really challenge him was that he didn’t learn good study skills, face consequences for not really trying, and-most importantly-didn’t feel the pride that accompanies working really hard academically and achieving something due to that work. The exception was French. He worked hard, won awards, and loved it. However, since high school level French was offered in middle school, he went as far as he could academically by sophomore year and the experience was not replicated in other classes.
With this academic history in mind, when Sam initially expressed being less than enthused about his curriculum, I thought it was because he was worried about Binding Study Advice (BSA). BSA is a formal policy at all Dutch universities. Though it’s easier to be accepted to Dutch universities, students have to pass a set number of courses to prove that they have what it takes. If they don’t pass that number of courses in the first year, then they can’t come back the second year. Since I thought this was the cause of his concern, I focused on what resources, skills, habits, and such he should use to succeed instead of exploring his thoughts more in depth. Consider that a parental misfire.
So next thing we know, the universities closed due to the pandemic—initially just for a couple of weeks-so he came to spend time with us in Greece. What we didn’t know was that the severity of the Covid situation would literally change overnight in much of Europe. Within a day of Sam arriving in Greece, things in various parts of the continent were starting to lock down. We decided to get to our new place in Portugal earlier than planned, with Sam joining us.
Shortly after, the Dutch universities decided to complete the semester with online courses and discontinued rules around BSA for this academic year. Even students who did not earn the credits needed would be able to return next year, retaking the failed classes in subsequent years. When even after this announcement Sam continued to express dissatisfaction about his program, I realized that is was something different.
Though Sam’s extended time with us led to many headaches (for both of us…), we also had some really good talks. One night we dug into what he didn’t like about his program and brainstormed various solutions. His main concern was that his classes were completely theoretical in focus. Even history, which was a class he really enjoyed in the past, was taught from a in a way-more theoretical-that was not his cup of tea. He also learned that economics was not especially inspiring to him, and he had a required class around this in the fall and the spring. Sam had been incredibly excited about taking Arabic. However, he had only two choices for level-Beginner and Intermediate. The majority of his Arabic acquisition has been through self study, so we were concerned that he would not be ready for Intermediate. He signed up for beginner, and much of the course was information he already had. Most of all, Sam realized that he wanted to eventually have a career related to being an agent for change- in some way shape or form, and wanted a program that taught him what he needed to get there.
After gaining an understanding of his issues, the brainstorming began. The first thing we did was look at whether staying in his program would be an option. We looked at the required courses and realized that courses in economics were required each semester, so it wouldn’t be just a matter of sucking it up for the rest of this semester. We then started looking at other programs.
The theoretical focus is not Leiden specific. Dutch research universities are, just as their name implies, research oriented. Research, and thus theory, are important components at all of the Dutch research universities so he would have the same problems at many others as well. Because of this, we didn’t confine our search to the Netherlands, though his preference was to stay there. He’s comfortable in the country and it feels like home to him. He came up with a list of three universities that had programs aligned with his interests and learning style, and landed on the Management of International Social Challenges Program at Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR).
Beyond geography and program content, there are other features that really appeal to Sam. Though EUR is a research university, they are one of just a few that utilize Program Based Learning in some of their programs. I won’t get into all of the steps of PBL here-that could be a blog itself! Maastricht University is hard core with their use of the method and they describe it in a well here. In a nutshell, it’s a way of applying the theory to real life situations or case studies, making the material more meaningful, concrete, and relevant. It’s also an active learning strategy centered around critical thought, both of which appeal to Sam and his learning style.
The other thing that fits with Sam’s learning style is their use of a block schedule. The year is broken into 8 different 5 week blocks. Each block has one course and one skill (academic writing, research, presenting, etc). You study those courses in depth for 5 weeks, take the exam (skill classes are generally graded on assignments, not exams) and then move on to the next course. Shifting gears academically is something that is hard for Sam. Spending time studying one subject and then switching to an entirely different subject each day has been a struggle, so this schedule will help with that. There is, however, one economics course in this program. While it’s possible that PBL will make it more interesting to him, at least he knows that he only has to plow through 5 weeks of it instead of 20.
There are a few downsides that we evaluated. First of all, because of their use of PBL, they don’t accept credit transfers. There are a few courses that will likely be similar to what Sam took at Leiden-Academic Writing for instance- that he will have to take again. There are only 1-2 classes with overlap, so we didn’t consider that to be a dealbreaker. Further, the tuition cost at EUR is 4800 Euros less in annual tuition. Even with the year of Leiden tuition plus three years at EUR, we are paying 2900 Euros less than three years of tuition at Leiden. The other downside is that language is not part of this program and Sam does want to continue Arabic. We looked at the resources for this within the university, which weren’t sufficient as the language learning center only covered basic Arabic. We extended our search into Rotterdam and found a number of places in which he could continue with his language learning.
We went through this same process with the three universities he had on his list (these were in Prague and Krakow) As I mentioned earlier, Sam loves the Netherlands and has been to Rotterdam a number of times. That familiarity, along with the program specifics made it his first choice. He got his acceptance last week, got his housing offer this week (yay) and will begin in the fall after completing his year with Leiden.
One thing I really want to emphasize is that this is in no way a reflection on Leiden. None of the issues Sam had were because of Leiden, but were because he gained a better of his needs, interests, and goals. I still think the world of Leiden and just recently recommended it on a best fit list I was working on. I’ve been asking myself what we would have or could have done differently, knowing what we know know, and have come up with quite a few things that we are already implementing with Ellie. More on that next week…
As you may know, my daughter Ellie is a sophomore and has been attending a virtual high school this year. We knew we would be moving during the school year and decided that this would be easier than trying to find a school where she could start mid year. Instead, she will start at an international school in the fall. This virtual year also allowed her to travel with me a lot, which has been incredible for both of us!
One thing I’ve learned through her online school experience is how much time in a regular school day at a brick and mortar school must be spent on non academic matters. That’s not to stay that many of those things aren’t of value, but Ellie is able to complete her classes and assignments each day in MUCH less than a traditional 7 hour school day! And this is with two AP classes!
With so many schools shut down right now, you might be seeing the same. Perhaps you live in a state that is enforcing more strict shelter at home measures. We’re living that right now in Portugal and it makes excessive free time a little less enjoyable…
It’s often hard to plan for the future when we are in the midst of a crisis-the focus is more about getting through each day. The problem is that this strategy leaves us unprepared when things are stabilized. Though we may need to be more flexible with our plans, we still need to anticipate the future and work towards goals.
I’m working on a few personal goals during this time. The first is working on learning Portuguese. Languages don’t come easily to me, but I’m making myself work on this daily and am looking forward to the days when I will actually be communicating with people in places other than grocery stores! I’m also working on my flexibility. I seriously can’t even touch my toes an as I’m getting older this is causing a lot of aches and pains. I’ve alway struggled to find the motivation to stretch. I get bored and-because I lack flexibility- it’s not comfortable. I bit the bullet and signed up for an online class that walks me through what I need to do for 15 minutes a day to double my flexibility in a month. I’ve also thrown a fun project in there too! I ordered a bottle of wine from each region in Portugal to learn about the differences and my preferences. While I have to make sure that language learning and stretching are on my list each day, this is one goal I remember to work on regularly! In a time of such uncertainty, it actually feels really good to be working towards something!
Though it’s hard to imagine right now, at some point the worst of this health crisis will be behind us. I imagine/hope that things will be relatively normal by fall of 2020 (though we may have a new definition of normal). By fall of 2021 or 2022, when some of your kids will be starting university, this will be well in the past-hopefully due to a vaccine! Unfortunately, for many of us, the economic impact of the social distancing measures are hitting hard and affecting college savings.
How about some good news? Each year, after the database updates are complete, we update our numbers for the average tuition of the English-taught bachelors degree programs in continental Europe. Get this-there are 1953 English-taught bachelor’s degree programs in Europe and the average tuition is just $7390 per year-and remember-most of these just take 3 years to complete!
When you start looking at the country level, it’s even more astounding.
Czech Republic-home of a few of my favorite schools in Brno and Prague-with an average of $4675 per year!
Norway-one of the happiest places in the world according to studies-at an average of $930 per year!
Estonia-which I think is a hidden gem for students-with an average of $5420 per year!
Sweden, and Denmark have the highest averages, each at about $13,400. I love that $13,400 is considered the high side, as opposed to $30-50,000!
So what do we know?
Our kids have extra time right now.
At some point in the future, we will not be confined to our houses.
Money may be tight and our investments may have suffered losses.
You are getting this email because at some point in time you expressed interest in college in Europe, by opting in to our email list. This is a fantastic time to explore these options more in depth! Because of the financial issues facing many of us right now, I know that committing to a monthly membership fee can feel like a no-go. I’d like to tell you about some stand alone options we have, as well as some special offers around these services.
Over the years, I’ve developed a number of courses to help students and families navigate the options in Europe.
Our best selling course, Choosing A University in Europe, walks you though the process of finding the right school. It actually is the process I use when I’m working on best fit lists for student! The course helps you determine the criteria to search including budget, admissions, field of study, location specific criteria, and more! It includes 30 days of database access so you can conduct your own search using the criteria you decide on through the activities included with each lesson.
Though Choosing a University is the best starting point, we have other courses to help you navigate the other aspects of exploring college in Europe. We have one that provides information abut the admissions process, another that helps you determine what area of study is best for you, one that talks about business schools in Europe and another that talks about the options in the Netherlands (since they have the largest number of English-taught options with a wide variety of disciplines represented, including liberal arts).
Right now, I’m offering 50% all of these courses, which means most are just $25. Both parents and students can benefit from these courses and they are completely self paced so finish as quickly or slowly as you like! We also offer an option for If you would like personalized support through the process too.
My son, Sam, is with us in Portugal right now. His Dutch university, like most, has cancelled face to face classes for the rest of the semester. Lectures are recorded and tutorials (which are the smaller seminars) are done through Skype calls. Like most of the students I’ve worked with, he is eager to get back to his life in the Hague! His tuition is on the higher side of the European tuition range, at $11,350 per year. Despite that, overall we are paying about $200,000 than we would at a comparable US private university and even about $40,000 less than we would for instate tuition at one of the flagship state school in North Carolina, where we were residents.
So $25 to….
… take action towards preparing for when the virus is behind us.
… learn about high quality educational experiences.
….avoid student loans, second mortgages, and using retirement savings for tuition.
…provide life changing experiences for our kids.
… pursue opportunities that will give them a competitive edge in the workplace when they graduate.
We have a number of emails about college in Europe that are automatically sent after people sign up for our newsletter. I woke up on Thursday to news of the travel ban and also an email from an email recipient who was offended to have received it in light of everything going on.
I had been avoiding writing about the Corona-virus. Your inbox, like mine, is probably full of emails with opinions from different people. I believe that we all have our own circumstances and variables that lead us to respond in various ways. One is not necessarily better than the other so long as we are taking precautions and following recommendations to flatten the curve.
I can, though, take a minute to tell you about what we are experiencing on this side of the pond (or shall I say this side of the Aegean Sea) . We’re still in Athens until the end of the month. when we make our move to Lisbon. Greece and Portugal are now defined as Level 3 countries by the CDC, something I don’t fully understand given that there are fewer cases in each country than in the UK and fewer than some individual US states.
Every day, I walked to the gym past many busy cafes and shops. A few days ago, the government announced measures which included the temporary closure of cinemas, theaters, nightclubs, schools, and gyms. I’m no longer going to the gym but will head out in search of hand weight and a Pilates mat in effort to combat the incredible Greek calories I’m consuming. There’s plenty of toilet paper at the stores, and food is fully stocked as well. I don’t have a baseline for what Athens usually feels like in March, but it seems to me that people are taking precautions, but life is going on without a lot of panic. This is the approach I’m attempting to take, too.
As is the case for many US universities, there are European universities that are temporarily closing their academic buildings and moving to online classes. Some of this is happening on a country level, while others are case by case. Our Facebook member group has been busy with conversation about this. Between this group and other related Facebook groups I’m in, I would say that it’s a pretty equal distribution of families bringing their kids back to the US while classes are online and families who feel like their kids are as safe or safer staying put than coming home. Again, there are so many variables at play that I don’t think there is a one size fits all solution. It’s hard to know what to do whether your kid is in the Czech Republic with their home in the US or if your kid is in Massachusetts, with their home in California.
Sam’s midterms for next week have been cancelled and his classes will be online for at least one week after that. We decided to bring him here to join us in Greece. He’s always wanted to visit the country and since we work from home and Ellie is in online school this year, we practice a good amount of social distancing as it is. I can’t imagine that he will want to stay with us for more than a couple of weeks. HIs life is in the Hague and he was ready to return after about that long when he came home for Christmas. We bought a one way ticket and will play his return by ear, as we get more information.
There are so many things to worry about around this pandemic, the majority of which we have no way of predicting or controlling. It’s hard not to get sucked into a media wormhole. It’s hard not to play out the different horrible scenarios that could occur. For myself, I’ve realized that I have to take active steps to stop myself from both of those things as there is nothing useful that comes from either. I’m trying to stay aware , take precautions, follow recommendations, and plan for the future. I tell myself that just like the H1N1 pandemic, at some point this will be behind us and the health situation in the world will be stabilized. Again, this is my approach and it’s not my place to say that it’s any better than anyone else’s way of handling it.
Though we all have our different ways of coping I do think it’s important that everyone recognizes that this is a worldwide pandemic, not a “foreign virus”. That way of thinking will lead to a fear of the greater world and an emotional separation from those who are different than us which can be a precursor to xenophobia. It’s also important that we still plan for the future, including higher education. This has affected families who planned on visiting schools this spring (be it in the US or abroad), but Ellie and I are still plan to visit universities in the Netherlands and Finland in the fall.
With so many high schools and extracurriculars cancelled, you and your kids probably have some extra time. Why not spend some of it exploring whether college in Europe is something you want to pursue? We have online workshops for parents and a different one for students. We also have self guided courses that help students find specific programs that meet their needs or learn about the admissions process, specific countries, specific types of programs.
I would like to do my part to encourage you to look towards the future (it really can be comforting) with a special Best Fit List or Fast Track discount. The main difference between these two services is that the Fast Track service does not require membership. For both services, I personally choose 3-5 programs that meet your student’s interests, goals, budget and qualifications. The Fast Track service also includes a video with further information about admissions strategies, suggestions for next steps, and other considerations based on the students specific preferences. This time of year, it is particularly useful for sophomores and juniors. Use coupon code “coping” to redeem this 30% discount through March 31st.
***Note: We posted this yesterday, before WHO announced the pandemic status and Trump announced the European travel ban (which does not apply to citizens though). Though these are difficult times, we still need to plan for the future-including college. I was hesitant to write about the virus, as I’m sure your inboxes-like mine-are being flooded. I will be sending something in the next week, though, about how our students in Europe are faring through this.***
Life as an international student in Europe isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. There are definitely extra challenges they face living in a new country. I’m experiencing some of this myself as we are in our first few months in Europe. I’m really kicking myself for not memorizing the metric system. Even as I’m learning the formulas, calculating is an extra step. I know how far a mile is, but have to think about what it means if something is presented in kilometers or meters. There is also a new language to learn, new public transportation system to navigate, and the challenge of figuring out where and how to take care of day to day needs-from organic milk to contact lenses!
These challenges make me really respect what our students are going through. They are navigating all of these issues (maybe not the quest for organic milk….) with less life experience to draw from AND while going to school full time. The challenges that they are successfully navigating actually end up being beneficial, as they lead to tremendous growth and self confidence-not to mention soft skills that employers are looking for.
I’m also experiencing some of the same perks that international students benefit from, the first of which is affordability. I talk a lot about the dramatic difference between tuition in the US and Europe. The average tuition for international students in Europe is right around $7000 per year. The savings are even greater when you consider that most bachelor’s degrees take just 3 years to complete. As a frame of reference, my son Sam attends a university with tuition that is higher than average in Europe (about $12,500 per year). Yet we will save more than $200,000 compared to US private universities and even about $39,000 less than attending our flagship state university.
Since we are moving from North Carolina, where cost of living is more affordable than in much of the US, we didn’t expect to be blown away by the savings. We were wrong! While our housing costs are comparable, there are other savings that are astounding! Though we will be covered by the public health system, we need to get private health insurance-at least temporarily-in order to get our residence card. Many people use both the public and private health system. Want to know why? It’s incredibly affordable! We’re paying about $200 per month (2400 per year) for private insurance for all three of us. Of course we will have co-pays, but they are under $15 for most services. Our coverage includes the option for in-home doctors visits, specialists, prescriptions, physical therapy, MRIs, and just about anything else you can think of-with no deductible!
Until recently, we always had health insurance through Tom’s employers. Since our portion of health insurance costs was always deducted from his check, it was easy to not fully wrap our brain around how much we were paying. In fact, most families with employer based insurance pay $6000 per year for their portion of the plan and have an average deductible of $8232! If you aren’t lucky enough to have employer-based insurance, you’re looking at an average of $14,016 per year plus deductibles, co-pays, and uncovered costs. My friend just told me that they just got a $150 bill for her daughter’s throat culture and treatment for pink eye-despite the fact that they have insurance.
Transportation is another area we are saving huge amounts of money. As is the case in most of North Carolina, we lived in a place that did not have adequate public transportation. This meant two car payments along with insurance, gas, and maintenance on the vehicles. We plan to stay carless and rely primarily on walking and public transportation in Portugal. Adults in Portugal pay 40 euros for a monthly unlimited public transportation pass, but families pay no more than 80 euros total. Imagine the savings for a large family! Even with occasional local uber rides or car rentals for nearby weekend trips, we will pay dramatically less each month for transportation. Our internet and cell phone is also a small fraction of what we paid before.
Now, affordability is great, but I’m equally appreciating some of the secondary benefits I often talk about. The connections international students make with other students from around the world are truly incredible. These students have something significant in common-be it around goals, interests and/or values-that led them to pursue higher education outside of their home country. Further, they are all having similar experiences unique to living out of their home country. These lead to incredible friendships that develop quickly and last for years to come.
After announcing our plans to move to Lisbon, I heard from other BTS families who were in the process of doing the same. One family is moving just a few months after us, has a daughter Ellie’s age who will be attending the same school, and happened to be in Lisbon scoping things out at the same time we were there last month! Now, I am somewhat of an introvert in my personal life. While I love having connections and true friendships with people, I find the small talk that is initially required to determine if there is a connection exhausting. When we met this family for lunch last month we skipped right past the small talk stage! Just like international students in Europe, we have some core values in common which are leading to our moves abroad and are also share in significant life experiences associated with moving as a family. This led to a quick connection and made me feel like I’ve known them for much longer than I have.
International students in Europe learn so much about the world through their interactions with other students. They learn about the local culture, but also learn about the first hand experiences of students from all around the world. This occurs through classroom discussions and friendships. Hearing the perspectives of someone who has experienced things that students have only read about in the news or classes makes world events more tangible and relevant. The curiosity and knowledge that results from these interactions leads to an even greater cultivation of the values associated with global citizenship.
I’m finding myself more curious about world events too. Our realtor was born in Angola and left when she was very young, due to the war. I experienced one of the best meals of my life at a Goan restaurant in Lisbon. I knew little to nothing about these countries and other former Portuguese colonies, but having these interactions made me want to learn more. Not only did it increase my interest about the events in these countries but also about how those events affected their citizens.
Experiencing these benefits far outweighs any headaches caused by the obstacles! That said, we have also had assistance. We hired someone who has helped us establish our tax residency, apply for a special tax status, open a bank account, and complete the process needed for our residence card. We likely would have been able to figure all of that out ourselves, though it would have taken much more time trying to translate websites, determine what documents we need to bring, and even how to get a number to secure out space in line at the tax office! The tricks, tips, and expertise she has provided has made her services well worth the expense and have saved us incredible amounts of time and money.
The same can be applied to exploring the English-taught options Europe. Yes, you can do your own online research. I can tell you from first hand knowledge that there are a lot of inaccuracies in many portals-particularly as it pertains to admissions requirements for US students. There is also a lot of bias, as many sites only include information about schools that pay for the listing. You may also come across advice from well meaning people with information that doesn’t apply. Maybe their kids went to universities in the UK (which are different than those in continental Europe) or perhaps the information they provide you with is outdated, or based on information about schools without English speaking programs. Weeding through the biases, lack of complete information, and inaccuracies can be incredibly frustrating!
This is exactly why I started Beyond the States five years ago! We realize that there is no one size fits all solution, so we have a range of services that include options for memberships that provide you with the information (and community) to research the options, stand-alone courses to navigate different aspects of the process, and done-for you services in which the research is done for you, providing you with a list of programs that fit your interests, qualifications, goals, and budget! We also have a community of other families to connect you with, many of whom have gone through this process and have kids in Europe already. Their information and support is invaluable! Check it out now and received 50% off your first month of membership. There is no long term commitment required and you can cancel your membership easily at any time within the membership portal.
As you may remember, we made plans to move to Malaysia in spring 2020. We applied for a visa, and Ellie and I spent an incredible six weeks looking at schools, apartments, and just exploring. We were all super excited for a life filled with curry mee and a completely different way of life. Just a couple of weeks after I announced our plans, we had a plot twist in our lives. Tom got a job offer-one he was really excited about-for a company that is 100% remote. However, he would need to live in place that had some overlap in the work day with US time zones. With a 12-hour time difference, Malaysia was off the table if he wanted this job.
Luckily, we weren’t completely back to square one as I had researched several countries before we decided on Malaysia. Deciding on a new plan paralleled the process I advise students to go through when choosing which European schools to apply to. I always recommend students to first start with the quantifiable criteria, which starts with area of study and admissions requirements. It doesn’t matter if you want to live in France if you want to study Philosophy because there aren’t any English-taught programs in that area of study. It doesn’t matter if you want to study in Denmark if you don’t have any AP scores or an IB degree, since those requirements are country-wide. For our search, first and foremost we needed to identify a country that had visa structures that we qualified for (since we weren’t going with a work or student visa). We also needed a place that had no greater than a 5 to 6 hour time difference from EST. It doesn’t matter if I want to live in Croatia if they don’t have the visa structure we need, or anywhere in Asia due to the time difference. These concrete criteria helped us narrow the field tremendously.
The next criteria we had was around cost. Just like the university search, this gets a bit more complicated. When students are looking at universities in Europe, tuition along with living expenses needs to be considered. I often use the example comparing Norway and Estonia. Though Norway offers free tuition, the overall cost of tuition and cost of living is less expensive in Estonia because Norway is such an expensive country. In our search, we had to consider not only cost of living, but also tax rates (one reason we initially chose Malaysia is that they don’t tax global income). We would love to live in Spain, for instance, but the tax rates there are high which affects the overall cost of living. Then we get to the most subjective criteria, which is quality of life. This is different for everyone, but for us some considerations were weather, food, public transportation, ease of visiting schools for Beyond the States, and high school education for Ellie.
All these factors helped us decide on Lisbon. Portugal has a tax structure that provides a 10-year tax break to those who become tax residents and meet a set of other criteria. It’s also one of the more affordable countries in Europe. My brother lives in Lisbon, so we will get to spend regular time with him, his wife, my nephew, and niece. Food and weather boxes are checked (big time) and we found a great international high school that will allow Ellie to continue with her curriculum. I do hate that we will be paying more for high school tuition than we pay for Sam’s university tuition, but I keep reminding myself that it’s just for two years! Speaking of Sam, it will be much easier to see him since Amsterdam is just a 3-hour flight from Lisbon. And get this-after just 5 years of living there we can apply for Portuguese citizenship! We must pass a language test first (thought there are rumors that this requirement is being removed), so we will be taking classes and studying hard. After we become citizens, we can live anywhere in the EU! Finally, this move means that school visits for Beyond the States are going to be a lot more frequent! We are taking advantage of Ellie’s virtual school year with a couple of months of travel before settling in Lisbon. We leave on January 12th and will spend a month in Valencia, Spain, with plans to visit a few schools in Madrid. After a couple of weeks in Lisbon to handle logistics in February, we will then spend March in Athens -with more school visits-and settle down in Lisbon April 1st. I’ve had my eye of a few schools in Finland that I plan to visit in May as well. It’s been interesting going through a process that parallels that of the students I work with. Like some of the students I talk with, we started this process with one thought/plan in mind that required modification. What we thought of as a Plan B turns out to be at least as good as a choice as the original plan, just in different ways. Flexibility is something that I sometimes struggle with, but it’s been an exciting process. The other thing I have found fascinating is how many BTS members, former members, future members/newsletter subscribers I have encountered through this process. I’m in a Facebook group for Americans who have or are planning to move to Portugal and already have been contacted by four other people who are in the same group and know me through Beyond the States! I guess it’s not surprising, given that valuing global experiences is something we all have in common. Anyhow, I look forward to bringing you even more frequent information about schools! I’ll send out updates about the schools I have appointments with ahead of time, so you can let me know if there are any specific questions you would like answered.
I haven’t always known about going to college in Europe. Before my oldest started high school, I was worried about the cost of college. Though we regularly put money away for college, our savings would not even scratch the surface of private or out of state tuition. I also had concerns about the rat race the college admissions process had become and was worried that my son would not be a good player of that game!
In 2015, I stumbled on the existence of English-taught, full degree programs held at European universities and decided to explore this possibility. Prior to this, I assumed that going to college in Europe required fluency in a foreign language. I certainly had no idea that, in non-Anglophone countries in Europe, there are over 350 schools offering more than 1,700 full degree programs conducted entirely in English—no foreign language skills needed. Everything from the courses to the readings to the assignments are in English.
The savings alone made me realize that many other families would also be interested in learning more. I spent a year researching, visiting schools in Europe, meeting with administrators and talking to American students who were already studying in Europe to start Beyond the States. Since then, we have helped families learn about and navigate the European options and my own son will attend college in the Netherlands this coming fall.
Are you interested in learning why so many families are excited about these options?
I was vaguely aware that colleges were getting more and more expensive, though I didn’t know how incredibly quickly the cost was increasing until I decided to check out the trends at universities near my home. I compared current tuition with what the rates were when I went to college. In 1992, tuition at Duke University was $14,700 per year. Now, just twenty-five years later, it is $49,676. And in just five years (which will affect parents of kids currently in eighth grade and younger), it’s expected to be a staggering $75,602 per year!
Even state schools have seen a drastic rate increase. In-state tuition and fees at UNC-Chapel Hill were slightly more than $1,000 in 1992 and are now almost $9,000 per year. From 1980-2010 there was an 1,120% increase in tuition—an increase higher than in any other good or service, including healthcare. Further, only 19% of students at American public universities graduate within four years, and even state flagship universities only have a four-year graduation rate of 36%. Each extra year it takes to graduate contributes to massive amounts of student loan debt.
Compare that to going to college in Europe, more than 300 schools (not including the UK) that offer more than 1,700 English-taught bachelor’s degree programs. On average, international students would pay $7,000 per year to attend one of these schools. There are more than six hundred programs with tuition less than $5,000 per year and more than sixty options that are tuition-free—even for international students. The savings are further increased when you factor in that most bachelor’s programs take three to three-and-a-half years to complete. In many cases, going to college in Europe costs less for a full bachelor’s degree, including cost of travel, than ONE year of US out-of-state or private school tuition.
Even after accounting for housing and travel costs, the savings of going to college in Europe are immense! My son, Sam, will attend Leiden University, in the Netherlands. At $12,550 a year, it is on the higher side of the tuition range in Europe. The program at Leiden takes three years to complete, which will be a total of $37,650 in tuition costs.
If Sam were to go to school in the United States, Vermont’s Middlebury College would likely be a good fit for his academic interests. Yet tuition for ONE year is $54,450, which is almost $17,000 MORE than the full three-year program at Leiden. Even after factoring in living costs, travel home, and student visa, Sam going to college in Europe will save us more than $200,000!
I recently read that many college admissions counselors spend less than eight minutes on each application. With so many qualified applicants, admissions counselors must often look for reasons NOT to admit an applicant. Such reasons can range from not enough AP classes, class ranking that isn’t high enough, mediocre SAT/ACT scores, not enough extracurricular activities—or not enough with leadership roles—or summers that lack enough enrichment. It’s a fine line, though, because too many extracurricular activities may indicate the applicant lacks focus, yet many extracurricular activities in a similar area might look like the applicant doesn’t have a diversity of interests. The list of reasons not to admit an applicant goes on and on and is often contradictory.
The goal is to be the best, yet it’s impossible to excel in every area. This sets up both students and parents to feel inadequate and vulnerable to rejection no matter what they do. US schools claim that this admissions process provides a holistic assessment of the applicants, but in fact the process is highly subjective. This competition is not just at the Ivy League schools either—many lesser-known schools, like College of the Ozarks in Missouri, Jarvis Christian College in Texas, and Rust College in Mississippi, accept less than 16% of their applicants. The stress involved with this process is linked to the increase in anxiety among American teenagers and is said to be creating a national mental health crisis.
Let’s contrast this with the European admissions process. The first thing to recognize is that, in Europe, the schools don’t use admissions rates as an indicator of educational quality or prestige. The reputation of the school is not generally linked to how selective it is. At most schools, the admissions process is less competitive, even at highly-ranked, reputable ones. Each school has its own set of admissions requirements. If you meet those requirements and there is room in the program, you are admitted. The admissions criteria might be a certain ACT/SAT score, a set GPA, a defined number of AP courses, or as little as a high school diploma. A number of very reputable European universities have programs without enrollment caps, so students who meet these criteria are accepted. Period. It doesn’t matter if they have a higher GPA than the one required, or more AP courses. They aren’t being compared to the other applicants; they are being assessed to see if they have the qualifications needed to succeed in the program. Students then have the first year as a student to prove that they can succeed.
The procedures are transparent even in the schools that have more competitive admissions. There are a few schools that make admissions decisions based 100% on SAT scores. Mediocre grades? Doesn’t matter. No sports? That’s fine. While I don’t agree that the SAT score is necessarily the best indicator of future success, I do appreciate the total transparency. This process allows students to make mistakes, to explore their interests—even those that aren’t quantifiable—to spend time with family, get after-school jobs, and end the day with a good night’s sleep.
Learning for learning’s sake is a noble proposition, but few students go to college for reasons that don’t relate to employability in some way or another. Students know that a degree is required to access many career opportunities. Why then, are our universities are not preparing students for the workforce? There is Life After College, by Jeffrey Selingo, notes that nearly half of college graduates in their twenties are underemployed, meaning the jobs they can get don’t require a bachelor’s degree. Few schools in the United States require internships or help students find them, and only 1 in 3 graduates had an internship in college, even though internships are a fast track to a job.According to the Collegiate Employment Research Institute, employers hired around 50% of the interns who worked for them as full-time employees after graduation; in some fields, it is closer to 75%.
Internships help students learn how to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real-world situations. Students learn relevant skills, see what others in that field are responsible for, and gain exposure to occupations that they might not have known about. They can try out an industry, role, or organization, while also building contacts and gaining relevant experience for their resumes.
Many of the bachelor’s degree programs in Europe usually have at least one semester set aside for an internship. Having a semester to do internships removes many of the obstacles that students in the United States report, such as deciding between a paying summer job or a non-paid internship or trying to juggle internship duties and classwork. This dedicated semester also means that the internships can be completed in countries outside of the one they are studying in, increasing international opportunities and exposure.
The internship opportunities in Europe are particularly interesting and includes many international companies. A number of universities have partnerships with these companies, and they will often work together to place students in appropriate internships. Some of the major internship providers are:
These internships are not limited to students studying business. Google, for example, offers internships related to software engineering, legal work, and customer service in many of their European locations.
There are also a number of organizations unique to Europe in which students can intern, such as:
The Center for Counter-terrorism
The International Criminal Courts in The Hague
The World Health Organization in Geneva
The UN Regional Center in Brussels
European Energy in Copenhagen
NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center
The European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center
4) Soft Skills
Along with the real-world experiences that an internship provides, prospective employers also look for an applicant’s development of soft skills. Soft skills are personal attributes, as opposed to job-specific skills and knowledge. Students who are going to college in Europe have studied outside of their home country and are immersed in different cultures. They are able to cultivate their awareness and appreciation for cultural differences. The emphasis on group work in European schools gives students the opportunity to work with people with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. These graduates are often flexible, adaptable, and experienced in navigating unfamiliar circumstances, all of which lead to success in the workplace. In fact, a recent study by the Institute of International Education found that studying abroad for longer periods of time has a high impact on job offers, as well as job advancement.
5) Global Citizenship and International Exposure
“Global citizenship” is a bit of a buzzword, but it’s something that is important to many individuals and families. A global citizen is one whose identity encompasses more than just their country of origin. Global citizenship means being aware of, respecting, valuing, and identifying with the world community, not just one’s home country. Global citizens are just as devastated by atrocities occurring around the world as they are about those that occur in their home country, since they identify as a citizen of the world.
Interacting on a personal level with people from different countries enables a greater perspective on world events. Unlike homogeneous classrooms in the United States, the English-taught programs in Europe are developed to attract students from around the world. Classroom discussions include the perspective and experiences from these students, which allow students to have a better understanding of the world and how current issues affect their citizens.
International students have peers from around the world. The cultural differences between a student from Atlanta, Georgia and one from Tbilisi, Georgia are dramatic. These contrasts-as well as the similarities-are recognized, openly discussed, and valued. Though there are differences in background, there are meaningful common experiences and values among international students. They are all experiencing living outside of their home country, which is a significant and life-changing experience. Further, most of these students do have the values associated with global citizenship, which connects them on a very deep level.
In addition to experiencing the world by studying in a different country, students studying in Europe have many other opportunities for international experiences. The EU’s Erasmus+ program, for instance, is an umbrella organization for the many programs that encourage mobility among young people. The student mobility program is one that all degree-seeking students attending European universities can participate in—even international students! Students can spend up to twelve months studying in other European countries (and sometimes outside of Europe as well). The attendance can be studying at another university or doing an internship in another country, or a combination of the two. There is no additional cost to these programs and students can even apply to receive a stipend of 150-500 euros per month while participating.
Many schools have their own bilateral agreements with other schools, which allow students to study in another country outside of the EU for no additional costs. Some schools have active international student organizations that plan day and weekend trips around Europe, further enhancing a student’s understanding of other people and cultures.
I was recently speaking to a group of students for a student panel presentation. One of the students is in her second year of study at a university in Prague. She said that when she went initially went to study in Europe, it felt like a big deal. Now though, “the world feels accessible”. This is something I think about a lot! She has had successful experiences navigating her life outside of her home country which has led to this belief. She has figured out how to get around Prague, she has traveled around Europe with friends, she is going to Asia to study for a semester. The exposure to living outside of her home country has not only cultivated her interest in the world, but she has proven to herself that she has the skills to do so.
Yes, I’m relieved that we are going to save incredible amounts of money with Sam going to college in Europe. Yes, I love that the application process was simple and that we got Sam’s acceptance in just three weeks. Even if the price was comparable to the US, or the admissions process was not so transparent, these options would be worth exploring for these fewer tangible benefits. I want my kids to feel invested in the problems around the world. I want them to experience and value diversity. I want them to know how to work with others-even when there are differences. I want them to know that they can manage unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations. I want them to know that the world is within their reach. I’m confident that going to college in Europe will lead to these traits (while also saving us tons of money…).