How to Transfer to a University in Europe as an American Student

Some have a year or more of college credits and others are working on their associate’s degree, but the question I’m getting from these students is:

Can 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.

Programs vs Majors

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 general-education 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.

You can do a credit transfer at a transfer abroad university like Groningen, which takes college credits.

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.


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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).

Other countries like Germany and France also have college programs that accept transfers.

When transferring credits, you might be wondering whether your gen-ed courses could transfer as electives. The issue with credit transfer in higher education 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!

Do I qualify?

First of all, your foreign credits can be used to open up even more opportunities for you in Europe! There are about 650 of the 3400+ bachelor’s programs (about 18% of 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. And so, if you didn’t take the AP or IB route in high school, you are free to apply to these 350 programs, on top of the other thousands of programs in our database!

Talk to the admissions office in the school you're interested about your transfer credits.

Additional Benefits of College or University in Europe

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 you would on tuition in the US, since the average tuition of bachelor’s degrees in our database is around $8,000 per year, with over 900 options under $5,000 per year.

How much will it cost?

It’s still a good deal if you have two years of college credits. Let’s look at the math around this. The average in-state tuition for flagship universities in the US is currently $10,950 per year. Using this number, after two years of credits in the US, you have $21,900 left in your tuition budget. Even if you have to participate in the entire duration of the study program in Europe, there are almost 2,000 options in our database that fall within that tuition budget!

That said, your credits generally will transfer to the American universities in Europe on a course-by-course evaluation. We currently have around 175 American-accredited programs in our bachelor’s database, and there are some really strong and affordable options in this category. 

Money Well Spent

But there are other American schools in Europe that come with an American size price tag. Further, many of 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 affect 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 this route.

Transfer to School in Europe

I encourage students not to limit their choices to just those that will take their credits. You may miss out on some amazing full-degree opportunities that are still within your budget. 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 your education, but that is one more year you get to spend living in Europe! A great place to start is with our database, which has over 11,200 bachelor and master’s degrees from schools with top-notch professors, and dynamic international student communities.

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