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!


Playing Sports as a College Student in Europe

We sometimes get the question, “Will I miss out on sports by going to school in Europe?” The answer is, “No”, but the form may be different than what one expects. The sports scene in Europe is different than in the US, but it is still quite vibrant. 

Sports in Europe are structurally different than in the US as sports here are associated with “sporting clubs”. The club system is a network of sporting organizations, ranging from small local recreational clubs to multi-billion dollar franchises akin to the professional sports organizations of the US. 

The club system is complex and books have been written on the topic. In Portugal for instance, 120 teams play in four level leagues. Teams in the top level league, the Premier Liga, play one of the other 18 teams in the same league. Each year, teams move up or down based on their record over the entire season. Leagues are organized at the national level. There is also post season play where top teams from different countries play each other in tournaments. 

There are similarities that an American like me finds familiar such as passion, tradition, and rivalry. When we recently visited Porto, we were kept awake for many hours by the constant honking of car horns outside our apartment after the Porto team beat the traditional powerhouse team from Lisbon, Benfica. 

Students who enjoy watching sports (live or televised) will have no trouble finding like-minded friends to watch with!  The football culture can be contagious, even for students who don’t engage as fans.  After just a few months of studying in Europe, Jenn’s brother (who was never very into sports) was all of a sudden a fanatic about the UK Premier league and his chosen team, Tottenham.  

If a student would like to continue to actively participate in a sport, many schools offer intramurals, which means “within the walls” of the school. At Groningen, for instance, intramural sports are addressed through their association system, which also offer social and cultural interests for students. Groningen has 50 different sporting activities students can choose from. Additionally, the ACLO Studentensport center in Groningen offers just about every sport and fitness activity you can think of, as well as a wide variety of sports clubs.

If the level of competition isn’t enough in intramurals, the student could approach a local club about trying out for their team. Outside of the US, and especially in Europe in the sport of soccer, the development of elite athletes has almost always fallen to a network of local and national professional clubs. Serious young people don’t play for their high school or college team. They play for a club. 

Truly gifted athletes may even be able to move up within the system from the local club level to play professionally in one of the larger clubs. Beyond big time soccer, these clubs also support other sports, as well. For example, Sporting Club of Portugal, one of the large sports clubs here, has a soccer team, of course, but also teams for volleyball, handball, indoor soccer, and rink hockey. FC Porto has those teams plus teams for cycling, swimming, billiards, and more.

In the end, if a student wants to participate in sports, he or she will be able to, it just may be in a different form than if they went to college in the US. Two things are for sure, sports aren’t viewed as a relevant factor for admissions and standing out in sports won’t mean a sports scholarship. Fortunately, college in Europe is so much more affordable that sports can be enjoyed on whatever level one desires to. 



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!







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!


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!


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.




Studying in Europe: Still a Great Idea

When we post this blog, we don’t expect to know the winner of the US presidential election. It’s a time of uncertainty around so many issues in the world. Regardless of who is in the Oval Office in January, though, studying in Europe is still an idea worth exploring.

We truly hope to see changes around the cost of American higher education. However, even if we have a president who is proposing real reforms, the process does not move quickly.  Changes will take some time to be approved and then implemented, if it even gets that far. Until then college will remain incredibly expensive. Students and families will still be drowning in debt. And, of course, the rigged and convoluted rat race of the admissions process still must be solved.

The proposed changes as we have read about are adding free tuition at four year state universities for families with incomes under $125,000. This would potentially be an incredible opportunity for so many families and students!

There is another group of students, though, who do have enough saved for in-state tuition but seek a wider number of choices.  These students currently have access to an affordable higher education within their state, but they want more choices than they are allowed under the current system of in-state tuition. Perhaps they want a fresh start in a new place, don’t want to be in a dorm with their high school classmates, or want to experience living further from home.

These students may not be able to afford out of state tuition at $24k per year on average or private school tuition at $32k, but the options in Europe with an average tuition of just $7,390 with many just 3 years in duration provide them with an international experience for in-state prices!

We’ve had many new members join recently who are interested in leaving due to the divisive political climate in the US. No matter who wins the election, I’m afraid that the fractured atmosphere will prevail for quite some time. That said, the families and students we work with aren’t turning their back on the US, rather they are moving towards something far more aligned with their own values. We’ve worked with students who want to study sustainability in places that are already leaps and bounds ahead of the US. We have others who are interested in studying things like Political Science, International Relations, or Peace &Conflict Studies in a more international atmosphere. These students will hopefully become change makers in our future.

The benefits of studying in Europe are substantial, regardless of the political climate in the US.  Since we started Beyond the States in 2015, we’ve talked about the more affordable tuition, the shorter time to get a degree, and the transparent admissions processes, as those are the most obvious benefits.  Another benefit to note is the growth that occurs due to international experiences.

In the US, many of us live in areas where we are surrounded by people who are very much like us in background, values, and/or beliefs.  Particularly on social media, we see a lot of our own opinions reflected by others and we often “unfriend” or at least “mute” those who offer conflicting views.

When American students go to universities in Europe, they are exposed to people of all different backgrounds and viewpoints. The English taught programs exist to draw students from all around the world, so the diversity within the classroom is tremendous. Exposure to a more diverse world view allows students to come back to the US with fresh perspective and allows them to advocate for change where it is needed. Their experience as global citizens will help inform a new dialog going forward.

Exposure isn’t just about being in a different place, it’s also about trying and accepting new things. Living abroad forces a student to navigate unfamiliar circumstances and to adapt to new environment outside of his or her comfort zone. This is something we are experiencing firsthand ourselves with our recent move to Portugal.  It’s not always easy, but the growth that occurs as a result is well worth it!

Higher education in Europe is not for everyone, but we don’t believe the current US college system is for everyone, either. We truly believe that studying in Europe remains an option worth exploring for many, regardless of which political party is in charge.


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!


Internationalization: Who Benefits?

One of the ongoing tasks at Beyond the States is responding to comments on our various social channels and ads. It’s always interesting to interact with people who have been moved enough by our messages to share a comment. We received this message on an ad that shows a map of Europe the other day: “Yeah, funded by European taxpayers…” This comment represents a misconception that I’d like to explore. Are international students somehow taking advantage of European taxpayers by going to college in Europe?

Here are three primary reasons that international students are good for Europe and not taking advantage of the system:

1) International students pay a premium tuition compared to EU students in the same schools and classes, so the schools like them. For example, a non-EU student in the chemistry program at University of Groningen in the Netherlands pays 14,000 euros, while an EU student pays just 2,143 . EU students pay no tuition to attend Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, while a non-EU master’s degree student would pay 15,200 euros per year. I would say, rather than being subsidized by European taxpayers, international students are paying their fair share.

2) Unemployment is really low in parts of Europe, so the EU government wants more labor. As workers, we think that low unemployment is always a good thing, but from a macro economic perspective, which is how the leaders look at things, it’s only good to a point. In the Czech Republic, Germany, and Denmark,  unemployment is really low. This means there are too few workers chasing the open chasing jobs, which will drive up wages. When wages go up, a nation’s goods become more expensive to buy and fewer goods are sold, which is bad for the economy.  The European government expects that some of the international students who study in Europe will stay there post graduation to join the European labor pool. This is a win-win for the student and the economy.

3) International students also contribute to local economies when they purchase goods like groceries, housing, entertainment, books, and other things. In fact, the European Commission has made attracting international students an ongoing, key priority. They see that bringing students from outside Europe not only benefits the economy in the host country, but also contributes to the growth and competitiveness of the EU economy as a whole.

In the end, it’s about priorities. The EU sees internationalization as aligned with their long term policy agendas for growth, jobs, equality,  and social inclusion. I have to say, we do too!


Architecture Masters: What Are the Options in Europe?

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts today, 99% Invisible, and when I realized we’ve never Architecture Mastersreally focused on one of my favorite subjects, architecture. If you’re interested in learning about the options for architecture masters in Europe you’re in the right place.

The podcast episode talked about kidney shaped swimming pools, the birth of skateboarding, and concluded with an interesting connection with education in Europe that I won’t spoil.

Architecture MastersI’ll also plug another favorite episode from  99% Invisible on La Sagrada Família in Barcelona.  The story of this building combines intrigue, adventure, the Spanish Civil War, and design ingenuity into a story that’s ongoing because the project to build Spain’s great cathedral is ongoing. Visiting this building was unlike any other experience I’ve had, because unlike every other building I’d been in, Gaudi’s cathedral actually mixed architectural styles and incorporated organic elements.

What is Architecture?

Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Architecture are closely connected to other disciplines like Arts and Design. Architecture is very important in human history and anthropology, considering we each inhabit the big structures built by our ancestors. Architecture degrees share ties to academic subjects like Construction Engineering, Graphic Design, User Experience Design, and Arts.

Architects need to have an eye for beauty, utility, and durability. During architecture school, you will learn about architectural styles, the science of designing, design structures, landscape architecture and 3D designs. You will also discover computer software such as Computer-Aided Design (CAD), which helps you to plan, analyse and optimize design work.

Your degree in Architecture will teach you all about design rules, where you should follow them, and where you’ll have some room for exploration and creativity. Knowing how to work with texture, color, contrast, lighting and many other aspects will allow you to become an expert in designing buildings. Of course, you will also have to make sure your vision can also be built according to safety standards and available resources.

Some of the courses Architecture students will gain access to include: Analysis of Contemporary Architecture, City Design and Development, Urban Design Policy, Residential Design, and Green Construction.

After graduating with a degree in Architecture, you will have the opportunity to work as a: licensed architect, CAD technician, interior and spatial designer, and urban designer. Other jobs you can find are: building surveyor, construction manager, landscape architect, or structural engineer.

Are There Many Architecture Masters Programs in Europe?

In Europe, there are 71 English taught, Architecture Masters degree programs with an average tuition of 7,865 Euros per year (how much in $?). Seven programs offer free tuition for international students and a total of 32 offer tuition of less than 5,000 EUR. Of the 71 programs, only 4 are 1 year in duration and 5 are 1.5 years long, all the rest are two years in duration.

What About Entrance Requirements?

One program requires post college work experience, several require a minimum GPA in undergrad and a few more require an entrance exam.

Program Example

Masters in Architecturearchitecture masters

Duration: 2 years

Annual Cost: 15,000 EUR

Aalto University, Finland

Architecture is a field of technology and of art. Architecture teaching combines knowledge-based professional material and artistic understanding and expression skills. An architect must be able to see problems from many different directions, which is the reason for the broad-based nature of the degree in architecture. The current nature of the education develops the student’s scientific and artistic thinking relating to the construction of a socially responsible and sustainable future.The key content in master’s program education is to develop and deepen the skills obtained during the bachelor’s phase. The topics include the history and theory of architecture, building design and Finnish building art as well as urban planning and design. Course and design studio teaching is enhanced by means of multidisciplinary collaboration and new teaching methods. Learning by doing, the simulation of so-called ‘real’ design assignments is still an important part of the education of an architect.

Aalto University is a newly organized university named after the great Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto. Aalto University was born in 2010 as a result of the merger of Helsinki University of Technology, Helsinki School of Economics and the University of Art and Design Helsinki. Campus is located in the heart of Otaniemi, built in the 1950s, featuring an urban plan designed by Alvar Aalto and individual buildings designed by him and other well-known Finnish architects, such as Reima and Raili Pietilä and Heikki and Kaija Sirén.

Want to Learn More About Getting An Architecture Masters in Europe?

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