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Hindsight

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!

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Sam’s Change of Plans

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.  I a nutshell, it’s a way of applying the theory to real life situations or case studies, making the material more meaningful 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…

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Looking Ahead and Planning Accordingly

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.

Sound good?

If any of these benefits appeal to you, then follow the link to sign up for the courses!

 

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Life in a Level 3 Country

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.

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Experiencing Aspects of International Student Life

***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.

 

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Change in Plans for the Viemonts

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 werent 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.

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Viemont Family Plans

Ellie and I have been in Malaysia for the last four weeks and are finishing up our time in Bali.  It’s actually been a scouting trip since we (along with Tom) will be moving to Malaysia in the spring.  I’m often asked why we are moving and why Malaysia. The short answer is that Tom and I have always dreamed of living abroad. Ellie is 100% on board with this plan, but Sam wanted to finished high school in the US, so  we waited for him to get off to college and then sold our house this past spring and started the process!

Malaysia has an incredible 10 year visa, low cost of living, great health care, no taxes on global income, and Kuala Lumpur is an exciting, modern, food filled city. It’s also a great jumping off place to explore other parts of Asia with short and cheap flights to amazing places. The long answer goes back to Tom’s brain hemorrhage in 2017, our experiences around that (both with healthcare and the insights that come from a near death experience), job insecurity he has experienced when he returned to work (despite his full recovery), my learning about various ways to experience location independence after being interviewed for the EPOP podcast, and a deep desire to experience more of the world on a longer term basis.

Batu cavesThe reaction from friends, some family, and even strangers has been really interesting. Some people are genuinely curious and I’m always happy to answer their questions.  Many people aren’t familiar with Malaysia (I wasn’t until fairly recently), but know of Singapore, due to  the movie, “Crazy Rich Asians”. To them, I’m able to explain that Kuala Lumpur is like Singapore, but more affordable! Other people make assumptions and seem to want us to defend our decision. My mother questioned what we would do about healthcare-though Malaysia is medical tourism hot spot with affordable and high quality care.  Some question why we wouldn’t choose another better known place, without consideration to the fact that you can’t live long term on a tourist visa. They (including my mom) questioned safety, though  Malaysia is ranked the 15th safest country in the world-far ahead of the US ranking of 128th place. Others (ok, my mom again-but others too…) questioned the educational impact this will have on Ellie, without realizing the learning opportunities that living abroad naturally provides and that there are options for international high schools.

This all relates to the myth of American exceptionalism. We’ve addressed this concept previously, but it bears repeating. Why do we assume our health care is the best? Why do we assume our universities are the only good ones in the world? Why do we assume that our way of life is only one worth emulating?  Why do we even have to think in terms of “best”? A good university, doctor, way of life for one person may not be for another. Things can be different without one having to be defined as better than the other.

Ellie is doing 10th grade through a virtual school, since we are moving before the end of the school year.  This also gives her the opportunity to travel with me this year.  We are in Bali to attend a conference about World Schooling. I first read about this a few years ago and found it fascinating.  Basically, these are families who take less conventional approaches to education in order to allow their children to learn from the world.  Though Ellie’s education is more traditional (accredited online school and likely international school for the rest of high school), I thought this would be a great way for her to meet other teens and for us both to learn from families who make a conscious point to learn from the world.

Already I’ve seen the natural learning and curiosity that occurs through these experiences.  You can imagine our surprise when we saw a swastika on a building on our way in from the airport! I had no idea that the swastika is actually a Sanskrit symbol used for over 5000 years by many ancient cultures around the world. It is still used on some Hindu and Buddhist temples and organizations in Asia-not as a symbol of hate but as it’s original pre-Hitler meaning of peace, luck, well being, and prosperity.  We learned about world religions and can’t even count how many Ganesh statues we have seen! We learned thought provoking information about cultural identity; how many people are just learning that they are Japanese because their families took on a Chinese identity for fear of  retaliation after WWII; how Tamil is the common language among Indians in Malaysia; how the British colonization still has effects though independence was granted in 1957; and how ethnic Malays/Malaysian Malays (not sure if one term is more PC than the other) are all held to sharia law, while all others in the country have a secular justice system. We had first hand experience with haze in Malaysia, caused by the intentionally set forest fires in Indonesia. Ellie was able to use this information for a paper she had to write in Earth Science about deforestation. I can tell you that NONE of these things would have been of interest to Ellie  (and -full disclose- some would not have interested me either…) if we weren’t here having these first hand experiences.

So why am I telling you all this?

I recently read a sentence that really stuck with me from Sam’s Introduction to International Studies syllabus. It noted that one of the course objectives was to “foster global positioning sensitivity based on an awareness that there is no single objective position from which to observe the world.” This really gives me goosebumps!  Wouldn’t it be great if we all had this? The very same day, I read an article that quoted a woman who was at a political rally in North Carolina. She said, “This is like college — it’s like a pep rally of like-minded people and we feel safe here,”

I don’t want my kids to solely be around like-minded people. I want them to learn from the experiences of others.  I want them to feel a little uncomfortable as their views and perspectives are challenged by their experiences and the views of others.  This type of education occurs when studying in Europe. Their classmates and friends are from all around the world so they will meet and learn-in the classroom and socially- from students who have had vastly different life experiences than them hughesairco.com. They will also learn about the history and culture of the country they are studying in, just through day to day life and the natural learning experiences that take place.

I recognize that our choice to move abroad isn’t possible or desirable for many people.  There may be jobs, family responsibilities, and many other reasons to stay in the states. You may prefer to experience the world through travel and enjoy a supportive community in the US.  I totally get that!  This is an example of differences that aren’t better or worse than the other. That said, almost every person I have met through Beyond the States has wished that they had these opportunities to get a degree abroad when they were in college. Our kids don’t have a mortgage yet. They aren’t responsible for taking care of us.  They don’t have a career to leave behind.  This is the prime time for them to take advantage of the opportunities to learn and grow in tremendous life changing ways, by getting their degree in Europe.

Beyond the States helps families access and navigate the information about the English-taught bachelor’s degree programs in Europe. This free online workshop  is a great starting point and provides answers to many of the questions you may have.

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College Beyond the States Book Updates

One of the reasons why we use a database as our main source of information about the Englishcollege beyond the states-taught degree programs in Europe is because the information is constantly changing.  Not only are new programs updated in the different countries at different points in the year, but tuition and admissions information often changes as well.

I finished writing College Beyond the States: European Schools that Will Change Your Life Without Breaking the Bank in April 2018.  Since then, there have been some changes regarding schools in the book that I want to point out. Some are major admissions changes, while others are just things to keep on your radar if you are considering that particular school.

At this point last year, our database had 1,700+ programs at 350 or so universities. There are now \more than 2,000 bachelor’s programs listed! The average tuition is right around $8,000 per year, with almost 600 under $4,000 per year and 65 that are tuition free-even for international students. Contrast that to the averages in the US where students pay on average $9,970 for in-state, $25,620 for out of state, and $34,740 for private tuition. Factor in the variable that most bachelor’s in Europe take only three years to compete, and you will find that, even with travel costs, overall tuition is comparable to or less than in-state expenses.(Leo Hamel Jewelry Store)

While there are no admissions scandals in Europe to report, there have been some changes that affect students graduating with a US high school diploma (Note: if you have an IB diploma, these changes don’t apply to you – it’s still the golden ticket for admissions). Germany used to allow students with a US high school diploma to apply if they had a certain minimum SAT or ACT score. They did away with that in the fall of 2019, so applicants with a US high school diploma must now have two years of college credit or an associate’s degree.  There is also the possibility of admissions with a foundation year program in Germany, but I have my concerns about that which I detailed in a recent blog about the changes.

Leiden University announced an admissions change this fall that affected my household quite a bit! Until fall of 2018, Leiden required that students with a US high school diploma have three AP scores of 3+, along with a 3.5 GPA.  As you may know, this is where my son, Sam plans to attend.  At the end of junior year, he had three AP scores, two were 4’s and one was a 3. We had planned his high school courses this way so that his acceptance would only be conditional on graduation, not AP scores.  Well, wouldn’t you know…in early October, Leiden announced that they now require 3 AP scores of 4+ and that the new requirements begin immediately. Thankfully, Sam was already registered for two AP courses his senior year, or it would have been much more stressful. He has been conditionally accepted based on him getting a 4 on one of his two AP tests.  Though I’m pretty confident he will get a 4 on at least one of them, we won’t know the scores until July, which is quite nerve-racking!  To reduce the anxiety, we came up with a plan B. Sam has also applied to the Hague University of Applied Science, which does not have the AP requirement. If he doesn’t get a 4 on one of the two AP tests as needed, he will study at The Hague University of Applied Science in the fall and the year of classes will allow him to apply to Leiden for the fall of 2020.  Both of these programs are located in The Hague, so the social transition would be fairly easy, check workers comp lawyer.

Speaking of The Hague University of Applied Science, I’ve had a few experiences with them over the last year that may or may not be something you want to consider. There have been interactions (or should I say lack there of) that may speak to whether getting in front of prospective international students is a priority.  Sam’s experience with the admissions process there has also left much to be desired.  Though we know that he will be accepted, since he meets the admissions requirements, there has been need for constant follow up and a lack of clear answers to very simple questions…

The last change I want to mention is about Vesalius College, in Belgium. As of fall 2019, they were in the midst of merging with another school (different from their affiliation with Vrije University).  It doesn’t seem that this has occurred yet and I don’t know if it is still in the works or not. If it is a school of interest, it could be worth asking whether or not the merger is still planned and, if so, what impact it will have on their offerings.

Even with the changes, I am still comfortable with the quality and experience international students will have at the universities listed in my book. That said, there are many other options that are just as good as these.  I continue to be blown away with what I learn when I visit new places! Interested in exploring the multitudes of options?  A Beyond the States membership provides access to our searchable database of all the English-taught bachelor’s degree programs in Europe-with master’s launching this July. In addition, members receive a number of resources to help navigate the process from courses explaining different aspects of choosing and applying to universities, to community with other members and the chance to get answers from me on a monthly basis.  Join here!

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Why We Don’t List UK Schools

766px-london_big_ben_phone_boxOur original reason for not listing UK schools was our focus on non anglophone countries. In these countries, it is often more difficult to figure out what programs are in English, if any other language skills are required and other such details. Our focus was to make the options in continental Europe easier to find and understand for US students. I had also heard from many administrators that UK students made up a large part of their English conducted program student body, due to problems with the systems in the UK.

We have had a number of families inquire as to whether we would list UK schools in the future. I really thought hard about it and spent some time researching the idea. Though we don’t have an official mission statement, our passion at Beyond the States is to provide American families with solutions to the problems we face in the US, be it the cost, expectations for admissions, undergraduate experience, or employment issues after graduation.  Below are the reasons I think that UK schools don’t fit with our focus and why we won’t be listing them.

The UK Schools Cost as Much as the US

According to a recent HSBC report, the average tuition in the UK for international students is $19,291. Clearly, this cost is on par with the US. Outside of Switzerland (whose average tuition is artificially high due to the large number of programs conducted by American universities), this is significantly higher than any other country in Europe which charge just $7,245 on average. Further, the UK’s three year residency requirement prevents students who have an EU passport but have spent high school in the US from receiving the lower EU tuition rates.

Similar Admissions Process

One of my issues with the US admissions process is that students are set up to never achieve enough. If they have perfect SAT scores, another applicant might as well, so they need to then have more AP classes. Someone else has perfect SATs and higher AP’s, so students seek to impress through an additional area as well. The admissions process has often appropriately been compared to a treadmill or a rat race. UK admissions decisions are made in similar ways through a point system in which things like AP courses receive more points than others-very similar to the flawed process we have in place in the US. I really like the focus many schools in continental Europe have on the “fit” of the student to the program and program to student. The administrators I have spoken with emphasize that applicants should personalize their motivation letter to the school and program they are applying to as opposed to using the same letter for each school. This is not possible (and thus not emphasized) in UK programs. Applicants use a common application and cannot send different essays to the different schools they apply to.

Fewer Post College Opportunities Due to Brexit

The UK used to have a very generous post study visa residency period for international students. Graduates were allowed up to two years to find a job. They have recently reduced the period to just four months after graduation. If a student hasn’t found a job in the UK after four months, they’re required to leave the country. The EU adopted new regulations that provide graduates with a minimum of nine months post study visa and allow students to work a minimum of 15 hours per week while they are students. Further, the impact of Brexit will take the next two years to unfold, which means that there will be international students in the midst of their study when they find out if/how they will be impacted. I think waiting to see the impact is a better idea.

eur_eng_mapLanguage is Less of a Barrier than You Think

Language is often the reason American students first think of the UK when considering studying in Europe, but English is widely spoken in continental Europe. Our database contains the English proficiency of each country, as surveyed by EF Education First. I’ll also note my own experiences with it on my school visits. I was blown away by the amount of English spoken in many of the countries I have visited – not just when people were talking to me but in the conversations I overheard on the trains, in the markets and around the schools. The UK is a fascinating place and I understand the appeal. Many programs we have listed require or allow for a semester abroad. Perhaps that would be a better way to get the gain the benefits of continental Europe’s superior education system while being exposed to life in the UK?

 

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Your High School May Not Want You to Know About College in Europe

Two years ago, we had no idea that college in Europe was a possibility for our kids.  This knowledge has absolutely changed our lives (outside from the creation of Beyond the States).  I no longer worry about how we will pay for college; Sam, age 15, is able to limit the number of AP courses he takes and focus on areas of interest for him; and I’m really excited about the prospects.  One of the reasons we started Beyond the States was to let other parents and students know about these options. Even if you don’t end up going the European route, it’s nice to know that you have looked at your alternatives and are making a choice based on the needs, strengths, preferences of your family and your student.
As a parent, I would hope that my  kids would get exposure to the various alternatives through high school.  I know that counselors are often over- worked and would not expect them to seek all this information out on their own, but I would hope that if they had the opportunity to present kids with options in a way that is free and within a structure they already use, that they would.  Sadly, this is not always the case.
We are spending some time this fall visiting high schools and doing free information nights.  High schools have different ways to accommodate visits about colleges and we have been enthusiatically welcomed by about 60% of the schools we have contacted.  What blows me away is the response from the other 40%!  Some have legitimate district-wide policies that prevent a visit, because we are not a non-profit. Ironically, private US universities do have non profit status-interestingcollege perspective on that here.  What I find even more crazy are the schools that have told us some variation of “We don’t think our students would be interested in that…”  Really?  None of your 1,500 students will struggle with tuition in the US?  None are interested in limiting their number of AP courses?  None would love the opportunity to explore Europe?  I find the acceptance of the status quo baffling.  Few would say that there aren’t issues with US higher education (cost, admissions processes, quality of undergraduate experience).  Most would agree that at least one of them is a legitimate issue. So why aren’t they letting their students know that there are options that provide solutions?
Ok, I’m done with my rant now and will get off my soapbox.  The reason I’m telling you this is so that you can help us spread the word.  We have a lot of opportunities for parents and students to receive free information.  We have blogs, Facebook posts, webinars, school visits, and parent information nights.  More information about all of these is below.  If you live in an area we are visiting and your school isn’t listed, let your counselor know.  They can contact me directly and I’ll be happy to schedule it.  If you or your teen attends one of the schools listed, check Naviance or shoot me an email and I’ll let you know when I’ll be there.  I’d love to meet you! If you know students or parents who might be interested in one of our local events, please share this information. (If you’re not in one of these areas, don’t despair! Just sign up for one of our webinars.)  images-13

Chicago

Chicago is my hometown and I miss it tremendously!  Though visiting in the fall always makes me want to move back, I have two upcoming visits.  This week I am in town for just a few days making visits to Oak Park-River Forest High School, St. Ignatius College Prep, and participating in the college fair at the British International School.  I’ll be back mid October (to see Hamilton!) and visit more schools.  We’re already on the schedule for Lincoln Park High School and Trinity School and have more availability this week.  I’ll be scheduling an information night for this week as well.  Details should be on our website next week.

Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill

This is where we live, so we have two parent nights schedule in this area.  We will be in Chapel Hill the evening of October 5th and Raleigh on October 6th.  One of the students we helped (Jared, Part 1) is a Chapel Hill High School graduate and is now studying in Europe with a tuition of under $1,000 a year!

DC Area

I have two trips planned here (one the end of September and the other the 1st week of November) so that I can visit Montgomery County schools as well as those in Northern Virginia.  School visits are already scheduled at Walt Whitman High School, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Walter Johnson High School, Winston Churchill High School, and George Mason High School. We have evening information sessions scheduled in Bethesda, MD on 9/28, Germantown, MD on 9/29 and Falls Church, VA on 10/30. You can sign up for one of these sessions here.

Richmond

I’ll be at Maggie Walker Governor’s School on October 14th.

Webinars

Webinar-640x360-290x250Our next webinar is on Sunday the 18th at 1:30 pm.  I’ll be covering the program choices in Europe as well as the academic differences.  On October 9th our webinar will go over the various admissions processes and requirements and on November 13th I will present on student life and housing.
All of the information sessions and webinars are free, but do require registration.  We are still scheduling visits, so be sure to let us know if you live in one of the above areas and would like us to visit your school.