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Five Reasons Students Are Going To College In Europe

I haven’t always known about going to college in Europe. Before my oldest started high school, I was worried about the cost of college.  Though we regularly put money away for college, our savings would not even scratch the surface of private or out of state tuition. I also had concerns about the rat race the college admissions process had become and was worried that my son would not be a good player of that game!

In 2015, I stumbled on the existence of English-taught, full degree programs held at European universities and decided to explore this possibility. Prior to this, I assumed that going to college in Europe required fluency in a foreign language. I certainly had no idea that, in non-Anglophone countries in Europe, there are over 350 schools offering more than 1,700 full degree programs conducted entirely in English—no foreign language skills needed. Everything from the courses to the readings to the assignments are in English.

The savings alone made me realize that many other families would also be interested in learning more.  I spent a year researching, visiting schools in Europe, meeting with administrators and talking to American students who were already studying in Europe to start Beyond the States.  Since then, we have helped families learn about and navigate the European options and my own son will attend college in the Netherlands this coming fall.

Are you interested in learning why so many families are excited about these options?

1) Cost

I was vaguely aware that colleges were getting more and more expensive, though I didn’t know howGoing to college in Europe incredibly quickly the cost was increasing until I decided to check out the trends at universities near my home. I compared current tuition with what the rates were when I went to college. In 1992, tuition at Duke University was $14,700 per year. Now, just twenty-five years later, it is $49,676. And in just five years (which will affect parents of kids currently in eighth grade and younger), it’s expected to be a staggering $75,602 per year!

Even state schools have seen a drastic rate increase. In-state tuition and fees at UNC-Chapel Hill were slightly more than $1,000 in 1992 and are now almost $9,000 per year. From 1980-2010 there was an 1,120% increase in tuition—an increase higher than in any other good or service, including healthcare. Further, only 19% of students at American public universities graduate within four years, and even state flagship universities only have a four-year graduation rate of 36%. Each extra year it takes to graduate contributes to massive amounts of student loan debt.

Compare that to going to college in Europe, more than 300 schools (not including the UK) that offer more than 1,700 English-taught bachelor’s degree programs. On average, international students would pay $7,000 per year to attend one of these schools. There are more than six hundred programs with tuition less than $5,000 per year and more than sixty options that are tuition-free—even for international students. The savings are further increased when you factor in that most bachelor’s programs take three to three-and-a-half years to complete. In many cases, going to college in Europe costs less for a full bachelor’s degree, including cost of travel, than ONE year of US out-of-state or private school tuition.  

Even after accounting for housing and travel costs, the savings of going to college in Europe are immense!  My son, Sam, will attend Leiden University, in the Netherlands. At $12,550 a year, it is on the higher side of the tuition range in Europe. The program at Leiden takes three years to complete, which will be a total of $37,650 in tuition costs.

If Sam were to go to school in the United States, Vermont’s Middlebury College would likely be a good fit for his academic interests. Yet tuition for ONE year is $54,450, which is almost $17,000 MORE than the full three-year program at Leiden. Even after factoring in living costs, travel home, and student visa, Sam going to college in Europe will save us more than $200,000!

Going to college in Europe

2) Admissions

I recently read that many college admissions counselors spend less than eight minutes on each application. With so many qualified applicants, admissions counselors must often look for reasons NOT to admit an applicant. Such reasons can range from not enough AP classes, class ranking that isn’t high enough, mediocre SAT/ACT scores, not enough extracurricular activities—or not enough with leadership roles—or summers that lack enough enrichment. It’s a fine line, though, because too many extracurricular activities may indicate the applicant lacks focus, yet many extracurricular activities in a similar area might look like the applicant doesn’t have a diversity of interests. The list of reasons not to admit an applicant goes on and on and is often contradictory.

The goal is to be the best, yet it’s impossible to excel in every area. This sets up both students and parents to feel inadequate and vulnerable to rejection no matter what they do. US schools claim that this admissions process provides a holistic assessment of the applicants, but in fact the process is highly subjective. This competition is not just at the Ivy League schools either—many lesser-known schools, like College of the Ozarks in Missouri, Jarvis Christian College in Texas, and Rust College in Mississippi, accept less than 16% of their applicants. The stress involved with this process is linked to the increase in anxiety among American teenagers and is said to be creating a national mental health crisis.

Let’s contrast this with the European admissions process. The first thing to recognize is that, in Europe, the schools don’t use admissions rates as an indicator of educational quality or prestige. The reputation of the school is not generally linked to how selective it is. At most schools, the admissions process is less competitive, even at highly-ranked, reputable ones. Each school has its own set of admissions requirements. If you meet those requirements and there is room in the program, you are admitted. The admissions criteria might be a certain ACT/SAT score, a set GPA, a defined number of AP courses, or as little as a high school diploma. A number of very reputable European universities have programs without enrollment caps, so students who meet these criteria are accepted. Period. It doesn’t matter if they have a higher GPA than the one required, or more AP courses. They aren’t being compared to the other applicants; they are being assessed to see if they have the qualifications needed to succeed in the program. Students then have the first year as a student to prove that they can succeed.

The procedures are transparent even in the schools that have more competitive admissions. There are a few schools that make admissions decisions based 100% on SAT scores. Mediocre grades? Doesn’t matter. No sports? That’s fine. While I don’t agree that the SAT score is necessarily the best indicator of future success, I do appreciate the total transparency. This process allows students to make mistakes, to explore their interests—even those that aren’t quantifiable—to spend time with family, get after-school jobs, and end the day with a good night’s sleep.

 

3) Employability

Learning for learning’s sake is a noble proposition, but few students go to college for reasons that don’t relate to employability in some way or another. Students know that a degree is required to access many career opportunities. Why then, are our universities are not preparing students for the workforce? There is Life After College, by Jeffrey Selingo, notes that nearly half of college graduates in their twenties are underemployed, meaning the jobs they can get don’t require a bachelor’s degree. Few schools in the United States require internships or help students find them, and only 1 in 3 graduates had an internship in college, even though internships are a fast track to a job.  According to the Collegiate Employment Research Institute, employers hired around 50% of the interns who worked for them as full-time employees after graduation; in some fields, it is closer to 75%.

 Internships help students learn how to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real-world situations. Students learn relevant skills, see what others in that field are responsible for, and gain exposure to occupations that they might not have known about. They can try out an industry, role, or organization, while also building contacts and gaining relevant experience for their resumes.

Many of the bachelor’s degree programs in Europe usually have at least one semester set aside for an internship. Having a semester to do internships removes many of the obstacles that students in the United States report, such as deciding between a paying summer job or a non-paid internship or trying to juggle internship duties and classwork. This dedicated semester also means that the internships can be completed in countries outside of the one they are studying in, increasing international opportunities and exposure.

The internship opportunities in Europe are particularly interesting and includes many international companies. A number of universities have partnerships with these companies, and they will often work together to place students in appropriate internships. Some of the major internship providers are:

  • Google
  • BP
  • JP Morgan
  • Accenture
  • AIG
  • Deloitte
  • Bayer
  • Cisco
  • BMW
  • Skype

These internships are not limited to students studying business. Google, for example, offers internships related to software engineering, legal work, and customer service in many of their European locations.

There are also a number of organizations unique to Europe in which students can intern, such as:

  • The Center for Counter-terrorism
  • The International Criminal Courts in The Hague
  • The World Health Organization in Geneva
  • The UN Regional Center in Brussels
  • European Energy in Copenhagen
  • NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center
  • The European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center

4) Soft Skills

Along with the real-world experiences that an internship provides, prospective employers also look for an applicant’s development of soft skills. Soft skills are personal attributes, as opposed to job-specific skills and knowledge. Students who are going to college in Europe have studied outside of their home country and are immersed in different cultures. They are able to cultivate their awareness and appreciation for cultural differences. The emphasis on group work in European schools gives students the opportunity to work with people with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. These graduates are often flexible, adaptable, and experienced in navigating unfamiliar circumstances, all of which lead to success in the workplace.  In fact, a recent study by the Institute of International Education found that studying abroad for longer periods of time has a high impact on job offers, as well as job advancement.

5) Global Citizenship and International Exposure

“Global citizenship” is a bit of a buzzword, but it’s something that is important to many individuals and families. A global citizen is one whose identity encompasses more than just their country of origin. Global citizenship means being aware of, respecting, valuing, and identifying with the world community, not just one’s home country. Global citizens are just as devastated by atrocities occurring around the world as they are about those that occur in their home country, since they identify as a citizen of the world.

Interacting on a personal level with people from different countries enables a greater perspective on world events. Unlike homogeneous classrooms in the United States, the English-taught programs in Europe are developed to attract students from around the world. Classroom discussions include the perspective and experiences from these students, which allow students to have a better understanding of the world and how current issues affect their citizens.

International students have peers from around the world. The cultural differences between a student from Atlanta, Georgia and one from Tbilisi, Georgia are dramatic. These contrasts-as well as the similarities-are recognized, openly discussed, and valued. Though there are differences in background, there are meaningful common experiences and values among international students. They are all experiencing living outside of their home country, which is a significant and life-changing experience. Further, most of these students do have the values associated with global citizenship, which connects them on a very deep level.

Going to college in EuropeIn addition to experiencing the world by studying in a different country, students studying in Europe have many other opportunities for international experiences. The EU’s Erasmus+ program, for instance, is an umbrella organization for the many programs that encourage mobility among young people. The student mobility program is one that all degree-seeking students attending European universities can participate in—even international students! Students can spend up to twelve months studying in other European countries (and sometimes outside of Europe as well). The attendance can be studying at another university or doing an internship in another country, or a combination of the two. There is no additional cost to these programs and students can even apply to receive a stipend of 150-500 euros per month while participating.

Many schools have their own bilateral agreements with other schools, which allow students to study in another country outside of the EU for no additional costs. Some schools have active international student organizations that plan day and weekend trips around Europe, further enhancing a student’s understanding of other people and cultures.

I was recently speaking to a group of students for a student panel presentation.  One of the students is in her second year of study at a university in Prague.  She said that when she went initially went to study in Europe, it felt like a big deal.  Now though, “the world feels accessible”.  This is something I think about a lot! She has had successful experiences navigating her life outside of her home country which has led to this belief. She has figured out how to get around Prague, she has traveled around Europe with friends, she is going to Asia to study for a semester. The exposure to living outside of her home country has not only cultivated her interest in the world, but she has proven to herself that she has the skills to do so.

Yes, I’m relieved that we are going to save incredible amounts of money with Sam going to college in Europe. Yes, I love that the application process was simple and that we got Sam’s acceptance in just three weeks. Even if the price was comparable to the US, or the admissions process was not so transparent, these options would be worth exploring for these fewer tangible benefits. I want my kids to feel invested in the problems around the world. I want them to experience and value diversity. I want them to know how to work with others-even when there are differences. I want them to know that they can manage unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations. I want them to know that the world is within their reach. I’m confident that going to college in Europe will lead to these traits (while also saving us tons of money…).

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College Beyond the States Book Updates

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.

One of the reasons why we use a database as our main source of information about the Englishcollege beyond the states European Schools-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.

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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Bucking the Status Quo

Now that we’ve been around for a few years, the word is getting out and we have a substantial group of members who will be attending universities in Europe this fall. This is so exciting to me. I’ve been thinking about the members who I have met through through consultations, best fit lists, member calls, and the member Facebook group and considering unifying qualities among them. Certainly, the cost savings elements of college in Europe appeals to all of us first, but it’s there’s much more to it than that.

college in EuropeI’m reading a great book right now, The Five-Year Party by Craig Brandon, that started me thinking about these member qualities.  The book is written by a former professor who exposes many of the academic problems that are occurring as administrators attempt to appease and retain the tuition paying student.  It’s really a page turner and I highly recommend it.  I’ve been trying to find a way to contact the author to come on the podcast but have thus far been unsuccessful.  I’ve wanted to pick his brain about why so many parents are resistant to believing the research  about the problems with  US higher education and outcomes. Is it because many of the problems did not begin until after people in our generation graduated?  We didn’t experience it so we don’t believe it?  Is it because they don’t see other options, thus choose to turn a blind eye to problems? Is it because the propaganda created by the universities that are run like big business are more successful at convincing some than others?  I really don’t know the answer to this.

One quality I believe is true of all of our members is that they don’t feel the need to accept the status quo.  They seek alternatives to what they see as problems even if it goes against group norms.  Like our members, I am not someone who could be described as “going with the flow”.   I need to see where the flow is going an determine whether or not it’s aligned with my values and goals before I go with it. If this describes you, I recommend listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast about threshold theory. This episode gave me a lot of insight into myself, and may provide you the same.

Going back to the shared values and goals, our members do value education, but not the often meaningless work that is involved in “winning” at the US admissions game.  They recognize that this work often limits meaningful learning and experiences that assist with growth and independence and are eager to identify quality higher education options that allow them to opt of of the rat race.

These families have values related to global citizenship. They want their children to identify as a member of the world community and provide experiences and education with that end in sight. They realize that international experiences are a part of global citizenship and cultivate independence in their children so they can find success, even if temporarily far from home.

If you are/you have a college bound student and the above resonated with you, I encourage you to join our community of families who are exploring the English-taught bachelor’s degree programs in Europe.