What I Learned About College in the Baltic Countries

I arrived in Vilnius, Lithuania, after spending 10 days in Jordan with my son, Sam. I loved Jordan, which provided so many different sensory experiences. There were the sounds of the calls to prayer five times a day which I found soothing (except the one that happen before 5 am…). There were the smells of spices and grilled meat. There were amazing sights I could not have even imagined in Wadi Rum (the desert) and Petra. There was the Frogger-like experience of crossing the street each time (even at crosswalks) and then there were the ups and downs of traveling with a teenager, which included good bonding conversations, as well as seemingly constant “advice” (not criticism I was told…).

College in Europe

Though the experience was absolutely incredible, I didn’t realize how much energy it took until I got to Vilnius. I was a bit grumpy when I arrived. I flew Ryan Air-which I always say I will never do again but then get sucked in by the low price. The boarding process reminds me of the old days with Southwest Airlines-sort of a mob mentality and then the flight attendants spend the entire flight peddling their goods. The person who came up with the idea to allow passengers to sample perfume in an enclosed space is not on my good list…We got to Vilnius late, and the cold fresh air when I walked out of the airport helped improve my mood almost immediately.

I had the weekend to explore the town before my meetings at universities began on Monday. I like visiting places in winter, as if you like a place as it’s worst weather wise, then you can imagine how great it would be at other times of the year. There are some places that felt depressing to me in the winter, like Sofia, Bulgaria and Warsaw, Poland. Though the skies are just as grey in Vilnius winters, I didn’t have that same feeling. “Hygge” is a Danish word, that has been entirely worn out internationally now, but really applies to Vilnius. The simplest way of describing it is a really cozy feeling. There are a ton of coffee shops with comfortable seating and lit in a certain way that make you want to go in with a book. There are wine bars-again with the warm lighting-with signs for mulled wine. The streets are clean, the architecture is beautiful, the people are friendly. I felt like I wanted to listen to classical music as I walked around the city (which is not something on any of my playlists). It just felt nice, and calm, and cozy.

Now, what I appreciate as a woman in my forties is very different than I would have liked as a college-aged student! This made me especially curious about student life in the city. I noticed that I didn’t see a lot of college-aged students out and about. Of course, it’s quite possible that the hours that I am out are not the hours in which college students are out (or awake). Certainly there are cafes, bars, nightclubs, theaters and more. It did get me thinking about the international student experience though.

One thing to note is that when a school reports their international student number or percentage, it includes all levels of study (bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate) AND almost always includes exchange students. This makes a huge difference! The international student percentage at Vilnius University, for instance is right around 9%. While that’s not a huge number, it’s not alarming. When you look at the percentage of degree seeking international students, however, it’s less than 3% and, again, that includes all levels of study!

So, why does this matter? For one thing, it can impact whether or not there are sufficient resources for international students. Vilnius University does not have an international student association or an international student office. They do offer an orientation week for international students (which includes exchange students) and they have an ESN office, but these are more directed at the exchange student experience. Further, one of the great benefits around studying in Europe is that students form friendships with people from all around the world. If half of your peer group leaves after just one semester, those meaningful bonds are harder to form and maintain.

Academically, Vilnius University has some strong programs and may be a good fit for some students. A student who is a little older may have the independence required to get their academic and social needs met. A student with a Lithuanian background may know enough of the language and culture to socially integrate with local students. These are just important considerations when looking at a school.

The international student population at Vilnius Technical University is similar to Vilnius University when you include exchange students, however it’s right around 5% when you look only at degree seeking students. It’s still small percentage, but they do have resources in place for their students. There is an office staffed with four people who work specifically with international degree students reading problems, questions, where to find resources, and more. Since they are a smaller university, they do this as the university level so all international students get the same information. There is an international coordinator in each academic department who helps students with the academic piece of things. They also have a mentor program for new degree seeking international students. Additionally, they reserve the newly renovated student residences for international students, which cost under 150 euros per month!

After recharging in Vilnius, I enjoyed the energy in Riga! It’s more urban, with people of all ages out and about at all times of day. It’s also remarkable beautiful with striking Art Nouveau architecture and abundant green space. Though the population is under 650,000 (similar to Portland, Oregon) it is the largest city in the Baltic region and, thus, provides an active night life. It’s an incredibly affordable city, even more so for students. For instance, students pay just 16 euros a month for an unlimited public transportation pass (the regular price is 50 euros). I really fell in love with Riga and it’s now on my list of favorite cities in Europe.

Of all the schools I visited on this trip, I was most excited by what I learned about Riga Technical University. Their total international student population is 15% which is at 10% when you subtract exchange students. The international student body is diverse, representing 87 countries. Not only does the university have an office that assists international students, but they also have an International Student Council which represents international student interests and arranges social events.

Unlike most universities in Europe, the university has a true campus, just a 25 minute walk (or 15 minutes by bus) from the city center. The campus houses the different academic departments, dorms (which cost 65-180 euros per month), and an Olympic size pool (there is a large recreation center off campus). There is a large shopping center directly next to the campus which includes a grocery store. The buildings were very well maintained, inside and out, which is not always the case with public universities.

Each program is split into groups of no more than 50 students for lectures with much smaller groups for labs and computer classes. Students are always taught by professors (not assistants) who are accessible for help outside of the classroom as well. All of the four year programs are very hands on, with lots of labs and internships in order to prepare students for the workforce. They evidently do a good job at this, given their strong reputation with employers. When I visit schools I look for strong academic programs and educational outcomes and an environment that supports international student life-academic and otherwise. Riga Tech checked all of these boxes.

My visits to the other schools in Riga helped me realize other questions students should ask when exploring a particular school or program. The majority of the international students in the other schools I visited are in just two programs (the integrated Medicine and Dentistry programs). There are only a handful of international students in each of the English-taught bachelor’s degree programs, and these students represent just a few countries. At one of these universities, classes for international students in the English-taught programs are separate from Latvians in the English-taught programs so it’s almost like private classes taught by the professors. While there is something to be said for the personalized attention in the classroom, I’m concerned about how isolating this would feel.

Though I absolutely love the Baltic area, I don’t think that Lithuania and Latvia are as far along with internationalization as Estonia is. That shouldn’t rule out the two countries for students. I would absolutely recommend Riga Tech, and there are certain types of students who the other schools may be a good fit for. More than anything, this trip helped me realize that there are some important questions students should look into when exploring a particular school or program. These are:

What is the number of degree seeking international students?
How many countries are represented by the degree seeking international students?
What is the percent of degree seeking international students in the program of interest?
Is there an international student council?
What types of international student associations are at the school?
Is there an international student office at the university level? Do they work with degree seeking student exclusively or also exchange?
Is there an international student coordinator at the program level?
Is there a mentor/buddy program for international students?

After gathering that information, you can consider the impact each area would have on your own personal experience. 

Free Virtual College Fair in January

Our next college fair is the last one this school year.  This free event is scheduled for the weekend of  January 12th.  You can register here. 

Take care,

Jenn

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Visiting Colleges in Italy – One Really Stands Out

The duomo is near colleges in ItalyI have much to report about my visits to colleges in Italy! I stayed in Milan, visiting schools in the city as well as in Bologna and Turin. It was my first time in Northern Italy and I really enjoyed it! I have always loved to visit Italy, but these northern areas feel much more livable and less touristy than the other places I have been. Milan is extremely easy to get around-both as it pertains to the city and getting elsewhere in Italy and Europe. I was able to get to Bologna and Turin in an hour by train. You can get to Lugano, in Switzerland, in under 90 minutes and Rome in under three hours. That said, the train travel is not inexpensive. My flights from Paris to Milan and Milan to Sofia, Bulgaria, were both less expensive than my train travel within the country. There are three airports in the region with many low cost airlines.

More than any other country I have visited, I was struck by the differences between the public and private colleges in Italy. The public colleges in Italy charge tuition based on family income to all students, including international students, with a maximum tuition at most schools of under 4,000 Euros per year. While this may seem attractive, the facilities of the public colleges in Italy I visited were quite basic, and large lectures are customary. I was told that students have to be prepared for less services directed towards their growth and development, as the main focus of these schools is educational. Certainly the trade offs are worth it for some, but not for all. I want to emphasize that this is not the case in most other countries. In fact, I am often more impressed by the public universities than private ones elsewhere.

There are unique obstacles when applying to colleges in Italy. The first applies to master’s and bachelor’s degree students applying to both private and public universities. It is a headache called “pre-enrollment”. This procedure was put in place in the days before internet and has not changed with the times. First, a student applies to a college in Italy. The school then issues a pre-acceptance letter (or rejection). The student takes the the pre-acceptance letter along with a ton of other required documents to the Italian embassy in their home country for pre-enrollment. This also begins the visa process. The student is officially enrolled once they are in Italy in the fall and turn in their documents to the school.

But wait-it’s potentially even more complicated! Some undergraduate programs have an entrance exam. SAT and ACT can substitute for many of them, but not for all. For instance, all the medical programs require entrance exams as do programs like architecture. Private universities tend to offer their entrance exams in the spring and often offer them in cities around the world. Public universities generally offer theirs on campus in Italy in September. And by September I mean a mere month before classes begin. This would personally make me really anxious from a planning perspective!

Finally, the Italian government requires that American students have either an IB or 3 AP scores of 3+ to enroll in bachelor’s programs. This is because Italian students have 13 years of education, while we have 12 in the US. A full year of college can substitute for the AP requirement and some schools allow 3 academic college courses to substitute. Word on the street is that the government is considering getting rid of the pre-enrollment process and looking at other ways to assess educational equivalence besides the APs. Fingers crossed!

While I learned a lot at each of the colleges in Italy I visited, one school really stood out and colleges in Italyexcited me. The school is University of Bocconi in Milan. Bocconi was founded in 1902 and focuses primarily on business and economics related programs. They offer English taught bachelor’s, master’s, and MBA programs. The majority of the programs are taught in English and the longer term goal is to have all of their programs taught in English.

What really struck me about Bocconi is the international approach they take to education. This is something that is easy for schools to say they do, but Bocconi really backs it up with resources. Traditionally, higher education in Italy has revolved around lectures with little interaction between students or students and the professor. This is still the case at many public universities. For the past 15 years, every professor that has been hired at Bocconi is fluent in English and is either a non-Italian or an Italian who received their Ph.D in an international program. This creates a team of professors who are not resistant to an alternate educational model and are more international in their approach, as opposed to strictly Italian.

Each entering class of the different programs is split into classes of no more than 100 students so even the largest lecture does not exceed that number of students. Even for lectures, the classroom layout was intentionally designed to be conducive to an interactive environment. Each department has a dean, program directors, and course directors to serve as resources to the students. In addition, each student has an academic advisor. Because Bocconi has strong connections with the business community, guest speakers from the field often speak in classes which provides a bridge between theory and practice.

Though the campus environment is international itself, with over 90 nationalities represented, Bocconi sees the value of providing students opportunity for further international exposure throughout their studies. In addition to the opportunities through Erasmus, Bocconi has 275 bilateral agreements with schools around the world. This allows students to study outside the EU for no additional tuition fees. Their partner schools in the US include Princeton, Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, NYU, Northwestern, and University of Chicago, in addition to 47 others in the US and equally impressive names throughout Latin America, Canada, Asia, Austrailia, New Zealand, and the Middle East. Students are advised strongly to study abroad and it is mandatory for some of the programs.

Bocconi offers seven English taught bachelor’s programs (3 years), eleven master’s programs (2 years), three specialized master’s programs (1 year) and eleven English taught MBA and post-experience education programs. Almost all of the programs are related to Economics and Management, with program options that integrate these areas with social sciences, computer science, finance, arts, culture and communication, government, fashion, healthcare, and more. In addition, there is a bachelor’s degree in International Politics and Government and a L.M program in the Law of Internet Technology. They also offer a four year World Business Bachelor’s degree programs in which students spend the first year studying at USC, the second year at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the third at Bocconi, and choose where to attend their fourth year. Students graduate with a full degree from all three universities.

The tuition for the bachelor’s degree programs is $14,150 per year (other than World Business which varies based on the school), master’s degree programs are $15,347 per year and MBA/post-experience programs start at $28,300 per year. Bocconi offers need based scholarships of full tuition for the length of the entire program. There are also merit based scholarships offering a full tuition waiver and with free housing for the first two years and one option that provides a 50% reduction in tuition. Applicants are automatically assessed for the merit scholarships upon application. The need based scholarship requires a separate application. In addition, Bocconi has a FAFSA number! This is a huge advantage to American students as it allows them to utilize US funding options for college in Italy and use their 529 savings without penalty.

Bocconi has resources and structures to support their students growth and development outside of the classroom as well. It is a centralized campus that even provides housing-most of which is on campus! They currently have seven student residences with an eighth opening the summer of 2018. Rooms are single occupancy and range from 600-700 Euros per month. They are also building an updated rec center which will be complete in 2018. Bocconi currently has a lacrosse team and soccer team as well as intramural and other options for track, hiking, judo, basketball, volleyball, boxing, rugby, skiing, snowboarding. and tennis. There are a number of student associations pertaining to various interests outside of academics as well as a student media center which includes student radio, web TV, and newspaper. Bocconi offers extensive student services including a counseling department that provides individual counseling as well as support around acclimating to a new country, time management guidance, and other challenges students may be facing.

Bocconi has a dedicated department of other 70 employees who work on job and internship placements. This department size speaks to the focus Bocconi puts in assisting their students in finding internships and jobs. Though the majority of students who graduate from the bachelor’s degree programs go on for a master’s degree, the job placement department has a dedicated team to help undergraduates with internships and job placements. 96.4% of the graduate students are employed one year after graduation, with 51.2% of them employed abroad. Top recruiters include Accenture, Goldman Sachs, Google, L’Oreal, J.P Morgan, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, the United Nations, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and many more!

As I have mentioned many times before, it is crucial that we look at quality indicators beyond rankings-whether looking at schools in the US or colleges in Italy. I believe that these quality indicators include a classroom environment that fosters interaction and cultivation of critical thought, international exposure, development of skills needed for employment, student supports, and outcomes pertaining to employment. Bocconi checks all of these boxes and more. Though it is not one of the least expensive schools in Europe, it is still comparable to in-state tuition fees when you factor in the difference in duration. Further, there is a very favorable probability of a high return on investment as it pertains to learning, employment, and personal growth.

Firsthand: Student Life in Brussels

As I mentioned in my last blog, Brussels is not my favorite city in Europe. Recently, I spent some time with Jared, and his friends, Sebastian (from Luxembourg) and Lisa (from Atlanta) to find out their opinions on student life in Brussels.

They all appreciate the offerings of the urban atmosphere.  Of course, no car is needed and they are able to get anywhere they need to go on foot or by train.  Though Brussels student lifeBrussels is known as a somewhat ugly city, the Grand Place is truly beautiful.  In some cities, it is hard to find student residences in the city center. Jared and Sebastian, however, live very close to the Grand Place and Jared frequents a coffee shop right in the square. If I were experiencing the Grand Place and it’s surroundings on a regular basis, my impression of Brussels might be different.

Jared and his friends all appreciate the perspective gained from the different backgrounds of the students in their classes and residences.  In some cities, diversity is limited to the university student population. This is not the case in Brussels, which is an incredibly international city.  The diversity is further increased by the fact that one’s social life is more often associated with their place of residence than solely with their program or school. This allows students to have friends from schools all around the city.

student life brusselsBelgium has two official languages. Flemish, a dialect of Dutch is spoken in the northern region, while French is spoken in the south. Brussels is actually in the northern region but has special status as the Belgian capital and both languages are spoken. I had a really interesting conversation with Sebastian about how the Belgian economy and population in different areas affects the perception of Belgians who speak each of the languages.

Alright, let’s get to the elephant in the room which is, of course, safety in Brussels. Jared and his father were in Brussels on March 22nd, 2016 visiting KU Leuven when the bombing of the metro and airport occurred. Despite this first-hand experience, he still chose to make Brussels his college home. Jared, Sebastian, Lisa and I discussed their perceptions of safety, as it pertains to terrorism in Brussels. They all had a really good perspective on it and noted that terrorism can and has happened in many cities around the world, including US cities like Boston, San Bernadino, and Orlando. There is also a strong police and military presence in the city, which has increased since last spring. We discussed how horrible events can create a “new normal” of sorts. An example in the US is the regular lockdown drills in elementary schools due to school shootings. Any safety concerns that Jared and his friends have were around safety precautions you need to take in any urban area, and were not related to terrorism at all.

Universities in Brussels also have unique opportunities for the refugee issue.  Vrije University Brussels, for instance, has a “Welcome Student-Refugee” program to help refugees continue their studies.  They had 18 students enrolled in the program in the fall of 2016. Some of these students are in English-conducted Social Science program.  Students in this program include refugees as well as students from expensive UK private high schools.  Talk about a range of perspectives in the classroom!

Jared and Lisa both attend KU Leuven’s International Business Program.  Though the campus is in Brussels, Lisa lives in Leuven which is about 20 minutes by train. I really wish I had the time to visit Leuven on my trip. Belgium has some incredible cities (I know it’s cliche, but I LOVE Bruges), and it sounds like Leuven is one of them. Over half of the 100,000 residents are students, which means that it has the accommodations of a student town and active student life. The city is filled with medieval architecture, has a low cost of living, and is very safe and compact.  The city is also known as a technology hotspot and is part of Health Axis Europe which is a “a strategic alliance initiated by the biomedical clusters Cambridge (UK), Leuven (Belgium), Heidelberg (Germany), Maastricht (Netherlands), and Copenhagen (Denmark) in order to cross-leverage innovation resources and thus jointly increase the international competitiveness.”  Sounds like some great internship and job opportunities there!

An administrator told me that one needs to really know Brussels to appreciate it. Given the diversity, culture, opportunities provided by the UN and NATO offices, and ease of exploring Belgium and Europe as a whole, I’ve decided that I was premature in my negative opinion.  Student life in Brussels has a lot to offer.

Vesalius College: Small School Benefits in Brussels with Large School Facilities

Let me just start by saying that, though there are many parts of Belgium that I think are incredible, Brussels has never been my favorite city in Europe. That said, I have learned that the city has a tremendous amount to offer students.

The first has to do with the price. The government subsidizes public universities and I visited two schools during this visit with tuition under $3,000 per year.  Remember that these are three-year programs so you are getting your full degree for under $10,000!  The school that impressed me the most on this trip, however, is a private school.  At $12,500 per year, it is not the bargain of the Belgian public universities but still offers great savings compared to US schools, tuition at Vesalius College is less than in-state tuition at many public universities such as Michigan, Illinois, and UMass. This becomes even more apparent when you factor in the benefit of the three-year program. Not only is this a year of tuition and fees avoided – it’s also a year sooner in the workforce generating income and experience. The school also offers merit-based scholarships which provide a 50% tuition reduction.

This school is Vesalius College. It was founded in 1987 by Vrije University Brussels (VUB) and Boston University to provide English conducted bachelor’s programs that merged the best parts of the European and American approaches to education. Though Vesalius Collge is right across the street from the VUB campus and is technically part of the school, it has its own private school status and functions independently from VUB.  That means that students are able to enjoy the amenities and facilities of VUB (clubs, sports facilities, libraries, etc) without the struggles that often accompany a larger school.

Vesalius College offers bachelor’s programs in Communication Studies, Business Studies, International Affairs and International and European Law. Though they tout a liberal arts education, they are referring more to the interactive teaching style and not the broad education that involves students choosing a specialty/major after introduction to various fields. Though all of the programs have strengths, I want to focus on the International Affairs program.

The first strength that Vesalius College offers International Affairs students is the fact that their students come from 60 different countries.  Combined with the interactive teaching style, small classes (large lectures are even limited to 30 students) and group work, students are exposed firsthand to perspectives from around the world which I believe is a key component to International Affairs.

The school uses “Theory-guided, Practice Embedded and Experiential Learning”. Though it’s a mouthful, you can certainly see that it is implemented in their curriculum.  Of course, students get the theory component in the classroom.   There are some interesting and timely classes like Legal Aspects of Migration, NATO and Transatlantic Approaches to Security, and Global Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism, and De-Radicalization. Students are also able to choose from a broad array of electives at partner schools which include VUB, Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, Institute of European Studies, and the Royal Music Conservatory Brussels. Unlike many other Belgian schools which base grades almost solely on final exams, courses at Vesalius College are continually assessed through projects, papers, and exams. Further, the fall semester ends in before winter break, so students don’t have to spend their holiday studying for final exams.

For the practice and experiential components, International Affairs students really benefit from the school’s location in Brussels, the de facto capital of the European Union. The school has guest lecturers that include speakers from NATO, the UN, various relevant EU committee chairs and directors, ambassadors, and foreign ministers. Students must participate in a capstone project, which involves working with high-ranking diplomats on foreign policy issues and also have the option of doing internships (for academic credit) with the UN, NATO, and various embassies.

Vesalius CollegeVesalius College’s modern building is located across the street from the VUB campus and is about 20 minutes from the city center.  The school has its own cafeteria which sources many of its ingredients from organic farms and won the SMC Sustainable Seafood Certificate in 2013. Of course, as previously stated, students can also cross the street and use the large array of VUB facilities.

Coming as an international student to a foreign city can be overwhelming, so Vesalius has a number of support systems in place to smooth the transition. Though they don’t have their own student housing, the school does assist students in finding space in the student residences throughout the city.  Each student is assigned a study advisor (a professor) and a separate career advisor which speaks to the priority of educating students and also making them employable. Though student life is enjoyed with students from schools all over the city, the school has a real community feel. The small size allows the students to really get to know each other and their professors. This community feel was something I noticed when I was observing students while waiting for my meeting to start.

Students are sometimes concerned about going to a small university.  Often their concerns center on student life.  I had dinner with Jared from North Carolina and his friends Lisa (from Atlanta) and Sebastian (from Luxembourg) while I was in Brussels and this was one of our topics.  Though Jared knows Lisa from class, most of his other friends are from his student residence and attend various schools through the city. Jared and Sebastian both told me that their social life is more from their student residence and less from their academic program. Further, even when one attends a large university (like Jared at KU Leuven), the majority of their classes are held within one department so larger schools have a small school feel as well. Given that students at Vesalius College have access to all the clubs, facilities, and even classes of the larger VUB, the school size does not present limits but does provide advantages.

Preview: Next week, I will be writing more about what I learned from Jared and his friends about student life in Brussels…

Study in Hungary: Options for International College Students in Budapest and Pecs

I arrived in Budapest to write about the options to study in Hungary for my third week of travel.  I had a long train ride without WiFi from Prague, my taxi driver overcharged me, and I had trouble checking into my Airbnb – which was a bit of a study in hungary, study in budapestdump. These factors, along with the fact that I hadn’t seen the sun for almost a week and that I was tired of Eastern European food, had made me quite grouchy for my first few days.  By the end of the week, though, the sun was out, I’d learned about some amazing programs for international students to study in Hungary, discovered langos, and finally understood the appeal of Budapest!

Budapest is split in two by the Danube River. Buda is on one side and Pest is on the other.  Most schools are on the Pest side where it is more residential with an abundance of cafes, bars, and such. In some parts of Pest, I had trouble determining whether an area was trendy or sketchy.  Turns out, most were trendy.  There are these popular things called ruin bars that are set up in abandoned buildings.  I planned to grab a pre-dinner drink in one near my apartment at the Red Ruin bar but walked in and right out, when I realized I was much too old for this crowd.

study in hungary, study in budapestThe Buda side of the River is absolutely beautiful. Of course, the benefit to staying on the Pest side is that you get to see that view every day.  I walked across the bridge to explore the Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion and St. Matthias church.  It was an incredible experience, though crowded with tourists. I’m glad I stayed on the Pest side.

Cost of living is incredibly affordable here for students wanting to study in Hungary. A train ticket without a student discount is right around $1. Most of my meals cost under $5, rooms in student residences generally cost under 200€ (convert to $) per month, and you can live large in a large nice shared apartment for under 400€ a month. The city and public transportation are easy to navigate – after just a few days I rarely had to glance at Google Maps.

The American students I spoke with in Budapest are incredibly happy with their decision to study in Hungary and their experience.  Interestingly, this is the first time in Europe for both of them and the affordability was one of the decision making factors they used. Matthew is a nontraditional student (age 39) from Washington state who decided to study in Budapest with his wife and two small children to pursue a master’s degree. Chris is a from a small town in Louisiana and attended LSU for two years before making the move to study in Budapest. Even with airfare factored in, he is paying less to study in Hungary than he was as an in-state student at LSU (Who knew LSU was $32k per year all in??).  The impetus for both Matthew and Chris was a strong desire to see the world and experience diversity.  They both appreciate the various international backgrounds of their friends and the students in their classes as well as the opportunity this diversity provides to learn different perspectives on world events and even day to day living. Chris also said that he appreciates the much smaller class sizes.  He noted that at LSU he had many classes with 800 students and no personal contact with the professor, while during his study in Hungary, most of his classes here have less than 20 students and professors are accessible in and out of class time.

Matthew and Chris attend Budapest Metropolitan University, a private university of applied science that was founded in 2001.  The school emphasizes hands-on, practical learning that leads to employment.  In fact, 86% of their graduates have employment within 5 months or graduation and 33% of those are hired where they completed their internships – a major benefit of studying in Hungary.  The school has relationships with 400 Hungarian companies and 300 international companies for internships and job placements.  The Career Center holds programs throughout the year to prepare students for employment. For instance, at the beginning of each semester students take a Career Management class. This practical training is run by various companies and helps students learn skills around project proposal, professional communication, and overall presentation.

Budapest is an interesting place to be for students in Metropolitan’s media related programs. Many American films shoot here. Students have done internships with the production companies working on films like Angels and Demons, Inferno, and a yet to be released Jennifer Lawrence movie.

The facilities at Budapest Metropolitan University are fairly typical for a university of applied science.  Though they aren’t held in architecturally impressive places like many of the older public universities, the buildings are well maintained and have modern equipment. The school has 12 English conducted bachelor’s program that are 3-4 years in duration and range from 4,200-6,000 Euros per year.

The school I am most excited to tell you about is not in Budapest, but in Pecs (pronounced “paytch”).  When I planned my visit to review options to study in Hungary, I knew I had to visit this school. Pecs is a student town, with almost 15% of the 150,000 residents attending the University of Pecs. Students and administrators note that the smaller size of the city helps students feel less overwhelmed than they would in a larger city. University buildings are not far from the city center, which holds cafes, pubs, cinemas (that show English movies with Hungarian subtitles) and other popular student destinations.  There is a brewery in town which was founded in 1848 and produces eight kinds of beer. Students can also take advantage of nearby hiking or trips to nearby Croatia.

Though Pecs is a good three-hour train ride from Budapest, it has culture on its own.  In 2010 it was named a European Cultural study in hungary, study in budapestCapital for the year and it also holds a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I had grown accustomed to seeing the Soviet influence on architecture in this part of Europe, but Pecs holds architectural influence from the Ottoman occupation in the middle ages, mostly in the form of churches which were turned into mosques and then back into churches.

The University of Pecs is the oldest university in Hungary, celebrating 650 years,  and is globally ranked. I was impressed by the number and variety of programs they offered in English for such reasonable tuition.  I was even more impressed after my visit. Pecs is a large university, with 20,000 students, but each department is self-contained with its own International Student’s Office, Student Union and more.  The buildings are spread out throughout town, but students who stay in the dorms are generally placed in the dorm close to their department.  There are easy public transportation options for students who choose to rent an apartment in town.

The university facilities are impressive and diverse. Though some are in old historic buildings and others are in modern buildings built for the university, all are well maintained with up to date classrooms and labs.  The school offers 18 English conducted bachelor’s programs and 3 integrated bachelors/masters programs in medicine, pharmacy, and dentistry. The bachelor’s programs include various offerings in the fields of health sciences, business, social sciences, humanities, computer science, engineering, math, and science. Most of these programs are three years in duration and range from 3,200-6,900 Euros per year.

During my visit to Pecs, I met staff in the student residences, administrators from two different faculties, students from the medical program, and others.  What struck me in every single one of these meetings was how highly international students are valued and taken care of at the university. There is an office to help international students who study in Hungary in each of the departments, and even in the dorms. The departments offer all sorts of assistance to international students, including a group outing to get student residence permits, a course called “Providing a Soft Landing at the University and Pecs”, and a magazine for international students that is published a few times a year.  They continue to add English conducted programs that are of interest to international students and hold student focus groups to see where they can improve. The students I met with were very happy with their experience at Pecs (Members can see more about their thoughts on the General Medicine program page in the database).  When there are so many universities with good and affordable programs in Europe, a school’s approach to international students is an important factor to look at. Pecs certainly stands out in this area.

Was I this impressed with all the schools I visited?  Nope. As a matter of a fact, I visited a globally ranked school that I would not advise Americans apply to due to their attitude towards international bachelor’s students. Beyond the States members (Join now) have access to our database of all the accredited English conducted bachelor’s degree programs in non-anglophone Europe.  Many listings have a “Jenn Says” section that contains all the information – positive and negative – that I learn when visiting schools.

Prague: Universities & Colleges for International Students

prague universities, prague study, study in prague, study in english in prague, czech universities, czech colleges, prague colleges, prague universities in english, prague universities, studying in czech republic in english, study in czech republic for international studentsBefore visiting Prague universities for Beyond the States, our international travel destinations were determined by an interesting food scene or visiting family overseas.  Those criteria prevented me from getting to Prague in the Czech Republic earlier, a fact I truly regret. Prague is seriously one of the most beautiful cities in Europe to study abroad – even in the dead of winter. One thing that I liked about it is that you could see and appreciate the architecture throughout the city without going into the touristy areas.

Prague Castle is worth checking out, but what I really enjoyed was the Museum of Miniatures that I learned about in the Atlas Obscura. This is actually a small room that has micro miniatures which you view through mprague universities, prague study, study in prague, study in english in prague, czech universities, czech colleges, prague colleges, prague universities in english, prague universities, studying in czech republic in english, study in czech republic for international studentsicroscopes.  I’m already a sucker for miniatures so I was all about this! Micro-miniaturist Anatolij Konenko created the collection which includes a caravan inside the eye of a needle, a flea with tiny horseshoes and a replica of Swan Lake on a poppy seed-a poppy seed!! There is also a sailboat on a mosquito wing, golden horseshoes on a flea, and the Lord’s Prayer written on a hair.  If only they had a small gift shop…

Prague felt very livable to me. One factor I look at when assessing livability is the accessibility of modern day conveniences. I’ve stayed in some cities where I have walked endlessly just to find a place to buy bandaids.  Supermarkets, convenience stores, and drug stores were easily found in all the neighborhoods I visited in Prague. Other services, like places to exercise or nail salons, were also easy to get to. The city is fairly compact and walkable,  but also with good public transportation. I felt safe everywhere I visited throughout the city and learned that the Czech Republic is actually the 6th safest country in the world just ahead of Switzerland and far ahead of the US which ranks 103rd out of 162.

As I noted in our last blog, I do wish I had paid more attention to current events in high school, particularly those that related to the Cold War (1947-1991). The owners of my Airbnb were a hip young couple in their 30s.  Matej picked me up from the airport and during the drive back told me about his own memories of the time.  His dad was in a band and had to flee the country in the 80s, as he was going to be imprisoned for playing Led Zeppelin songs.  Matej remembers waiting in long lines for simple things like toilet paper to be rationed. He also recalled the excitement through the country after the largely peaceful Velvet Revolution, the period of upheaval and transition, that took place from November 17 to December 29, 1989.

Anglo-American University: Affordable with Small Class Size

prague universities, prague study, study in prague, study in english in prague, czech universities, czech colleges, prague colleges, prague universities in english, prague universities, studying in czech republic in english, study in czech republic for international studentsOne of the Prague universities I want to tell you about is Anglo-American University. As in Poland, private schools only came into existence after the end of the Cold War. Though AAU is a fairly young school, in terms of Prague universities, founded in 1990, it is the oldest private institution of higher education in the Czech Republic. There are a number of schools throughout Europe that are accredited by US agencies and they use that as a way to charge American-sized tuition.  One of the many benefits of college in Europe is the affordability, so I tend not to give those schools much attention.  Anglo-American University interested me as all of their programs are English conducted, they tout an American style of teaching, and they have WASC accreditation, an agency that also accredits schools like Stanford University. Despite all of that, their tuition is incredibly reasonable at under 4,500 euros (currency conversion) per year – making AAU a Prague university value!

The facilities at AAU are incredible.  They recently moved to a location in a great part of the city near the Prague Castle. It’s a historic building that they renovated for school use.  I can’t even begin to tell you how beautiful it is, so it’s worth checking out here. Be sure to look at the computer lab!

AAU has seven bachelor’s degree programs (all of their programs are conducted in English). Like most schools in Europe, students apply to an actual program but since there are a lot of electives students can generally do an internal transfer to switch programs after the first year.  AAU prides itself on small class size (max of 25 students), interactive group work and class discussions. The small student body does not mean that students have a limited choice of classes.  Over 200 courses are generally offered each semester. Some of the classes sound really cool as well.  Isn’t it a great time in our world to take a Psychology of Aggression course?  There is also a class about NATO in which different NATO representatives give virtual lectures throughout the semester.

The small student body allows students and professors to get to know each other and professors are accessible to students inside and outside of class.  The small school size presents less potential social issues than in the US.  While there are a number of ways to get involved socially at AAU, staying in a student residence opens up your opportunity to experience student life in Prague as a whole.

Charles: A Prague University with Liberal Arts

On the other end of the school size spectrum in Prague universities is Charles University.  Charles University is enormous with locations all around Prague. Charles University was founded in 1348, making it one of the oldest universities in the world. There are 52,000 students at the school and the school is globally ranked. Liberal Arts programs appeal to a lot of US students partly because it’s what we are familiar with and partly because many students don’t know what they want to study when applying to college.  Most of the liberal arts options are in the Netherlands, which have a 4 AP requirement, so I was interested in learning about the option offered at Charles University.

The Liberal Arts program at Charles University is fairly new. It started in 2012 and has about 45 students per class.  Though it is called Liberal Arts, after learning about it, I think it’s more similar to the integrated programs like the Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) or Philosophy, Politics, Law & Economics (PPLE) programs offered at many schools.  Of course, integrated programs are also a great option for students who aren’t sure what they want to study or can’t decide on just a single area of study. During the first year, students take introductory courses in European History, Anthropology, Economics, Psychology, and Sociology.  They also have four different small seminars and choices for electives. Electives account for more than a third of the required credits, so it is here that students can focus on their areas of interest within the disciplines.

Comprehensive exams account for 40 of the 180 total credits.  These are not formal classes, but independent work that is done through the semester (during the 2nd and 3rd year) preparing for the exam.  Students are required to take comprehensive exams in four different subjects.  For each of these, they choose a set number of books to read off of a list (usually they choose 12).  They then give a presentation and have an oral exam about the reading they did.  Needless to say, this requires that the student is independent with good time management and study skills.  The programs end with a bachelor’s thesis, another opportunity for the student to focus on their specific area of interest.

This department is about 20 minutes on the metro from the city center, in a less picturesque area of Prague. Large universities sometimes concern me as getting through bureaucratic levels in one’s own language can be a headache enough without throwing language barriers in the mix.  However, students take the majority of their classes within the department and the International Students Office and Student Administration Office within the department can meet most of the students’ needs.

Summary of Prague Universities

If you’re interested in studying in the Czech Republic in English, there are 45 English conducted bachelor’s programs in the country, 32 of which are at Prague universities.  The average tuition in the Czech Republic is just €4,260 (convert to $). Prague universities provide great options for students who want to take advantage of the affordable tuition of Eastern Europe while living in a livable and beautiful city.  I have to tell you, I’m actually glad that I’m not a big fan of the heavy meat-based Czech foods otherwise I would have had trouble leaving!

Study in Poland for Affordable, Outstanding College and University Options

Before we get to the options to study in Poland, I need to set the scene of my visit there. This trip to Eastern Europe is really making me regret not paying more attention in high school history classes.  The end of the Cold War was even a current event when I was in high school, that I was largely oblivious too. I do remember being afraid of Russia in elementary school, but I think that was because they were often portrayed as villains on Wonder Woman.  In many European cities, you can feel the history through the beautiful architecture.  Not so much the case in Warsaw.  I didn’t realize that over 85% of the city center was destroyed in WWII. The Soviet Union liberated Poland from the occupation by German forces in 1944 and then took over and installed a Communist government which ruled until 1990. One neighborhood in the city center, Old Town, was meticulously rebuilt after the war to look like it did in the 1800’s. Walkistudy in poland, Poland universities, study medicine in Polandng through Old Town, now a UNESCO World Heritage site is pretty wild.  It looks like it was built in the over 200 years ago when in fact it was built in the 1950’s-and the Royal Palace wasn’t completed until the 1980’s!  This is a very small part of Warsaw, one that you aren’t likely to spend much time in as a student, other than to show visiting friends and family the town. The rest of the city has the drab architecture that reminds me of the public housing projects in my hometown of Chicago. In many areas, Warsaw lacks the European charm I find in so many other cities.

Kozminski University: A Rising Star

I’ve learned that the inside of a building in Warsaw is often much more impressive than the exterior.  The building of my Airbnb looked quite dumpy from the exterior even through the entryway and stairways.  The inside held one of the nicest and most modern Airbnb’s I’ve stayed in. The same can be said for Kozminski University. The building was bought, not built, by the University in 1993 so the outside does not look particularly impressive. The facilities inside, however, are modern and well maintained. Kozminski is unique in that all of their facilities are on one campus and are quite extensive, including a sports hall, two sports fields, a gym, post office, ATM machines, four cafeterias, multiple computer labs, a modern library and a simulation courtroom for law students. The campus is about 20 minutes from the city center but is right across the street from a tram line that connects directly to the city center and a monthly transit pass costs only about $25 (and even less for students)!

So let me back up for a minute back to the impact of Communist rule. Privatization was prohibited until after the Cold War ended in 1989, so all of the private universities in Poland are still quite new. Kozminski was founded in just 1993, so it is especially impressive is that they hold the study in poland, Poland universities, study medicine in Polandprestigious “triple crown” accreditation and has very high ratings from the Financial Times.  Their tuition, at around $4,000 a year, is an unheard of bargain for those of us familiar with the astronomical US prices but is thought of as high for Poland, so Kozminski recognizes that they need to provide high-end value and student satisfaction.  To that end, they focus on combining practice with theory and also developing relationships with companies around the globe that provide their students with employment, internships, lectures, and workshops.  Some of the companies they have strong relationships with include Accenture, Deloitte, Loreal, and 3M. Recruitment events occur throughout the year, with some that focus on bringing in employers from one specific country at a time. They also have an entrepreneurial program called Grow Point, in which mentors from various companies help students turn their business ideas into successful ventures.  An impressive 90% of their graduates find work within 90 days of graduation!

Kozminski has three different English conducted bachelor’s programs which are all three years in duration.  There is a program in Finance and Accounting, one in Management (with specialization choices of Entrepreneurship, Marketing, or International Management made after the first year) and a Management with Professional Placement program.  This is a double degree program with DHBW in Germany.  Students study in Poland their 1st and 3rd year at Kozminski and their 2nd year at DHBW.  Summers are spent doing paid work for the companies who actually make the admissions decisions! There are two other double degree programs (one with the European Business School in Germany and one with KEDGE in France), but students don’t apply for these until they study in Poland for their first year.

Classes are a mixture of lectures, seminars, group work and case studies.  Most classes have both graded work through the semester in addition to a final exam, which students are able to retake if they don’t pass. Polish law requires all students to complete a three-week minimum internship, though most Kozminski students intern for at least a semester. The small school size of 8,000 allows smaller class sizes (usually around 30) and access outside of class time to professors.

The admissions process for international students is quite simple.  Students do need to have their high school studies completed at the time of application, but the admissions period does not even open until May and continues through August, which should allow for students to attend in the fall after their senior year.  No entrance exam is needed, students complete an online application and upload their documents. Students generally receive an admissions decision within 10 days.

About half of the programs at Kozminski are conducted in English and 70% of the students in the English conducted programs are international students from 70 different countries, which makes Kozminski the most internationalized school in Poland. Though English is widely spoken at Kozminski, students may choose to take Polish as a second language (with other language options provided as well). The Student Services department helps incoming students find housing. Kozminski does not provide housing and most students choose to stay in apartments while they study in Poland which range from 200-300 Euros per month. Kozminski holds a one-week orientation program before school begins and international students can participate in a buddy program.  Both Erasmus Student Network (ESN) and the Student Council arrange social events like parties and trips throughout the year.  As in most European colleges, student life extends outside of the university into the city far more than it does in US schools.  International students at Kozminski have put together a blog which gives great insight into the student life in Warsaw.

University of Warsaw: A Public Value

I wondered about the international student experience at a large public university. With more than 58,000 students, the University of Warsaw is larger than every US university, but one (Ohio State). It is globally ranked and offers seven English conducted bachelor’s programs including American Studies, Archaeology, English Studies, Finance, Accounting,  Internal Security, International Relations, and Philosophy of Being, Cognition, and Value.  Tuition for these programs ranges from 2,000-3,000 Euros per year and each one is just three years in duration.

For a firsthand perspective, I met with Josh D., a former US Marine from Florida who now studies International Relations at the university.  His first international exposure came during his years of overseas duty. His posting to the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group (Marines provide security at embassies around the world) really increased his interest in higher education and stoked a desire for continued international experiences.  He also met his study in poland, Poland universities, study medicine in Polandnow-wife while serving at the US Embassy in Warsaw.  Josh’s studies are financed through the GI Bill which, until now, I didn’t realize could be used to fund college in Europe (more info here)!  The Polish conducted programs are free, so the English conducted programs are seen as the university cash cow.  Josh dispelled my images of crowded lectures and no contact with professors. His program is the largest English conducted program at the university and has only 300 students in total.  Students take courses with other students in their same year.  Josh is in his second year which has only 70 other students.  For most of his classes, the 70 students are split into three groups of just over 20 students each, though there are a few lecture courses that they all attend together.  The groupings also provide some flexibility for students.  If a student has to miss a class with their group on one day, they can go to the other groups class the next day.  Josh said that the professors are very accessible and encourage students to interact in class, during office hours, and through email. Josh told me that the international office handles any issues international students have, so students don’t have many struggles with the non-English speaking offices within the university.  The size of the university does cause some bureaucratic headaches, for instance, it took the school six months to reimburse Josh for a trip he had funding for.  Josh echoed what I hear from American students throughout Europe-that he is incredibly happy with his decision to study in Poland and that the impact of having the perspectives from students with tremendously different backgrounds is life changing.

Study in Poland Summary

Are all schools in Warsaw as impressive as the two I’ve written about in this blog? Nope. One of the many benefits Beyond the States members gain is access to objective information I provide in our database about schools I visit – even when that information is negative.  This trip did make me wonder why more students don’t study in Poland.  A lot of students use our Best Fit Program service in which they fill out information about their interests, preferences, qualifications, etc and then I compile a short list of programs I think they should look at. Many students say that they are open to suggestions in any country. Other students request a number of specific countries. I have yet to see a form that requests an option to study in Poland.  Why is that, I wonder? There are some excellent opportunities here at incredible prices. Further, the cost of living is incredibly affordable.  Almost every purchase I made while I was here was under $10 and meals out with wine were under $15. While Warsaw is not the most picturesque city in Europe, there are other cities that did not suffer the same destruction during WWII that appear to have more of the Old World charm (if that is a deal breaker for you). If you are looking for high-quality programs at an unbelievable value, consider your options to study in Poland.

Holidays for an International College Student

Thanksgiving can be a bit hard for first year students in Europe. It’s just like any other day with classes and student sometimes are a bit homesick by this time.  Many American students gather with other international students and school staff to celebrate holidays from home that aren’t recognized by their school country.   Some international student offices even arrange such celebrations.  When my kids go to college in Europe, I plan to fly over and spend time over Thanksgiving weekend together-either in the town of their school or a quick nearby getaway. Fortunately, Christmas break is right around the corner and most American students do go home for the break, since schools have at least a two week break around this time.

Students can benefit from experiencing different holidays and festival traditions that they would not otherwise be exposed to. Travel expert Rick Steves has an extensive list of holidays and festivals by country. Here are a few of our favorites.

christmasmarketjenaChristmas Markets

Christmas in Europe centers on an Advent market that, in most cases, has filled the square before the cathedral each December for hundreds of years. Many markets start on the Friday before Advent, which is four Sundays before Christmas Eve; most end on December 24, especially in Germanic countries, where Christmas Eve is set aside for trimming the tree at home. Here’s a really great article to help identify the best ones from our friends at Dispatches Europe.

If you’re having trouble getting in the yuletide spirit or you’re not the shopping type, there’s always the legendary Christmas Beer Festival in Essen, Belgium. This festival features 178 different beers, including some of the best beers in the world, in a celebration of the diversity of Belgian beer culture.

images-15Carnival

According to Wikipedia, “Carnival is a pre-Lent season of festivities Carnival typically involves a public celebration and/or parade combining some elements of a circus, masks, and a public street party.” Carnival is celebrated in New Orleans as Mardi Gras. You may have already heard of Carnival in Venice with its masks and elaborate costumes. Venice is perfectly nice, but if you’re looking for a similar festival with a less touristy vibe, check out Croatia. Established in 1982, Rijeka, Croatia holds the country’s largest carnival festival of parades and costumes. the 2017 Carnival runs from January 17 until March 1, so there’s ample opportunity to check this out on a break or as a weekend trip.

Midsummer’s Eve

In Sweden, Midsummer’s Eve is one of the most important days of the year, rivaling Christmas with its festive spirit and traditions. Traditionally, Midsummer was celebrated on June 24, the feast day of St. John the Baptist, but the holiday has its roots in a pre-Christian summer solstice festival. In 1952, the Swedish Parliament decided that Midsummer should always be celebrated on a weekend. As a result, the observance of Midsummer now varies between June 20 and 26. Midsummer Eve activities include folk dancing in traditional costumes around the Maypole and games for all ages. At some point, festival goers enjoy a meal of herring with new potatoes and a glass of schnapps.

 

Prague Pride

orlando-830x365There are many pride festivals across Europe. The biggest one in Central/Eastern Europe, Prague Pride, happens in August in the capitol of the Czech Republic. 40,000 people gathered together to celebrate equal right to love.  Although they sometimes look like carnivals, gay pride parades are an opportunity to show that all citizens should have the same rights in our society. The 2016 edition of Prague Pride included a memorial service for the victims of the Orlando, Florida, night club massacre where 49 people were killed at a gay night club.

 

 

Six College Related Travel Experiences

Someone close to you may think this “college in Europe” stuff is a pretty frivolous idea – that it’s all just an excuse for you to take selfies at the castles from Game of http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/jun/24/queen-tours-notorious-belfast-prison-crumlin-roadThrones or to attend Europe’s best summer music festivals. Here are six other travel experiences connected to school that you’re probably not aware of yet (and don’t involve Finnish hipsters, organic food trucks or Massive Attack).

1. College visits

Once you’ve decided on a school or narrowed your choices to a very short list, you’ll naturally start thinking of visits. The great news is that we’ve already visited a lot of these schools for you. Here’s an example of Jennifer’s visit to Copenhagen Business School. In addition, some schools have virtual tours on their websites. You can also find videos on YouTube, such as this one from Finnish student Whity. If an in-person visit is within your budget, we can help you plan the optimal trip through our Consulting services.

2. Internships and study abroad

At some scSciencesPo-Paris-Campushools, internships and/or study abroad are mandatory elements of the program. For example, SciencesPo in France requires every student complete a study abroad year during their three year program. Internships can offer a huge aid in getting a job after college and are a key experiential aspect to completing many programs, such as business, engineering and communications.

3. Be a guest for the weekend

International students are often housed together, why not try to wrangle an invitation to your Italian friend’s home for the weekend to experience another culture?

4. Take advantage of great deals

Is your weekend suddenly free after a big academic crunch? Europe is so compact with extensive train networks that taking day or weekend trips is very doable. Lots of cheap flights are available, too, on airlines like Ryannair, Spirit and most recently Iceland’s WOW Air. Be wary, though, the cheap airfares may carry add on fees that make them less attractive.

5. Club trips

Schools have many clubs to suit different interests. Many clubs organize trips for students as activities. For example, the Stockholm University Student Union traveled to Lapland, which is above the Arctic Circle. Activities on this trip included driving a sled dog team, visiting a famous ice hotel and learning about the Sami, the indigenous people of Northern Scandinavia. For a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, they traveled in an overnight ferry between the cities. Students could have a refreshment, take a sauna or show their moves on the dance floor! The next morning students woke up in a new city ready to explore the next destination.

6. National holidays

There are different national holidays in Europe than the US. For instance, in the Netherlands, Kingsday 2007 boatEdwin van Eisthe birthday of the king is a cause for celebration called King’s Day. Celebrated on April 27th, this event combines a nationwide flea market and many concerts and special events in public spaces, particularly in Amsterdam. Don’t forget to wear orange, if you want to fit in.

Ready to learn more?

Beyond the States helps students and parents find the right college for them outside the US. We offer personalized recommendations for students who are considering studying abroad and our online guide to the thousands of English-taught bachelor’s programs in Europe is unique. We can also help you work through the sometimes complicated process of applying to college, finalizing your paperwork and moving abroad. Contact us to take the next ste

 

Firsthand: Groningen University

03-12-23 groningen-01A lot of people (including myself until recently) would have trouble naming cities in the Netherlands other than Amsterdam (and possibly The Hague). Groningen is a city that isn’t well known, but has a tremendous amount to offer students. It is a true student town, with students making up 25% of the 250,000 population. Even outside of students, it is a young city as 50% of the population is under the age of 35. Groningen is as compact as it is easy to navigate. I liked it immediately when I got off the train. The Groningen Museum is right across the canal from the train station and had signs out for the David Bowie exhibit. I didn’t get a chance to check it out, but it sounds pretty interesting. The city center is also about a 5 minute walk from the station and filled with shops, cafes, and a large outdoor market where I had my first stroopwafel.

The main buildings for the university are also in the city center, about a 15 minute walk from the train station. This area houses all programs other than the Economics and Business programs and Science programs which are on a campus about 10 minutes away by bike.

Groningen University is one of the oldest schools in the Netherlands, founded in 1614, and is consistently ranked in the top 100 global universities. They offer 23 English conducted bachelor’s programs as well as a liberal arts program at their University College. One might then wonder if admissions are competitive. The answer is “No”. If a program does not have an enrollment cap, you are admitted if you have the equivalent of a Dutch VWO level high school diploma. For American students, this means either an IB diploma, 4 AP scores of 3+ or 1 year of college-students from other countries can find their entry requirements here. That’s all! No assessment of extracurricular activities, test scores, etc. If you are qualified, you get in. The more popular programs have enrollment caps to control class size. For these programs, qualified applicants are further assessed based on their motivation letter. The admission process for the liberal arts programs offered by the University College is more involved. In addition to the above, there is a math requirement and motivational video or essay.

Though it may not be hard to get into the school, students must work to stay in school. Year one is an evaluation of sorts. Students have to pass 75% of their first year courses in order to be able to continue their studies. That said, the school is invested in helping students succeed. Semesters are broken into 9 weeks blocks. Study advisors keep an eye on grades at the end of each 9 week period to provide resources to students who might be at risk.

Classes have a lecture component (usually around 200 students), but the same class also has seminar groups with the professor. These are usually limited to 10-15 students and attendance is mandatory. Students are encouraged-and expected-to disagree with the professor during these group discussions, which can be hard for some international students to adjust to. The other expectation that some American students specifically have trouble adjusting to relates to self- study. At the beginning of the 9 week block, students receive a schedule that communicates what will be taught each week along with the expected reading throughout the week to prepare for the lecture and seminar group. This is not checked on through assignments, but will determine success for the test at the end of the semester, which is usually all the grade for the class is based on.

Speaking of grades, don’t expect A’s! The Dutch use a 10 point grading system. 5 and lower is failing, 6 is ok, 7 is good, 8 is really good, 9 is excellent, and 10 is almost never given as it means you know as much as or more than the professor. More than grades, the emphasis is on making sure that students understand the information. Some professors have started utilizing a system to evaluate this during their lectures. They have an app that allows professors to ask questions about the lecture he/she is giving and students respond to the questions on their phones. The professor then gets a percentage of the students who got the answer right. If not enough are grasping the topic, he/she knows to elaborate on the topic.

The above information pertains to all departments at Groningen University except for the Groningen University College. This is really an incredible program that I want to focus on. The University College is the liberal arts program at the university. They are somewhat self-contained; their classes are held within one building and there is a residential component. Their offering combines the benefits of a small boutique college with the resources of a top university. The program started two years ago, during which the number of students admitted each year was limited to 25. This year (2016) they are increasing it to 100 students per year, so they still have spots for students.

During the first year of the program, students get a taste of each of the majors through the core program. Global challenges (and solutions) are a theme throughout the first year as are research methods and skills. The second year, students choose and focus on a major, integrative project, and research and methodology. The final year can include study abroad, more majors, and a capstone project (which is the thesis). I met with an American student who is in his second year of the program who could not be happier with the experience.

Most university students in the Netherlands continue on for their master’s degree after obtaining their bachelor’s. Until 9 years ago, university bachelor’s and master’s programs were combined. Thus, the concept of a bachelor’s degree is unfamiliar to many employers in the Netherlands who expect a master’s. Graduates from Groningen’s bachelor’s degree programs (including the university college) have direct admission into the related master’s degree programs at the University!