I often get questions about whether a degree from Europe will be “good” in the US.. Degree accreditation and recognition can be confusing, so today I’d like to dive into this a bit.
Let’s start with accreditation. Accreditation is basically a stamp of approval by an accrediting agency that deems that university programs have met certain standards set out by whoever the accreditor is. The most important thing is to make sure that the accrediting body is recognized by the country of the university. In most countries, other than the US, accreditation is granted by a governmental body which is usually the Ministry of Education. Since public universities in Europe are heavily funded by taxes, the accreditation process is quite thorough. Since there is only one accrediting agency per country, the criteria used is consistent.
I sometimes hear from people who say that they want to narrow their search to European universities with US accreditation. You will not find a public university in Europe that has American accreditation simply because these are not American institutions. There are some private American universities based in Europe and these universities generally have both American accreditation and accreditation by the country in which they are functioning.
It’s important to note that, just like in every country, there are schools in Europe that don’t have the accreditation necessary to be fully recognized in their country. I sometimes get emails with a link university website asking why we don’t have it listed in our database. We require the full accreditation, even for private universities (except for Greece due to a law they have around private universities), for inclusion in our database. This is just one thing that sets us apart from the other portals you will find online.
In the US, the government doesn’t give accreditation itself but approves various accrediting agencies (as does the Council for Higher Education Accreditation). These are often, but not always, regionally based like Middle States Commission on Higher Education and WASC Accrediting Commission. There are also national accrediting agencies as well as specialized accrediting agencies (for degrees like law, nursing, medicine, and such).
One issue with this method is that the criteria used for accreditation is not necessarily consistent across the board, since there are a number of agencies involved. The other is that schools can be accredited by an agency that has not been approved by CHEA or the DOA, effectively making the degree worthless. It can be confusing for students because the school can claim-and honestly-that they are accredited. It’s important to note that these degrees aren’t recognized because they are US institutions that aren’t accredited by approved agencies in the US. This is VERY different than how degrees are viewed from universities in other countries that fulfilled the accreditation requirements within that country.
Recognition of the diploma is a different concept. The term can mean a few different things and can be used to mean an informal recognition or an official/formal process. If you are returning to the US after graduating, you will need your diploma recognized (either formally or informally) as valid by either an employer, graduate school, or a licensure board. Let’s walk through how having a foreign degree may affect each of these.
If you return to the US for graduate school, you won’t be an international student but you will be applying with a foreign degree. There were more than 1 million international students studying at universities in the US during the 2019-20 school year. This indicates that admissions departments are very familiar with assessing foreign degrees. Most use a credentialing agency to assess the degrees and ensure that they are valid, which is part of the admissions process. To note, you will still need to take the GMAT, GRE, LSAT, etc and meet any prerequisites the university has.
The exception to the ease in which you can apply to graduate school in the US is medical school. If going to medical school in the US is the goal, the decision to study outside of the country should be carefully evaluated. Many US medical schools require a degree from the US and those that don’t do require at least one year of coursework from an American or Canadian university (usually science classes). It’s not an insurmountable problem, as some of the credits could be gained in the US or Canada during a semester abroad and potentially even summer classes. The specific requirements around the US programs you are interested in should be explored in depth before deciding to study outside of the US.
When applying for a job, you will likely not need to take any official steps for recognition. Many companies are multinational and/or have been employing people from other countries for many years so seeing degrees from other countries is commonplace. Further, most of the students who pursue universities abroad would be seeking employment with companies that have some aspect of internationalization, simply because their own interests and values related to global citizenship is one thing that led them to study abroad in the first place.
But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that the student is applying to a small company in a small town and is concerned that the HR department is unfamiliar with the value of a foreign degree. The student could either attach a statement about the school to their resume, with information about accreditation and rankings by US sources or go through the degree verification process (more on that in a bit). That said, no company can be familiar with all of the higher education institutes in the US alone. Because quality and accreditation varies so widely, when the “quality” of the degree matters for the job, there are often systems in place to evaluate this whether the degree is from the US or elsewhere.
There is also evidence that the name of the university matters very little in the hiring process, and this becomes even more true with there is relevant experience (including internships) on the applicant’s resume. Certainly the soft skills gained by studying outside of your home country is something that employers are looking for, and these could be highlighted in a cover letter.
Professions that require licensure are a different matter. These include many careers related to health care, education, social work, psychology, law, and architecture. There are some fields of study, like education, that really do need study completed in the country in which you intend to work. If you want to be a teacher in the US, you need to learn about the curriculum and policies specific to the US. In fact, the majority of the English-taught education type programs in Europe focus on teaching at international schools as opposed to the education system in that country. A university in Finland, for instance, wouldn’t have an education program about the Finnish education system taught in English because teachers in Finland need to be fluent in Finnish.
The most important thing to note about the careers that require licensure is that most-not all, but most- are going to require a master’s degree before licensure. Many of our members intend to work in Europe after graduating. However, if you are sure that you want to eventually work in the US in one of these careers, perhaps getting your bachelor’s in Europe and your master’s in the US is a solution.
The other thing to recognize is that most of these careers are still possible with a degree from abroad, though there will be hoops to jump through. In most cases there is a process to go through to get your degree validated and ensure that it included certain learning objectives. I have my LCSW, so I’m somewhat familiar with sites around licensure and decided to look at the specifics around licensure with a foreign degree. For this particular profession, the Council on Social Work Education will assess information sent from the university about the competencies and expected outcomes related to the program. Though you have to dig into the site a bit, they list all of the expected outcomes they are looking for. You can use this type of information when choosing a program to look at how their expected outcomes compare to the standards required for US licensure in your field of interest. In other cases, you many need to get your own credential verification by an agency like World Education Services, which costs around $200 (depending on the type of evaluation needed).
There are a lot of opinions out there about recognition and accreditation. I sometimes see them presented as “facts” as comments on the facebook ads. Before sending my son (and soon my daughter) to school in Europe, I thoroughly researched whether this would hold them back in their future. If you are still doubtful, I encourage you to do your own research. Look at the admissions pages for graduate school programs in the US, look at LinkedIn to see where people with degrees from abroad are working, and check the licensure board websites of fields of interest. I think you will be happy to learn that pursuing the affordable and life changing options in Europe will, in most cases, keep these doors open for you!