Does College In State Cost Less than Studying in Europe?


The first benefit of college in Europe that caught my attention was the dramatic cost difference! Some of our Facebook ads and posts are about these savings and people sometimes comment along the lines of “In-state is still less expensive”. First of all, I find it interesting that people express this as a fact. Certainly, there are some in-state options that are less expensive than some options in Europe, but how about more generally speaking? 

I’ve done a tuition cost comparison for public universities in the past, using tuition information from one of our members who is studying in Prague. Her tuition in Prague is right around the average in Europe, at $6,700 per year, but her in-state tuition at public University of Connecticut is quite high at $12,848 (which does not even include the almost $3,000 of mandatory fees). Since the program in Europe takes just three years to achieve a bachelor’s, she will pay a total of $20,100 in tuition.  At UConn, she would pay $38,544 in tuition alone for the four year program. That’s a savings of $18,444, which does not even consider how much less expensive her housing and meals are in Prague.  According to Expatistan, the cost of living is 59% lower in Prague, so the savings will still be significant, even after factoring in airfare.

We recently had dinner with some family friends and their daughter, Nicole, who is a freshman at North Carolina State in Raleigh. We talked a lot about her college experience and the various costs involved.  I decided to do a more in-depth comparison using the numbers she provided as well as the budget we have for Sam’s first year to see if the savings hold up. 

Sam will attend Leiden University, in the Hague. The first thing to note is that the tuition at Leiden is on the higher side of the tuition range in Europe.  The average tuition for the English-taught bachelor’s programs in Europe is right around $7,000.  We will pay $12,010 per year for Sam’s tuition as an international student. Nicole pays $2,910 less for in-state tuition at NC State.  The cost of books is comparable.

Food and housing is where we start seeing a big difference!  In much of Europe student residences aren’t owned by the school. This creates choices for students in addition to market college in europe costcompetition.  Though students can often find housing for under $500 per month, I put the housing budget for Sam at $680. This is on the higher side of the range in order to show that the cost difference is significant even if a student can’t find the least expensive option.  So, for $6,800 per school year (10 months), Sam will have a private room that is larger than the room Nicole shares with a roommate.  He will either have a private bathroom or will share with one other student.  He will share a common space and kitchen with other students as well.  Nicole shares a bathroom with seven other students and does not have access to a kitchen, which brings me to the cost of meals….

Nicole has a meal plan through her sorority that provides 10 meals per week for $2,000 per year.  Of course, there are more meals in a week than that, so she has a meal plan on campus that provides $1,500 worth of food per year and then she gets take out or delivery about 5 times per month. Her overall food total is then $4,000 (or $400 per month).

There aren’t meal plans in Europe.  Larger universities have cafes and cafeterias on campus, but they aren’t meant to feed students for every meal.  The norm is that students cook for themselves.  This is often an adjustment for American students, but so many of the students I have talked to love how meals in their student residences become a multicultural event!  I’m not sure whether $200 a month, as in the budget for Sam, seems high or low to me at this point.  It’s a number that seems reasonable, given what I saw on many different Dutch university websites about student budget. Certainly, $200 per month could buy a lot of ramen noodles, but I am hopeful that he expands his repertoire!

One benefit to living in many European cities is the ability to use public transportation! Students in the Netherlands can take public transportation for free at certain points of the day and have discounted rates at others.  The $600 total transportation budget includes local travel, travel within the country, as well as the purchase of a second-hand bike.  In Raleigh, Nicole does not have access to many public transportation options.  She spends about $50 per month on Uber and another $15 a month on the party bus her sorority rents to take to events.

The $2,000 sorority dues are the reason that Nicole’s social budget is so much higher than Sam’s, as well as the personal care budget since the sorority events usually involve things like getting her nails and hair done and such.  Sam has expenses that Nicole won’t have, with his student residence permit and costs for traveling home.  Of course, there will be other expenses for both that this budget doesn’t account for, but those should be comparable enough that they would be close to a wash.

So where does that leave us? Each year, Nicole pays a total of $29,150.  Sam will pay $25,860.

You might think that Nicole’s number is higher than it needs to be, since she is in a sorority.  That would only take $2,000 per year off though, which is still higher than Sam’s yearly number.

You might say to yourself that a savings of $3,290 per year is not that significant.  I totally agree. Where we get to the real savings is when you look at the fact that many European bachelor’s degree programs, including Leiden, take just 3 years to complete.  That make our overall savings $39,020!  Also consider that Sam will be earning an income (and off our bankroll…) one year earlier which increases the savings even further.

While the savings are certainly a tangible and significant benefit, we would still have pursued these options if the price was comparable.  Certainly, there are other benefits like a transparent admissions process and those related to educational outcomes.  Just as important to us, though, is what this experience can do for the overall perspective of the student.  He will make friends from around the world, which helps cultivate his identity as a global citizen. He will gain great confidence from learning to successfully navigate unfamiliar situations. According to research published in the Harvard Business Review, this international experience will help his career, too. One of our members-the one who is studying in Prague-described it incredibly well.  She told me that when she first went to school in Europe it felt like a really big deal.  After being there for almost two years and developing the traits noted above, she feels like the world is within her reach.  I can’t tell you how much I love that!




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