Jenn Viemont: This is episode three of the Beyond the States podcast. Today our topic is admissions. After discussing some of the problems around higher education Admissions here in the US, we'll be talking to Maarten Dikhoff from Groningen University, a top 100 school in the Netherlands about how things are dramatically different for students applying to schools in Europe.
Intro: You're listening to the Beyond the States podcast with Jenn Viemont. Did you know that you can go to Europe and get your entire degree taught in English for less than one year of tuition at many American schools? Jenn will take you on a deep dive into the many benefits and options around English-taught higher education in Europe, helping to make the possibility less foreign.
Jenn Viemont: Hello, and thanks for joining me today. We'll be talking to Maarten in just a bit. But let's start by touching down on some of the problems with the admissions processes here in the States. There are a ton of books written on this topic. I've been reading a number of them over the last couple of years. And I'll be referencing them throughout this episode. But just so you know, the information on all of these resources will be in our show notes.
So my two main stressors around higher education before we knew about college in Europe were cost and admissions. The increase in the number of very selective schools is something that's changed dramatically in the last few decades, not only due to changes in birth rates, but due to the growth in the influence of the US News and World Report rankings, which actually didn't begin until the mid 80s. So now it's not just the elite Ivys with crazy low acceptance rates. Places I've never heard of like College of the Ozarks in Missouri and Alice Lloyd in Kentucky have lower acceptance rates than even Brown University, which is crazy low at 8.7%. Due to funding issues and such, state schools aren't able to grow to keep up with the demand. So there are many like the SUNY schools or UCLA that are under 20% acceptance rates, and even Fort Valley State in Georgia, never heard of it, is at 21%.
In a previous episode, I talked about how Middlebury in Vermont might be a good fit for our son Sam's interests, if it weren't cost prohibitive. Well, even if we won the lottery, he'd have trouble getting in with their 17% acceptance rate. I want to say right off the bat that I have no problem with hard work and busyness. I really value hard work so long as it's meaningful. "Race to Nowhere" came out before Sam was in high school, and guys, it scared me. One thing I really love are our family dinners together, which happened most weeknights. Now, I might not enjoy it during the actual meal while Sam and Ellie are arguing about something or someone's complaining about having salmon again. I'm also not making claims about frequent meaningful conversations that happen during this time, but it's a time where we take a break from our other activities, and we put down our electronics, and make each other a priority for just a small amount of time. These meals together are just one of the sacrifices that would likely have to be made if we were playing the US admissions game.
Vicki Abeles, who was the filmmaker behind "Race to Nowhere" noted that by the time many students reach high school, their daily routine will include seven or more hours of school, plus two hours of school-sponsored sports or activities, plus the inevitable third shift; three or four, or even five hours of homework at night. You guys, that stresses me out just even, even reading it, much less living it. And because the college admissions process is holistic, if you could see me right now, you'd see that I was putting air quotes around "holistic." Kids are pushed to excel in every area to outshine the other applicants.
The book "Beyond Measure" noted that in the US, there is a school culture, a community culture, in which there is this reverberating message "More is always better. Do more, accomplish more, achieve more." And the book "Losing Our Minds" put it great, they said, "The only point of having more is having more than everybody else." Nobody needed 20,000 atomic warheads until the other side had 19,000. Nobody needs 11 extracurriculars either. What purpose does having them actually serve unless the other guy has 10? So due to these, this culture and these expectations, kids are choosing activities and classes around whether they can show up on college applications. The accomplishments have to be quantifiable, measurable, and chosen based on that, as opposed to exploring interests or discovering interests.
So take AP classes, for instance, kids are encouraged to take as many as possible for the college admissions process. There's another applicant with a higher SAT score. Maybe your extra APs will weigh more than that and help you out. However, the learning in AP courses has been criticized lately as superficial in its content and in not allowing for intellectual exploration. What I found really interesting is a study done by Dartmouth University in which incoming freshmen who scored a 5.0 on the AP psych test took a version of the Intro to Psych final. Ninety percent of those students failed, even though they got a 5.0 on the AP psych test. Further, the students who failed and then enrolled in the class didn't do any better than those who didn't take AP psych in high school at all.
There's this great book called "Crazy You." I highly recommend it; very, very readable. And they talked about how the typical college admissions counselor spends an average of just five minutes reading each application. And since there are so many highly qualified applicants, admissions counselors often have to look for reasons not to admit somebody, whether it's that the applicant didn't have enough AP classes, their class ranking isn't high enough, their SAT/ACT scores are mediocre. They don't have enough extracurricular activities, with leadership roles preferably, or their summers aren't filled with sufficient enrichment. But wait, too many extracurriculars may indicate that the applicant lacks focus. Also, the applicant shouldn't focus on just one type of extracurricular, where it might look like he doesn't have a diversity of interest.
The list of reasons not to admit an applicant goes on and on. I can't even imagine how I would cope with that if we had to navigate that system. It's called a holistic process, but often has seemingly arbitrary results. Frank Bruni hit it right on the money when he said the admission game is too flawed and too rigged to be given so much credit. But like the high cost, I thought this was fairly inescapable. Also like cost, this is an area that is dramatically different in Europe. Now, I do want to note that we're talking about an entire continent, and there are differences from country to country and school to school. Generally speaking though, schools have a set of criteria that they feel are needed in order to be successful in their program. And if you have those criteria, if you meet that criteria and apply, when there's still space in the program, you're in. That's it. These are also, again, generally speaking, fairly objective in nature, and also not negotiable. If they say you need a minimum score of 29 in your ACT and you have a 28, then you know not to apply, no matter how high your GPA is.
Now I will tell you that there are a small handful of countries that require American students applying for Bachelors programs to have a certain number of AP scores that are 3.0 or higher. The research universities in the Netherlands require four AP scores. The school Sam is interested in is one of those, so he will take exactly four AP classes. Would it help him to have seven AP scores? Nope. He just needs the four. More won't help, but less will disqualify him.
I want to point out though, that there are many universities in the Netherlands, and also throughout Europe, that don't have an AP requirement. Most actually don't have that requirement. I'm noting that because we're about to speak to an administrator about the Netherlands, and I don't want you to think that if you don't have the AP requirements, then you won't qualify anywhere in the Netherlands.
Now let's talk to our guest who can explain more about this. Maarten Dikhoff is the International Marketing Coordinator focusing on North, Central, and South America at Groningen University. Groningen is a top 100 university founded in 1614 in the northern Netherlands. They have over 30 English-taught bachelor's and over 100 masters that are taught in English. Not only is this one of my own personal favorite schools and cities, every one of our members who's visited absolutely loves it.
So Maarten, thanks for joining us today.
Maarten Dikhoff: Thank you.
Jenn Viemont: So I first visited Groningen -- and I know I'm not saying it right -- and I've tried to roll my G, and I can't do it. So can you pronounce it the correct way?
Maarten Dikhoff: Yeah, it's pronounced "Groningen."
Jenn Viemont: Yeah.
Maarten Dikhoff: It's with a very hard G, which is almost impossible to learn when you're a native English speaker.
Jenn Viemont: So is it okay if I call it Groningen?
Maarten Dikhoff: Yeah, that's fine. That's fine. We're not so difficult aboutit.
Jenn Viemont: So I first visited Groningen a couple of years ago when I was doing research about Beyond the States. And I didn't know a whole lot and I was trying to just learn about the differences between countries. And I'll never forget, I was sitting with your colleague, Judith, and we were having a cup of coffee in the academy building, which is this beautiful building right in the middle of Groningen, when she told me about non-selective enrollment. And I had her explain this to me so many times, she must have just thought I was an idiot, because I could not understand it. And it's a concept that took me a long time to wrap my brain around, and that a lot of Americans are having trouble understanding. So can you explain it to our listeners?
Maarten Dikhoff: Yeah. Well, basically, we don't really have a word for non-selective enrollment. We just have enrollment, and we have certain programs that have a selection procedure. But most of the programs, basically, the general rule is that if you have a high school diploma with four APs and a GPA of either 3.0 or 4.0, you are admissible to our programs. And there are no further things you have to do, there are no further rules besides the apparent rules of, for example, if you want to apply for the math or mathematics bachelor program, you need to have an AP in mathematics.
Jenn Viemont: So four AP courses. I think it's a score of 3 or higher and a 3.0 GPA, and that's all?
Maarten Dikhoff: Yes. Of course, we are a top 100 university so our quality of education is quite high, so there is a catch. And the catch is called the Binding Study Advice. And this is a very important thing that Americans and international students should understand, is that we basically do our selection during the first year. So the philosophy is that it's compared to American universities where it's very hard to get into the first year because they look at your grades and your achievements and your extracurricular achievements. With us, it's relatively easy to get into our program, but that first year is really tough.
Maarten Dikhoff: And the way it works is that you can get 60 credits by doing exams, the year is divided in four blocks. So each block of seven weeks, you get classes, and then you get two weeks where you do your exams, and do a total of 60 credits in a year. The important thing to remember is that a student has to achieve 45 credits or more in that first year, or else, they will get a so-called negative binding study advice, which is basically legal speak for that you can't continue the program. And then you are kicked out of that program, and then you can't apply for that program for the next two years.
Maarten Dikhoff: So that is the way we do it. And the reasoning behind it, or at least the way I always explain it, is that students all get a chance to study at our university, or at a university in the Netherlands. And the philosophy is that they can do that, but in the first year they have to show that they are capable of doing so. So that's the reason why the entry requirements are different.
Jenn Viemont: So that's really cool to me. First of all, it's cool to me because I think of so many high school kids who don't want to play the admission game, you know, who don't want to join clubs that don't matter to them. Or maybe they just struggled, they took a little bit of time, it took them until junior or senior year to figure out how to, you know, manage their time or that school mattered. I mean, junior year, you're just 16 years old. I think that's really cool. But I do have a couple of questions about Binding Study Advice. Do they have to have a certain grade or is it passing the test?
Maarten Dikhoff: Basically, you do exams that can either be pass or fail, or you get a grade. If you get -- in general, it can depend a bit on the program and the professor. But in general, if you get a 5.5, 55% basically, then it's a pass.
Jenn Viemont: And if you pass, that's all you need for Binding Study Advice after the first...
Maarten Dikhoff: Yes, because after they pass and get their 45 credits, they stay in the program. And then in the second year, the Binding Study Advice doesn't count anymore. So it's really that first year that is important.
Maarten Dikhoff: So let me ask you this, because some people might be listening to this thinking, Oh no, you know, does that mean that I'll be kicked out after the first year, or my child will be kicked out after the first year? So let's pretend that a student takes her first round of exams. That's probably what, like around Christmas time?
Maarten Dikhoff: Yeah. Usually around the beginning of December, yeah.
Jenn Viemont: Do you have kind of study advisors or anything that are looking at these grades? How about these students who are sort of struggling after their first year?
Maarten Dikhoff: Yeah. That's the nice thing about the system that we have, is that you don't have exams at the end of the year where you have to do everything at once and then know if you passed or failed. Basically, with us, it's four times per year, so four blocks. And what happens is that when students do their first exams at the beginning of December and start failing already, the study advisors will notice, because they have a system where all the grades are kept. And they will notice and they will contact the students and offer support to help them write the study plan, help them write or help them with studying, give them tips, or they can do additional courses in mathematics or statistics, if needed. So there is a very good support system for our students because it's also important to us that our students perform well.
Maarten Dikhoff: That's awesome. So I know you've said you don't call it non-selective enrollment, but that's what I call it, for lack of a better word. But then there's also selective enrollment. So are these programs that you have that are selective enrollment, are they better, and that's why they're selective enrollment?
Maarten Dikhoff: No. All our programs are excellent. There is no difference in quality between non-selective programs or selective programs. The reason why there are -- that some programs are selective is because there's a very high demand for it and they're very popular, and we simply don't have enough professors to teach everybody who wants to do these programs. So in our case, the selective programs are psychology -- it's all bachelor programs. So it's psychology, international relations and the two medicine programs.
Maarten Dikhoff: Correct me if I'm wrong, but the selective enrollment, they just add other things. It's not like for a selective enrollment program, that you then need 10 APs. It's that you have to have a motivation letter, correct?
Maarten Dikhoff: Well, for the medicine program, of course, it's a different story. They might need APs in chemistry, biology, mathematics and physics. But in general, for example, for the International Relations program, there is an additional part where you have to fill out a motivation form, which you can do online, which is also not the same as you are used to in the US where it's like a personal statement describing all your wonderful extracurricular things that you did.
Jenn Viemont: The deepest, darkest emotions.
Maarten Dikhoff: Yes, yes. Yeah. Exactly.
Jenn Viemont: You don't care about their emotion, huh?
Maarten Dikhoff: We don't care about that, no.
Jenn Viemont: And the master's degree programs, they look towards more of the subjective things too, right? Like a reference letter and a motivation letter?
Maarten Dikhoff: Yeah. For the master's programs, it's important that you have a bachelor's degree in -- I always call it "linear master's," which basically means that if you want to, for example, do a bachelor's or a master's degree in psychology, you need to have a bachelor's degree in psychology or related fields.
Jenn Viemont: So I can't have a bachelor's in like international relations, and then go for a master's in psychology?
Maarten Dikhoff: No. That's not possible. You could maybe do -- have a bachelor's in international relations and do a master's program in international law, for example.
Jenn Viemont: Right.
Maarten Dikhoff: There's a certain overlap. But for -- let's say you have a bachelor degree in literature, it is impossible to do a master's degree in psychology.
Maarten Dikhoff: Let's talk about those more subjective factors. What I love about the non-selective enrollment is that it's completely objective; 3.0 GPA, four APS with 3 or higher. And then the selective enrollment, they do have these more subjective factors like a reference letter and a motivation letter. And I can tell you, our listeners are going to be stressed about how that's assessed. You know, kind of what are you looking for so they can do it. How are those assessed in the admission process?
Maarten Dikhoff: It's hard to assess a motivation. So it's basically, what we are looking for when you write a motivation letter is we are looking for the ideal student for this program. So what we are looking for is a student who knows what the program is about, who has an understanding of what the program is, and explains to us why he should be the student that should be in our program. That's basically the motivation that we are looking for. And like...
Jenn Viemont: You're looking for fit? Because it sounds like you're looking for a student who's a good fit for the program, and the program is a good fit for the student. Is that correct?
Maarten Dikhoff: Yeah, exactly.
Jenn Viemont: I've been doing rapid fires for our podcast. So I thought what we'd do for our rapid fire today is I'll go through a list of factors that matter in the US admissions process, and you can say matters or doesn't matter in terms of if it matters in your admissions department. Okay?
Maarten Dikhoff: Yes.
Jenn Viemont: So let's say the applicant has a 25 on their ACT?
Maarten Dikhoff: Doesn't matter.
Jenn Viemont: The applicant has a 35 on their ACT?
Maarten Dikhoff: Doesn't matter.
Jenn Viemont: The applicant was president of five clubs?
Maarten Dikhoff: We don't care.
Jenn Viemont: The applicant was active in sports?
Maarten Dikhoff: Doesn't matter.
Jenn Viemont: The applicant was in no clubs and enjoys playing video games in their spare time?
Maarten Dikhoff: Doesn't matter.
Jenn Viemont: The applicant has 10 AP classes?
Maarten Dikhoff: We would love to have him as a student, but it doesn't matter.
Jenn Viemont: An applicant for a graduate program has a perfect GPA?
Maarten Dikhoff: Doesn't matter.
Jenn Viemont: An applicant has poor GMAT or GRE scores?
Maarten Dikhoff: Depends on the program they are applying for. We have some programs like in the Faculty of Economics, for example, where it is important to have a GMAT or a GRE score if you are not in a university that is one of our partners. So for all non-EU students who want to study a master's at our Faculty of Economics and Business have to have a GMAT or a GRE score. For the rest of the programs, it doesn't matter.
Jenn Viemont: This is just so crazy to me. As a top 100 school, I cannot imagine a top 100 school in the US that doesn't matter about your ACT scores, or how many clubs you were in. It's just so refreshing, I can't even tell you. I think what people really need to understand is that in Europe -- here, people see selectivity rates as an indicator of quality of education. If the school is hard to get into, it must be a better education. And you see that, you see selectivity rate is often -- when schools are written up, you see the selectivity rate, I can't tell you...
Maarten Dikhoff: Right. The higher the tuition fees are, the better the school. Yeah.
Jenn Viemont: Absolutely! You pay more and it's hard to get in, it must be better. Which isn't the case, as we know. We're doing some episodes about the quality of education. So it's so great to have this that you can be a strong student and get a good education that's also affordable. It's just one of the greatest things I've ever heard.
Maarten Dikhoff: In a country where everybody basically speaks English, although with a funny accent.
Maarten Dikhoff: So I'm going to tell you a little bit about how this has played out in my own house. And I want to hear what you think on this. So you know, we've talked about my son Sam, he is entering his junior year. And last year, his sophomore year, he took one AP course and he got a 3. He's going to take two his junior year, and he's going to take one his senior year. Other than his graduation requirements, his other classes are made up of courses he's interested in. He's not taking the ones that he thinks that colleges will look highly on. He's just taking the ones he's interested in. In order to make sure his options are open, he will take the SAT or ACT. He did okay on his -- whatever that pre-ACT class test is called. So we're not going to do any of these prep courses that so many people do. I'll probably buy him a book and he won't crack it. But you know, that's life.
Jenn Viemont: But really, what I find most important is that Sam's able to explore his interests and he can try things out without feeling like he needs to make them a hobby or a commitment for college admissions department. So last year, he did a two week kayaking trip on the Outer Banks. And this summer, he did two weeks hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. And I have to tell you, his laundry was so disgusting. I felt like I needed a hazmat suit for that. But anyway, other than the laundry, the growth he had on these trips was really remarkable, and there was a huge value for him not having electronics for those weeks too. It wouldn't be so quantifiable on college applications though, but that didn't matter.
Jenn Viemont: He's also pursuing Arabic on his own. Our school district only offered it for one year. So now he's doing it himself. That's not going to be on his transcripts, but it's a goal that's important to him, as opposed to one that's being forced on him by the admissions process. So he has a life that allows him to explore his interests, spend way too much time playing video games, spend time with his friends, get a job, have family dinners, travel and get enough sleep, at least when I take his phone away at night. And that's really what I feel like the teen years should be about.
Jenn Viemont: So Maarten, given the description of how he's choosing his courses and how he's spending his time, assuming he has a 3.0 GPA, which he should and the four AP courses, would these choices we're making reduce his chance of being admitted to your school?
Maarten Dikhoff: No.
Jenn Viemont: No? I mean, guys, this is crazy. This could be your life too. And that's what I think is so incredible. And again, what are your tuition ranges for non-EU students?
Maarten Dikhoff: It depends a bit on the program, but it's somewhere between let's say -- I have to convert it to dollars. So that's around between $8,500 per year to around $12,000 for most of the programs, except for medicine, which is more expensive.
Jenn Viemont: Certainly, certainly.
Maarten Dikhoff: So it's $8,000 to $13,000 I'd say per year.
Jenn Viemont: And guys, what's incredible further is that these are, like we talked about last week, these bachelor's programs are three years. So let's even go at the middle of that and say $10,000 a year, you're looking at $30,000 for your entire degree, which is dramatically less than one year tuition at many out-of-state and private universities in the US. It's just crazy to me.
Jenn Viemont: So Maarten, thanks so much for being here today. We're going to have information about the English top programs in Groningen on our show notes. We also have a number of blogs with more information about the school and the city. You can find those on our website. I really feel like you've given encouragement to a lot of families and students about the accessibility of these great English-taught options throughout Europe, and especially at Groningen University. Thanks so much for being here.
Maarten Dikhoff: Thank you.
Jenn Viemont: There are a couple of big takeaways tonight. The first is that schools in Europe don't use admissions rates for selectivity as an indicator of well, anything. The reputation of the school is not linked to how selective it is. The other thing to remind yourself is that you have a way to opt out of this process in the US if you want it. You can have an affordable, high quality education in Europe without all the hoops to jump through that you have here.
So future episodes on our podcast are going to cover topics like how studying in Europe helps your employment prospects how to assess quality beyond global rankings, we'll talk about housing, student life, global citizenship, travel opportunities, will talk to American bachelor's and master's degrees students about their experiences in Europe. We'll talk to some non traditional students in Europe. And we will cover the upcoming college visit trip I'm taking with Sam, I've been visiting schools for a couple of years now on my own, but this is going to be a really different experience as the mother of a prospective student and say we'll also be talking to us about his experience visiting the schools. I'm also totally open to suggestions if there's a topic you'd like us to cover that's either about some of the issues with higher education. Here are the solutions with the English top programs in Europe. Or if there's a question you'd like us to answer on future episodes, please do just let us know. Thanks again for joining me today. Thanks again for listening. Today, you'll find the show notes and links about our guests on our website, www dot beyond estates.com. If you have questions or comments, please join the discussion on our beyond the state's Facebook page or get inspired by visiting us on Instagram. If you enjoyed the podcast, I'd love it if you'd subscribe and rate it on iTunes. Thanks in advance.