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Does America Have a Top Tier Educational System?

Jennifer Viemont
Founder & Chief College Advisor
October 29, 2022

There are some incredible university choices all around the world, including in the US. However, there is a widespread belief that the US higher education system is the best in the world. Jenn summarizes specific studies that debunk this belief.

Later in the episode, Jenn and her guest discuss other aspects of studying and students’ lives before, during, and after college. Jenn has a conversation with Jeffrey Selingo, the best-selling author of numerous useful books about higher education. Jeff shares some interesting points and situations he faced while collecting and researching data in this field for more than two decades.

“Life is not a straight line. There are going to be failures. Learn from people that you can identify with.”, Jeffrey Selingo

Full transcription of the podcast.

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: So when I started Beyond the States, I devoured every book and every study I could get my hands on about issues in higher education. In fact, that's actually how I learned about our guest today, is he authored two of my favorites. He wrote, There is Life After College. And he also wrote Who Gets in and Why. So it was through reading his books, and also other books that we'll have in our show notes that I learned more about the problems with the US higher education system. 

Now, I want to start by telling you that I'm not here to slam the US system. I think there are some incredible choices out there all around the world, including the US. And as you know, my daughter has actually chosen to go this route as well. But I can't tell you how often I see comments on social media, about how the US higher education system is the best in the world. I've talked before about how problematic I think this tendency to assign everything in a better than or worse than category is. And it's actually something I tend to see more here in the US than other places in the world. So I think it's important that we look at some of the facts around this.

I've talked a lot about issues with ranking. So I'm not going to spend too much time on that situation in this episode. But I will say that if you're interested, Malcolm Gladwell has an excellent series on his podcast where they uncover the algorithm used by US News and they look at the problems with it. Also, Frank Bruni's book, Where You Go is Not Who You'll Be, has an excellent chapter on the issues with the rankings. 

What I'd like to touch on today, though, are the findings about the educational experience for students once they get on campus. So there was a study done that's cited in just about every book I've read on the topic. It's called Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on Campus. And so this study looked at 2300 students at 24 universities, and they looked at critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing gains over their time in college. 45% of them did not show any significant improvements in the first three years. And a third of them showed no improvement in critical thinking skills after four years. Additionally, more than a third of the students in the study studied less than five hours per week, and half of them said there was not a single class where they ever wrote more than 20 pages. It's just really incredible to me. 

So there's also this related study that I learned about in the book called Fail You. And the study is called Leisure College USA, the decline in student’s study time. So, and they found that students now studied less than half as much as universities claimed to require and that this decline was across the board, every major and every type of four year college, no matter what the selectivity was.

Then there was also this study from 2015. I talked about this one a lot. It was a study done by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, they found that US college graduates with a four year bachelor's degree scored below their counterparts in 19 of the 21 participating countries. So there was only Poland and Spain lower than Americans with bachelor's degrees. 

What's even more disturbing is that students from the top three countries, Finland, Japan, and the Netherlands, their high school graduates scored the same as our college graduates. So why is this happening? I think they're well, there are a ton of reasons, but let's look at a few potential ones. 

First of all, rankings don't take into account learning on campus. There's a measure that assesses this called the Nessie that universities all around the countries use. But most schools won't make this information public. So US News couldn't use this as part of their rankings, even if they wanted to. 

There's also this study that the Journal of higher education did, I read about it in something called The Faculty Lounges. And they found that the more time a college professor spends teaching, the less he or she gets paid. And this is in both big research universities. And in small liberal arts colleges. They're incentivized to do research and publications as opposed to teaching. So there's this great description of it in this book called Losing our Minds and they say, “intoxicated by magazine and college guide rankings, most colleges and universities have lost track of learning and the only educational outcome that matters. Other priorities, higher rankings, growing enrollment, winning teams, bigger and better facilities, more revenue from sideline businesses, more research grants, have replaced learning as a primary touchstone for decision making. I mean, I just think that that I mean, that's so spot on. 

And then the other issue, I believe, is that the education model is really not being updated in this country like it is in other countries. Denmark, for instance, started allowing students to have internet access during their national exams. Because in life you have internet access. The content knowledge isn't what they wanted to assess. And the content knowledge is still really being emphasized in the US. 

The issue is that knowledge, it either becomes obsolete, or it could easily be found. So it's more about how to think and what to do with the knowledge that matters. And this is actually the problem that our graduates are having, they aren't developing the critical thinking and the soft skills that employers are looking for. In fact, there was a 2018 survey of more than 650 employers. And they found that three quarters of these employers say that they have a hard time finding graduates with the soft skills their company needs. 

There was also an interesting Gallup Survey done. And it showed that only 9% of the business leaders considered where an applicant went to school as very important. But a third of Americans had a belief that the school attended was very important in the hiring decisions. So, a real big disconnect there.

And then lastly, there was this really cool study I read about, in Frank Bruni's book Where You Go is Not Who You'll Be. And so, what this study did is it looked at the earnings, the difference in earnings between graduates of selective and less selective universities. And so their initial finding was, yes, there is a 7% difference in earnings between those graduates from selective and less selective universities, even if the students had the same SATs and GPAs. However, now this is a cool part, they dug deeper. And for the group of students at less selective schools, they segmented the ones who had applied to more exclusive or selective programs but not attended. And that, when they did that, the earning difference disappeared. So it's not about whether these students even got into the more selective school, much less attended it is that they applied there. This suggests that it's more about the traits of a student who applies to more selective schools, be it confidence or something else. Now, this was examining students who went to school in 1989. And the admissions process was much different then. So I don't know that the outcome would be the same now, you know, students now are encouraged to apply to schools that they would never get into, by the schools in fact. In order to gain the selectivity factors, and of course, the common app makes applying to multiple schools super easy. 

While they may have to figure out different ways to segment the group, or different variables to control, I do think that that outcome would also hold true today. So why are we so resistant to accepting this information? For one? I think it's because it's such a different experience than parents my age and older had in college. The system started changing quite a bit after we graduated. And we tend to base our judgments on the experience we had rather than the current reality, but our experience is outdated. I think the other reason is that so many people don't see real alternatives. And so since you feel like you have to participate in this incredibly expensive system, it's natural to want to turn a blind eye to the problems. But it's kind of a great thing. 

I mean, the fact is, that a key problem is that people are assigning importance to the school name, when success is really about the traits that the student has, and what they make of their educational experience no matter where it is. So if we spend more time cultivating these important traits in our kids, they're going to find success. They might not get into the most selective universities in the US, but they'll find it wherever they land, be it in the US, in Europe, or elsewhere in the world. So let's take a quick break, and then we'll come back with our guests.

Testimonial: My name is Tamara, I am from Florida, and I'm in my first year at the Burgundy School of Business in France, and I found my university from the Beyond the State's database and membership. I've always been interested in studying abroad or foreign exchange programs, but I always felt like I never had that opportunity as it was always perceived to be unaffordable. No one I knew or any of my educational advisors understood this process and lacked knowledge on how to make this a possibility. Through my beyond the state's membership. I learned everything I could about how to study abroad. I was actually provided resources and connections to make this process achievable. I found B on the state's through a Tikotok video, and was convinced to invest in the monthly membership plan. And that decision alone changed my life. Through the Q&As, monthly university and country updates, and the Facebook group chat, I've not only been able to get this opportunity to study abroad, but also make some amazing friends who are studying in Europe as well. If you're even slightly interested in studying abroad, I suggest you check out Beyond the States to get started. The free blogs and interest quiz will be enough to make you desire this opportunity and the database access will leave you with no regrets. Check the show notes for details in the link or go to the Services Page on

Jenn Viemont: So today I'm talking to Jeff Selingo, who's been writing about higher education for more than two decades. He's the New York Times Bestselling Author of College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students. Also, there's Life After College: What Parents and Students Should Know about Navigating School to Prepare for the Jobs of Tomorrow. And his latest book was a big favorite of mine. Who Gets in and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions. 

He's a strategic adviser on the future of learning and work, a college admissions and early career expert, contributor to the Atlantic and other publications, and co-hosts a future You Podcast, which features thought leaders in discussion on what's next in higher education. Wow! you're busy. That’s a lot. 

I have to tell you, I was rereading your books. I read them, your two latest ones when they came out. And I was rereading them in preparation for this. And when I first read them, I didn't think I would have any kids. My kids are my son's in college. My daughter's a senior in high school. And I didn't think either of them would be following the college in US Route. So I kind of read them smugly like, Oh, we're dodging this bullet. And as I read them this time, my daughter has recently announced that she would like to consider going to schools in the US as well. She decided this her senior year, when she had not been playing the US admission game. So I was reading Who Gets in and Why, kind of feeling a mix of nausea and anxiety knowing that this is now what we're going through. And I was just shocked by the stories. Like the girl with a 1310 SAT and eight APS who was rejected in three minutes due to her mid year C and AP environmental science. Or the student who worked 20 hours a week, had a 3.7 GPA, 1400 SATs, seven APs, and a recent diagnosis of diabetes, and was rejected to the four Bs he had in sophomore in junior year. So I can't imagine sitting there and watching all this. And I have to hear what it was like listening to these discussions and watching these decisions being made.

Jeffrey Selingo: So it was really fascinating. I mean, it's really just kind of it was a fly on the wall of something that you would like to be in the room where it happened. And I was able to be there. And what was interesting to me was I was a little concerned that because I was in the room, you know whether it was in committee, or at a place like Emory, where they had a set of two readers read the application at the same time, that my presence would actually be disruptive, right that it would change the conversation. And maybe in the first couple of minutes it did. IT was something different, that I was in the room. But after a while they had work to do. And they kind of settled into their normal way of doing business. And thus they kind of almost forgot I was there watching all this, reading along with them. So, I was really lucky because it's interesting right now. I'm actually going back into the process, just to see how things change during COVID. And they're doing a lot of this by Zoom now. And it's just not as good as being in that room where, you know, there's a level of emotion was on display where you know, they're constantly eating, you know, their snacks and everything else. It's just different on Zoom.

Jenn Viemont: Yeah, I would imagine so. Also your presence, I guess on Zoom is also more you're on that screen there. So it's more noticeable. What would you say was the most disturbing or surprising aspect of the admissions process you found when you were in those rooms?

Jeffrey Selingo: The most disturbing part of it was that, and I guess disturbing might be too strong of a word, but the students put so much time, effort, and energy into this. And that a lot of what it comes down to by the way is stuff that happened to them before they ever started even putting their application together, before they even started the college search. As I mentioned many times in the book, the number one piece of information or the two pieces of information that have a lot to do with whether you get in and why, are your high school grades and your high school transcripts. Did you take those tough classes? Did you get good grades in them? 

Well, a lot of that is set in stone many, many years earlier, what you take in middle school depends on what you take in high school. Obviously what you take freshman sophomore year depends on what you do junior year, and you can't erase the grades of freshman year and sophomore year once you decide to apply for college, your junior year. So that was probably the most disturbing, is that I think that students think they have all this control over the process. But there's so much that happens before they even start thinking about college that impacts it. 

The most surprising thing to me was just the breadth and depth of these applicant pools. We're talking 25,000 high schools in the US. You know,a place like Emory got applications from 8000 different high schools. So while students might think they're great at their high school, right, that their ranked pretty high up in their high school, the fact of the matter is, then they're competing against these pools of students from high schools all across the country, and increasingly around the world. And I don't say that to raise the anxiety level of students, but I say it to know, kind of almost as a reality check. So that they know, to look beyond that list of 10 or 12 colleges.

Jenn Viemont: For me, I think the most disturbing part was the how much demonstrated interest weighed in the process or in the decision. You know, you can almost understand the rationale behind the transcripts and all of that playing such a big factor. But demonstrated interest, I just don't even understand how that would kind of factor into whether the student would be successful at that university or not. Blew my mind.

Jeffrey Selingo: Yeah, and it has nothing to do with as I point out early on in the book, college admissions is not about you, the student, it is about the institution and its priorities. And one of the priorities is for some institutions, that students they accept actually show up. They want their yield rate, which is the percentage of students who come who have been accepted. They want that to be as high as possible. And the way they determine whether that will be high, is to get some students, to accept students who they know will likely come if accepted.

Jenn Viemont: So a theme in both of your books that really spoke to me is you talk about how success in college is about how you go, not just where you go. Can you speak to that a little bit? Yeah, I mean, I think that

Jeffrey Selingo: We put so much effort into training admissions as a game. Hoops to jump through. And one of the hoops is just getting in. But then we spend very little time thinking about what we're going to do with this opportunity. Four years of college. And I think that many students go to college, kind of as spectators to their education and don't really think about how they're going to take advantage of the opportunities once there. How are they going to meet people, how are they going to get to know professors, find mentors? What's their major going to be, and why? And what kind of classes are they going to take? How are they getting engaged in this great experience, that they just spent a lot of time, money, and effort to get into. It is fascinating to me how much time, effort, and energy we spend getting in, but don't really spend a lot of time particularly in those moments. 

So think about all those students right now, who applied early decision and already know that they got in or you might know, usually, you know, by March or April, and usually by May 1, where you're going. And then you have what, four or five months before you actually show up on campus. Great time to start to think about, well, what do I want to do now with this opportunity? What do I want to what do I want to take advantage of and those are the opportunities, again, that the professors you get to know the internships you have, the clubs you participate in the classes you take, those are all the things that ultimately lead to success after college more than just the name on the on the degree.

Jenn Viemont: You know, and it's interesting, it seems like even if students started thinking about this before junior year, for instance, it might help them narrow down their search and decide what it is they're looking for. Instead of just, I want to go to an IVR. But to go, my daughter has a friend who applied to 17 schools. So I thought, 17 schools? Like what is it about each of these schools that fits what you're looking for? And I don't know that she could answer that. 

You know, because it's so much about names have given. Your books do a great job of citing research about how it's not, you know, this name recognition is not what people think it is. And there's study, after study, after study about this. Given the evidence to the contrary, why do you think people are so resistant to changing this belief that you know, the big name, whether it's an Ivy League, or whether it's that, you know, their state flagship school, but that their child's success is dependent on going to a particular school?

Jeffrey Selingo: I think that we tend to think of elitism in the US as it would conflate it with selectivity. And really, when we think of these prestige, whether you want to call them elite, I don't love to use that word because they're elite by choice, prestigious, whether they are top ranked, and I tend to think we put too much emphasis on the ranking. They're prominent, no doubt about that. Whatever term you want to use, a lot of that is because they are selective, because they have decided as an institutional priority to make what they offer a scarce commodity. And they've decided we're only going to have 1800 seats in the freshman class, even though we're getting 50,000 applications for it. And any admissions officer will tell you, we could fill that class five or six times over without any declining quality. So this has nothing to do with quality. There's definitely enough talent out there around the world to fill these classes, they just don't want to do it. 

Jenn Viemont: I really liked how you said that. That they've chosen to make it a scarce commodity. You know, in Europe, the admissions process is quite different, in that most schools don't have an enrollment cap. And so that doesn't mean they have these huge lectures, it means that they don't, because you're applying to a specific major, a specific program at a school, they have more spots than they have applicants. And too many times American students think oh, well, there's not that selectivity. And so it must be subpar. When these are, you know, again, I'm with you on rankings, and even more so on global rankings, I don't think they're important at all. But this is a case of highly globally ranked universities, it just doesn't have to be a scarce commodity. But many of these US schools make it such.

Jeffrey Selingo: And then they do, and that's how they become prestigious, and then it just feeds on itself. They get the research dollars, they get the donor money. They invest that in these endowments, in financial products that most people can invest in, they make even more money. Last year, for example, in the middle of a pandemic, these most prestigious institutions, because they're able to invest in hedge funds and other private equity funds that most colleges don't have access to, their returns were 65, 70%. They're already, you know, 10s of billions of dollars here. And they're making all this money.

Jenn Viemont: It just makes my skin crawl! So I think this leads to discussion of educational quality. So if we're not going to use the rankings, and we're not going to use selectivity rates, you know, I think so many times people look at those two things about educational quality. What beyond those things should students look for when they're trying to define educational quality or assess it?

Jeffrey Selingo: So I think really what they're looking for is, going back to what I said earlier about the experience, particularly the student experience, in terms of quality, you want to look at the outcomes. So do students graduate? Are they retained? You want to look at the retention rate, and the graduation rate? Are you going to be able to most students stay? And do they end up graduating? You want to look at the graduate outcomes. We now know this from the college scorecard. You can look at the salaries of students by major at your school. Salary is not the only outcome that you should look at. But it's definitely an important one, especially if you're going into debt to pay for school. 

But then there are these intangibles. And when I say intangibles, I mean things like faculty members, do they care about you? Will they be a mentor to you? Do they teach? Or is it mostly graduate students who are teaching you?Are your classes going to be small enough, where you get to know students? Is the place welcoming for somebody from your background? Those are the intangibles that I think because most of the educational experience, as we all know, happens, not only in the classroom, but it mostly happens outside the classroom. So is it a place where the student experience is going to be engaging enough that you're going to learn?

Jenn Viemont: Absolutely. And I think it's also that they're engaging to one student might not be engaging to another, you know, there's not just this one definition, I think students need to understand that quality for them, a great fit for them, doesn't mean it's a great fit for everybody, and that there's not just, you know, one right road that students should take.

Jeffrey Selingo: Right. And I think that's important to know, right? I'm a big fan of the How I Built This podcast. You know, where they talk to entrepreneurs, a big company, you know, that now we're big companies, and how they got started. And there's a theme that goes through almost every single episode. In that there, everybody has false starts. Everybody takes detours, everybody has failures.

Jenn Viemont: So that's something you've talked a lot about in There's Life After College, and learning from mistakes and the importance of doing that. And you talk a lot about how US education is in preparing students for employment. And that's a reasonable expectation, you know, given the amount of tuition families are paying, it's reasonable to expect that students would graduate with the skills they need for employment. So what skills do you see that, have you learned that graduates are missing?

Jeffrey Selingo: It's mostly what we often refer to as the soft skills, although I hate that word. And it's things like being the ability to communicate, the ability to work in teams, the ability to problem solve. These are all critical thinking, these are all things that most employers want and are not necessarily getting in today's college graduates. And it's largely because I think, many students and parents are so focused on the hard skills, being able to program or being able to know how to do X, Y, or Z in this particular field, that they kind of forget that these other things are just as important.

I always tell this story. Many years ago, before the pandemic, I was having breakfast in Washington, and next to me at the table, with somebody who was being interviewed for a job. And at the end, they just started chatting about their backgrounds and education and so forth. And I'll never forget the interviewer. They're talking about college majors. And the interviewer said, who was a business major as an undergrad, which is the most popular college major said, If I had to do it all over again, I would be an English major, because writing is the most important skill in any job today. Really important.

Jenn Viemont: Wow, interesting. And I have to tell you, you know, my son is studying in Europe. And that has been what I've seen, he's really behind from his peers, you know, he went to a good public high school in the US here in Chapel Hill. And he had, you know, mostly A's, but he was just not prepared for the writing aspect and the writing demands of college in Europe. It's been a struggle.

Jeffrey Selingo: Yeah. And I think that it's much more demanding than it is here in the US, right?

Jenn Viemont: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And less hand holding. I think that's one reason why students, you know, the studies show that students who travel or who study outside of their home country, they are getting those soft skills, because they're learning to navigate unfamiliar circumstances in their day to day life. They're working in groups of people who have different backgrounds and different perspectives. And so they're gaining those skills. And it really does help with employability, which is nice.

Jeffrey Selingo: Yeah, and I think that's increasingly important. Because there's a lot of these soft skills you don't learn in the classroom, you don't learn through a curriculum, you learn kind of in the day to day living in college. And that is the part of the problem, I think, in American higher education today is that there is a lot of hand holding. And as a result of that hand holding, they're not learning these critical skills. 

Jenn Viemont: Right, right. And sort of the life in a bubble aspect of it, too. You know, when you're on campus for four years, you're not finding many unfamiliar circumstances and situations to navigate your way through.

Jeffrey Selingo: No, you're not. And many students don't work, outside of, you know, outside of college, in the workforce these days, unlike generations ago, which is a place where you would learn to get along with people of different ages, you will learn to show up on time, you would learn these critical communication and problem solving skills. They don't do that anymore. That was a great place to learn of those soft skills. And again, we're not really exercising those muscles in college either. 

Jenn Viemont: Right, right. So you talk about these other roads to take, you know, be it travel or a gap year, or Minerva, which is really interesting and other experiences that students can pursue after high school as opposed to going straight to college. What impact can these experiences have on students, whether it's academic life or soft skills, or the like?

Jeffrey Selingo: Well, I think for a lot of students, they need to take a break. I think that we're seeing this during the pandemic, that there's no special sauce that says, a student has to graduate from high school, go right into college, three months later, graduate four years later and go into the workforce. That's really a relic of a different era, by the way, when very, lot fewer students even went to college, you know, speaking of, you know, post world war two generation. And remember, the post world war two generation was coming back from a war where they had really matured in a way that today's students are not. And so I'm a big fan of slowing it down. A little bad. Coming out of high school, big fan of the taking a year off, and I shouldn't say a year off, because you're actually doing something during that time. And really kind of learning about yourself catching up on maybe academic work that you got behind on and in high school, trying to get a sense of what you really want out of college, particularly since college is so expensive. You can also take that time during college and after college, take it all three. I understand, given the expense of raising children, parents really want their children to get on with their life as quickly as possible. But in the long run, you actually might be better off slowing it down because you won't be supporting them when they're 40. Instead, you might be supporting them through 25.6

Jenn Viemont: You know that time could be used to develop passions as well. I recently spoke with William Dershowitz for the podcast who wrote excellent sheep and talked about how the admissions process. What he's seen is it really prevents students from learning what they're passionate about. And how do you make a plan if you don't know your passions, how do you follow your passion if you don't have it? So they could take that year and find their passion. It also might prevent extra years in college for students or switching majors as they're, you know, trying on different passions then as opposed to before college.

Jeffrey Selingo: Yeah, I mean, I think that, first of all, this word passion worries me because I think it leads to the idea that students have a passion or need to find a passion. You know, I'm 25 years after college, and I have some passions, but I'm not quite sure I found my passion. I don't think most people have. And so I think we put a lot of pressure on students to find something that they really want to do at the age of 18. And I think most students don't know it.

Jenn Viemont: Interesting. I like that. So maybe we just call it, instead of passion, you know, strong interests. And that it doesn't have to be what they want to do with their career, but to have strong interests that they can then follow in some way, shape or form, can lead them to what they may want to do in their life.

Jeffrey Selingo: Yeah, and I think that's incredibly important that they get more exposure to jobs, to careers, to people. This is why I'm a big fan of trying to figure out how do we connect people and young adults at the age of 18, 20, 22, with people who have just been through a variety of careers in a variety of life situations. I have a 10 year old and a 12 year old at home. And I mentioned earlier that I am a big fan of the How I Built This Podcast, and we just listened to it in the car on the way to school. And I usually pick those, the episodes where they have a product that they get, right, so we've been listening to the one about Stacey chips right now because they eat Stacy's chips, right? But one thing I want them to learn is that, you know, life is not a straight line, that there's going to be these failures. Learn from people that they now could identify with, in some small way. And that's really what I would hope that we would get more high school again, we're just not getting high school students, young adults in college are just not getting exposure to jobs and to people like this.

Jenn Viemont: So how can we? That's a really great point. And I think about it, the jobs that are available to them, are not jobs that many of their parents are active in. I mean, the job force is much different now than when I graduated from college and their careers I've never heard of, you know, I wouldn't even be able to begin to educate my kids on how, how can we expose them to these careers outside of what they know from their family and family? Friends?

Jeffrey Selingo: I think that we need to really help them understand what the different jobs are. I think again, exposure, could you even if they don't have exposure in their own home, own college? Could we try to get them to shadow jobs? That maybe you know, somewhere else? I think we put a lot of emphasis on internships. I'm less interested in internships, particularly for college freshmen or even high school students. But could they just get into the workforce and shadow somebody? I think that's one way. I think things like, as I was saying about the How I Built This Podcast, other things where people are talking about their jobs, I think this is a really good public service that many employers could provide. Where you just interview your employees about a day in the life, what is it like to be a sales manager, you know, what is it like to be an analyst, or whatever jobs. And particularly, by the way, not just that we hear a lot of stories about how CEOs made it to where they are. I’m less interested in the C suite, and I'm more interested in the vast majority of jobs that most of these students are going to take one day.

Jenn Viemont: That's really interesting. And you're right, it's definitely sort of a gap in what we're teaching our teenagers these days. That's gonna give me some food for thought to think about that. So other than exposure to different jobs, what advice would you give parents of teenagers, as it pertains to helping them decide what they're going to do right after college, whether right after high school, whether that's college, they're going to apply to, whether it's these other opportunities they're going to seek? What would you tell parents?

Jeffrey Selingo: Well, I think first, the first thing I would tell them is have patience. And don't pressure your students into, for example, if they don't want to go to college, immediately don't pressure them into it. The research shows for example, which I find very interesting, that students who take a gap year graduate at the same rate as students who don't. So it's not like you're actually putting them behind by having them take a gap year, or allowing them to take a gap year and in fact, we also know that they go to college much more mature. We know this from the research. The other thing is to give them a lot of exposure, as much as you can, to jobs and to colleges as much as possible. Again, the more that parents say, well I, you know, you need to look at these types of colleges because they're in the top 50 of the rankings or whatever the more pressure you're putting on those students.

Jenn Viemont: It's interesting, I had to kind of practice what I preach recently with my daughter. Because I often tell parents the opposite. You know, if your kid comes to you and says you're interested in college in Europe, let's explore it. Here, I can help you. I can tell you, you know, research on it. I can tell you statistics on it. It doesn't mean they're committing to it, but keep your field open. You know, don't close off doors before you've explored them. And that's what I had to do myself, with my daughter, when she tells me, you know, just driving along, you know. Even though she's gotten into the school in Ireland already, you know, she'd really like to look at schools in the US. And it's been hard to follow her lead, but I think it’s important when kids are showing some sort of initiative and interest to let them follow that road, you know, certainly with limits or limits for around tuition, you know? But yeah, to explore, because this is their path, ultimately, it's their path, and they'll be the ones following it. So it's hard, though, as a parent, I have to say,

Jeffrey Selingo: Yes, I agree. I think that parents have their vision of what colleges, and I think that they feel that. Especially if they went to college, and they went to a particular college, I think a lot of parents put pressure on their kids to do something very similar.

Jenn Viemont: So I have to tell you something you said at the beginning of this has me really interested. You said you're doing some follow up work on looking at admissions and how it's changed with COVID. Are you working on a book, on an article?

Jeffrey Selingo: So, I'm working on the paperback edition of the book, which will probably come out like late or sometime in 2022, maybe 2023. And so I really want to see how the admissions process that I saw a couple of years ago has changed.

Jenn Viemont: Excellent. So is it a new addition? Or are you just putting

Jeffrey Selingo: Yeah, it's not going to be there's not gonna be a big change to what we're doing.

Jenn Viemont: Okay. Sounds like it could still be worth getting another copy of if you're going to be talking about changes to the playing field this year. Well, I can't tell you how much I appreciate you talking to us today. Like I said, I've been really excited for this interview. I'm a huge fan of your work and have you on kind of the alerts in my Amazon. So I see what you're doing. I look forward to other projects you may take on in the future.

Jeffrey Selingo: Well, I appreciate your time today. And it was great to be on here.

Jenn Viemont: Great! Thanks so much. 

I'm really excited to tell you about the March Special of the Month, because it's something we've never offered before. The Quickstart Package puts all the resources you need right at your fingertips, and it offers a savings of $300. 

The first thing it comes with is our membership. So this includes access to our searchable database, monthly recordings that answer questions that you submit, our incredible Facebook number group, and a host of other members only webinars and resources. 

Then we're adding in all five of our self paced courses. There's a course on choosing a major, one was step by step processes to find the best school for you. One about schools in the Netherlands. One about business programs all across Europe. And another about the admissions process. We're also providing you with a digital copy of the book I wrote in 2018, which highlights 13 different universities in Europe. 

The next two inclusions are what I'm most excited to tell you about. We've compiled a new resource that's only offered here. It’s called the European College Review. This reference pulls all of the important information you need in one place. This includes important blogs, quick tips, collection of the blogs, all the blogs I've written on school visits, as well as all of the past deep dives I've provided through programs of the month. So, those are a lot of DIY resources. But this is not just a DIY package because it also comes with a 30 minute consultation with me. Purchased separately, this package would cost $529, but today we are offering it for $229 for this month actually. Due to my own availability though, we have to limit this to the first 10 subscribers. So you can find the information about this offer in our show notes or you can go to

Jennifer Viemont
Founder & Chief College Advisor

5 Reasons Why You Should Study in Europe

If packing up your whole life and moving sounds more exciting than terrifying, then you'll love what colleges in Europe have to offer you. These are 5 reasons why going to college in Europe will be the best decision you'll ever make:

1. Tuition is much more affordable than the US.

In continental Europe, the average cost of all the English-taught bachelor’s programs is just $7,390 per year. Since 1985, US college costs have surged by about 1000 percent, and tuition and fees continue to rise. Even when you factor in the cost of travel, going to college in Europe if often cheaper than one year of tuition at a state college in the US.

2. There are thousands of English-taught degrees.

Choice is another key issue. When cost is a chief consideration, you may be limited to only in-state schools, where tuition is lower. What if your in-state schools aren’t a good option for your chosen field of study? In Europe there are thousands of programs to choose from across 212 areas of study, and they are all taught 100% in English, so there's no need to worry about learning a new language.

3. International exposure is essential and highly valued.

Students who studied abroad stand out from the crowd when seeking jobs after college. The very act of leaving their comfort zone to make a fresh start in a new place builds skills and confidence that will be carried throughout a student’s life. Silicon Valley billionaire investor, Chris Sacca, describes international study experience as a critical differentiating characteristic among candidates. According to former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, “The Jack Welch of the future cannot be like me. I spent my entire career in the United States. The next head of [General Electric] will be somebody who spent time in Bombay, in Hong Kong, in Buenos Aires.”

4. You'll avoid the US admissions rat race.

The college admissions process in the US has become a race to the bottom as students compete with their peers for a single spot in a liberal arts college, convinced by parents and guidance counselors that their survival rests on playing a musical instrument or varsity sport.Many smart kids don’t do well on standardized tests. This doesn’t limit them as much when looking outside of the US, as many colleges in Europe do not require standardized tests. Many countries see entry into universities as a right, rather than a privilege, so admission standards are not as stringent.

5. Spend your weekends & breaks exploring the world.

Travel opportunities abound when attending college in Europe. For example, Lille, a city in northern France with multiple universities, is close to major cities such as Brussels, London, and Paris via high-speed rail. Air travel, especially with the rise of affordable airlines like Ryanair, EasyJet, and Transavia, can be comparable in price to rail travel, so many more destinations open up for short-term travel.

How to Get Into the World's Top Universities

When you also factor in the many problems with US higher education, it is imprudent not to consider other possibilities. It is true there are many excellent schools in the United States—I don’t think anyone would argue that. There are some that have managed to look at applicants as people, and not just a checklist of achievements. Some even have reasonable tuition rates, and/or professors that actively teach and have highly engaged students. Despite this, I have yet to find a school in the United States that addresses all of these issues: allows students to opt out of the rat race the admissions process has become, have reasonable tuition, AND have positive results around the educational experience and post-graduation outcomes. Not every school in Europe provides all this either, but the schools listed in our database do.

How to Find Degrees in Europe That Are Taught in English

Finding these programs is burdensome, difficult, and confusing, especially with institutional websites in foreign languages... We know that making the decision to study abroad can be difficult, so we want to make it easy for you. We scoured the continent for vetted programs and made them available to thousands of families looking to leave the US and find a better life in Europe. We found over 11,200 degrees, 870 universities, 550 cities, and 32 European countries to choose from. Europe offers an impressive range of educational opportunities!

We have gathered all of the information you need to know about studying in Europe – from the different types of schools available to how to get housing and everything in between. Our database helps you find these programs quickly and easily, helping you contextualize the many benefits and options around higher education in Europe.

You will be able to find programs and courses that suit your interests and needs, taught in English by experienced professors in state-of-the-art facilities. Purchase a membership and search our database of English-taught European bachelor's and master's programs to get started on your journey to Europe today.

Discover all the English-taught European college programs in one place.

Beyond the States provides easy access to 11,600+ European bachelor's and master's programs across 870 universities, 550 cities, and 212 areas of study, plus all the resources you need to get there. No sponsorships. No bias.
English-taught bachelor's programs in our database.
English-taught master's programs in our database.
Beautiful European cities to choose from.
Top-tier universities accepting international students.
Typical savings against a private university in the US.
Typical savings against in-state tuition in the US.
All inclusive of tuition, living, food, books, health insurance, travel expenses, as well as hidden fees. Compiled with data from students and the official websites from KU Leuven, UNC, and Duke.

Listen to the College Insights™ Podcast

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What Transparent Admissions Requirements Really Mean

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
It’s that time of year again… College admissions are on the minds of many students who have attempted to get into their choice schools across the US; it can be a deeply confusing and stressful time for many.
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Master's Degrees in Europe for International Students

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
Her conversation partner this week is Sean Dempsey, a past BTS member and recent graduate of the highly-ranked KU Leuven, in Belgium.
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Will a European Degree Work for Me in the US?

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
Is a degree from Europe valuable enough in the US? Does it allow students to get into grad school and get a good job? Who gives accreditation to universities in the States?
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How to Get a Master's Degree in Europe

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
In today’s episode, Jenn has an interesting discussion with Tiffany, a parent of one of our members, Ethan. She became so interested in the Beyond the States process herself so that she’s amid planning admission for herself and her husband – for a Master degree program in the EU!
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Avoid the Pitfalls of College Rankings

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
How useful are college rankings actually? What do they measure? Can you find great colleges in Europe without relying on rankings?
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The Myth of American Exceptionalism

Featuring Jennifer Viemont
We're going to be talking about the differences in the educational experience, meaning the academic side of things that students have in Europe versus in the US. So I'm always taken aback when people assume that universities in the US are the best globally.

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Find out which European university has bachelor's degrees that match your interests, goals, qualifications and budget!