Beyond The States
Hot Take: When NOT to Go to College in Europe

After reading a blog post from a college counsellor that declared that the US post secondary education system was globally superior, Jenn felt compelled to respond. Here are her answers to the naysayers.

Podcast Transcript –

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: Hi, I’m Jenn Viemont. Thanks for joining me today. I want to tell you about this blog a listener recently sent me it was written by a college counselor in the US and the title is European universities versus American universities we win. I’m not even kidding. She formed this conclusion of after spending a two week vacation in Spain and France. Still not kidding. She says this is a quote. Compared to the European universities, Americans are very, very fortunate to possess her own unique higher education system. She notes that since European college is inexpensive, you won’t find the cute liberal arts colleges where the classes are small, and the professors are eager to be mentors. She also notes the decentralized campuses, the fact that some buildings actually look like office buildings, and that you won’t find a quadrangle dorms or mascots. She ends with another quote, We all like to gripe about higher education in the United States, with costs being the number one complaint. I thought, however, that I’d give everyone a reason I feel fortunate that our children will be receiving their college degrees from institutions in this country. So I have a few actually have many issues with this blog. We won’t even get into the fact that I disagree. That the reason she noted justify the huge cost in the US, my first issue is that there’s just a lot of misinformation. There are in fact dorms in Europe, they’re just not owned by the schools. And there are also in fact, liberal arts colleges, I don’t know if they’re cute or not, I’ve never thought to define them as such. But my biggest issue with this article, other than the America first kind of tone of it, is that she took information about her daughter’s experience during a semester abroad, and conversations that she struck up with random people during her vacation in just two countries, and generalized it to education in an entire continent. So some of the misinformation in public universities in southern Europe do tend to have less accessible professors. But this is not the case in many other countries in Europe. And it’s not even the case with all public universities in that region. Certainly not the case for most of the private universities there. So our topic today is why not. I’ve talked before in other episodes about the concept I heard on a Malcolm Gladwell podcast of the threshold theory. He talked about how some people, no matter if there’s evidence to the contrary, are really resistant to making decisions that are outside of group norms. He talked about Wilt Chamberlain, the basketball player who was great, except he couldn’t shoot free throws. So he started to shoot them underhanded granny style. And that season, he made 28 of 32 shots. Despite the simple solution, he went back to his unsuccessful more traditional way. And of course, was not shooting free throws again. Glidewell explains that Chamberlain had a high threshold and is more sensitive to group norms. Those with the lower threshold are less concerned with group norms, if at all, and focus on gathering information needed to make an individual decision. Sometimes if we’re somewhere in the middle of threshold, the idea of college can be difficult. On the one hand, there are so many super clear benefits to it. But on the other hand, is outside of group norms and our comfort zone. I meet a lot of people with a really high threshold randomly usually when I’m asked what I do, and I find their automatic responses really interesting. It’s almost if their beliefs or doubts are used as defense mechanisms to talk themselves into not exploring other alternatives. So let’s go through a few of these even those of us who are gathering information not sure yet. It’s good to have the information about these these misconceptions to college in Europe.

So the first one that I sometimes get is my child isn’t proficient in any language except English. So I say no worries, we’re talking about over 1700 programs that are taught entirely in English. That means the lectures are in English. The readings are in English. The assignments are in English, the whole shebang regarding getting around there certain countries in continental to have really high English proficiency. When I’ve been in places like Norway and Denmark and the Netherlands. It feels more like I’m in the UK or or another country that is English speaking just from the use of it around not even to me, and major cities and other countries also tend to have high English proficiency. For instance, in Prague, I had no issues at all, but still Oh, there are opportunities like classes and language buddy programs to learn the language of the country which lead to the great benefits cognitive and otherwise associated with bilingualism. So here’s another one you might have heard before. When people ask Will the degree be good in the US to which I say absolutely. All of the schools we have listed in our database are fully accredited. Many are globally ranked and have other extra international accreditations as well. Your bachelor’s degree from the schools we have listed in Europe will meet the bachelor’s degree requirements for graduate schools in the US in terms of employment, college in Europe actually gives you an advantage whether you’re looking in Europe or the US for a job after college. One reason for this is that internships are a huge part of bachelor’s degree programs. They’re often mandatory and part of the program structure. Research shows that employers highs higher somewhere from 50 to 75% of interns as full time employees. The other advantage international students have are the soft skills gained while they’re studying in Europe. This is something employers are reporting that US graduates lack and studies are showing that this is a contributing factor to the employability of students who have studied abroad. These students show employers are demonstrating that they have a comfort level of cultural differences. They’ve worked in groups with people with different backgrounds and perspectives. They’re flexible, they’re adaptable, and they can navigate unfamiliar circumstances, of course, employers would want them. We’ve done a lot of blogs about this and another podcast episodes about employability, I encourage you to check those out for the references to some of these studies I was talking about. So here’s another one, I heard you have to know what you want to major in when you apply. And I have no idea what I want to study. So it’s true that one of the main differences around college in Europe are the structured degree programs, you’re basically declaring your major when you apply since you’re applying to a specific program at a school. So part of this concern is just sort of the unknown of what’s out there. My daughter, for instance, she’s still thinking that she wants to be on Broadway, when she grows up and bless her heart. I really don’t think this is in the cards for her. But she’s attached to this idea. Part of it, she’s still young, she knows she loves musicals, and still has some of that magical thinking going on. So even though she’s still young, one thing I do, while trying not to be accused of being a dream Crusher, which she’s accused me of on more than one occasion, is to discuss other professions or other study areas that relate to these interests of hers. We talk about, you know, what kind of study one would do if they wanted to be the people who you know, select the musical tours in particular theaters, or we talk about study programs like arts, culture, and media. At 14, she’s likely to change her passion many more times. But these are the kinds of conversations we’ll continue to have throughout her high school years, depending on you know, her passion of the week. One thing I’m in the midst of developing is a best fit field of study service. We already have the best fit program service in which identify specific programs at specific schools that are a good fit for a student based on their interests, their budget, their qualifications. and such. The best fit study area service will help students identify various study areas that fit with their interest. And it’ll provide them ways to explore these options. I’m actually looking for a guinea pig for this service. So if you have a team who really doesn’t know what they want to study, and who’d be willing to be a guest on the podcast, please shoot me an email. The other thing I want to say is that there are a lot of options that are broad, and many that combine different interest areas. There are also liberal arts options that allow you to choose a major year, second year. All this is to say if not knowing what you want to study is your only concern. Don’t disqualify this as an option. There are ways around that.

So the next question really gets to me and I’m going to try not to be judgey. In my response, it’s, I could never let my child go that far away. The first thing I wonder is whether the same parents would feel comfortable sending their child anywhere in the States, many of them would say yes, so it’s just a matter of getting more information. For instance, it takes just over six hours to fly direct from where I live to San Francisco. The flight from where I live to Paris is just two hours longer than that, which I don’t see is a significant difference. That said, I do know people who insist their child’s stay within a certain distance of home. Usually what I hear is a four hour drive, but fine. I sometimes hear that it’s to make sure that there can be frequent contact. I have one Facebook friend whose son is at a school just over three hours away. I swear based on the picture she posts that she’s up there hanging out with him and his fraternity brothers two to three times a month. Whose knee does that frequent contact about then I really don’t think it’s her sons. Some will say that the close proximity is in fact about their child’s needs. So they can get there easily if needed. But What message are we then sending our kids that as adults, they can’t figure out how to function without us. Not only that, but technology can connect us much more easily than in my day, you don’t have to wait for the low rates on Sunday nights, for instance, I guess I just feel like it’s my job as a parent to provide my kids with the tools they need to succeed in life. If those tools happen to be in another country, I don’t want to deprive them of that due to my own emotional needs. That’s not to say that this isn’t going to be hard for me, I know, I’ll miss my kids, I’ll probably have mixed emotions, when they don’t need me as much when they’re figuring out things on their own or when they’re finding other resources to use. But that’s what they need in life. So another concern I hear is, I had such a great time in college in the Greek system, and I love the college sports seem to, I don’t want my child to miss out on that. Okay, so the first thing I want to point out, is that the current social scene on many campuses is much different than it was when many of us parents were there. Not only are opiates now an issue, but there are major issues with the rape culture on many campuses. Drinking is an issue in my day, too. But kids are dying from binge drinking on campuses now and fraternities are being shut down due to this. So let’s say that you disagree with me on that point. What I would encourage you to think about are the needs that are being met with things like the Greek system and college sports, because those needs can be met through the social structures in Europe as well. For instance, people often join sororities and fraternities for the sense of community and connection. Every student I’ve spoken with in Europe talks about how deeply they feel connection and community, particularly amongst international students from around the world. When you’re living outside of your home country, you have really significant shared experiences with others who are going through the same thing, that at least that connection. Further, you’re likely to share really meaningful values with the other students who have also sought out this type of experience. In regards to social experience, I can tell you that there are no lack of parties in such in Europe. Further, the younger drinking age reduces some of the rebellion that occurs. With drinking here, you can go to a club or bar legally at 18. And there’s an overall more mature mentality that accompanies drinking. So what about sports? It’s true that collegiate sports aren’t like they are here. But that does not mean that there aren’t opportunities for sports at a spectator or a participant level. I was recently in Lisbon and probably heard about Ben fika, the college team every day that I was there from everyone, including my four year old niece who lives there. Two people I was meeting with at universities, the experience of being a fan amongst other fans and watching games, live or at pubs or a friend’s house is definitely part of the culture in Europe. Soccer, of course, is huge in many parts of Europe. But other sports like rugby, ice, hockey, and even basketball are big in some countries. And there are opportunities to participate in sports as well. Every sport you can think of no one’s already mentioned, to volleyball, biking, even paintball. And a few sports I’ve never even heard of.

The last objection I want to talk about today is the one that says, but I don’t know anyone else who’s doing this. And this is where we go back to the threshold idea, and basing decisions on what others are doing. One thing I want to say is just because you don’t know people who are doing it doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea for you and your child. The other thing to note is that just because you don’t know people who are doing it doesn’t mean that there aren’t people doing it, I’ve been able to find American students at every school I visited. And now that we’ve been working with students for almost two years, we have a number of beyond the state’s members at schools in Europe, or who will be going this fall. One thing that members benefit from is the community of the other beyond the state’s members. Not only is it nice to connect with other people who are at some stage of the process, whether it’s considering the options, applying or already admitted, but members can also ask questions of each other and also of the students who are already studying there. We have monthly member q&a calls. And I’m in the process of doing a private Facebook group for members to encourage that type of communication as well. So I wanted to provide you with this information today for a couple of reasons. First of all, many of you may get these responses when you tell others that you’re considering the idea of studying in Europe, having a quick response, being able to say well, actually, it’s only two hours further than San Francisco. When someone asks you how you could possibly send your child so far away can be helpful. I want to say that I really I have no desire to convince people who have no interest in studying elsewhere that this is what they should do. If they have no interest in they shouldn’t do it. Making a decision about where you go to college is a big one. What I want to do is help those of you who are considering it as an option, have accurate information to base your decision on. I do want to end by telling you a little bit about the beyond the state’s membership. We have a database of all of the accredited English conducted bachelor’s degree programs. That’s a mouthful. Throughout continental Europe, there are more than 1700 of them. We don’t take money from the schools, so we can be completely objective even providing negative information. And since I have personally visited many of the schools, you get firsthand information as well. I created the database based on the information I wish I had in one place when I was exploring the option for my own son. This includes information about housing proof of means admissions requirements and more. Members can choose from a DIY approach of just membership access to a best fit list, something I love to do, where I provide a list of a shortlist based on student’s interests, qualifications and preferences. And we also provide one on one consultation services. All of our memberships include regular access to me and other members through our monthly q&a calls. You can find more information about this on our website, which is beyond the You can also sign up for our newsletter while you’re there and check out our blogs and recorded webinars. And also follow us on Instagram and Facebook. Thanks so much for listening.