Beyond The States
Beyond The States
It's Crazy to Pay $50,000 a Year for a Bachelor’s Degree

In this episode, Jenn talks with Chelsea Workman. Chelsea started studying Philosophy at Ohio State. Although she chose an ‘affordable’ public school, the tuition, at over $10k per year, soon put financial stress on my father and meant she needed to work in addition to studying. She began racking up debt. Eventually, she dropped out, believing it futile to pay over $40,000 for a bachelor’s degree in a subject she could easily learn for free, say by reading in a local coffee shop. She decided instead to work full-time and save some money. Her sister was working at a school in a small town in Germany and suggested Chelsea give it a try. Chelsea has now finished her bachelor’s degree in Germany and has traveled extensively – all while on a budget.

Podcast Transcript –

In this episode, Jenn talks with Chelsea Workman. Chelsea started studying Philosophy at Ohio State. Although she chose an ‘affordable’ public school, the tuition, at over $10k per year, soon put financial stress on my father and meant she needed to work in addition to studying. She began racking up debt. Eventually, she dropped out, believing it futile to pay over $40,000 for a bachelor’s degree in a subject she could easily learn for free, say by reading in a local coffee shop. She decided instead to work full-time and save some money. Her sister was working at a school in a small town in Germany and suggested Chelsea give it a try. Chelsea has now finished her bachelor’s degree in Germany and has traveled extensively – all while on a budget.

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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’m really excited about today’s episode. Back in early 2016, a reporter from CNN Money contacted me to talk about the affordable tuition offered to Americans in Europe. This was about three months before our database was open to membership. But I was able to put her in touch with students I had met through my research over the previous year, there was huge interest in this article and these students. So over the coming months, we’ll be following up with each of the three students that were profiled in this article. And we’ll have a link to the article in our show notes as well. So today, we’re gonna start by checking in with Chelsea, before she joins us. Let me remind you about Chelsea’s story. You’ll also be able to find the blog she wrote for us. Around the time the article was released. It’s on our website under stories, and we’ll put the link to that in the show notes as well. So Chelsea is from Columbus, Ohio, and she began her higher education studying philosophy at Ohio State University. Her tuition was a financial strain to her family. So she was working going into debt and began to resent the way she saw her university operating as a corporation, often at her expense. She’d also dreamed of doing a semester abroad, but found out that wouldn’t be attainable due to the semester cost of around $15,000. Due to the debt and lack of value she was finding in her educational experience. She ended up leaving school to work full time and save money. So Chelsea’s older sister had moved to Germany years earlier, after she visited friends from college there, and she was working at deggendorf University of Technology. She convinced Chelsea to visit and introduced her to the bachelors in international management, which Chelsea could attend for just right around $450 a year. I’m going to give you more information about studying in Europe at the end of this episode. But spoiler alert, tuition for international students at that same school is now free. So Chelsea started the program in 2012. And she graduated January of 2016. There’s this thing called this program called Erasmus. We’ve mentioned it in earlier episodes, and we’ll be devoting an entire episode to it in the future. The short version of this is that the EU has an umbrella program called Erasmus Plus this year to support mobility among young people. All bachelor’s and master’s degree students can participate even international students in addition to Semester Abroad Programs, Erasmus Plus also offers internships. So Chelsea participated in one of their traineeship programs that helped make the transition from student life to working life more smooth, and she did a four month internship in Austria after she graduated, she was working in recruitment and marketing for a nonprofit. Not only did this program make it feasible for her to get an internship like this as an international student, but it also provided a monthly stipend to help with her living expenses. Now Chelsea is living in Linz, Austria, working in international customer support for a tech startup. So now that you’re caught up on what Chelsea has been up to, since the CNN Money article, she’ll be joining us to talk about the main differences in her overall experience as an international student. Chelsea, thanks so much for joining us today. I know there’s so many differences between your experience as a student in the US and as an international student in Europe. So let’s start by talking about the difference in cost, which I was just telling our listeners as one of your main motivators. Of course, the savings between a public university in Germany, and one in Ohio is about 10,000 a year, but what about some of your other costs? Like what did you pay for housing?

Chelsea Workman: Yeah, so speaking of housing in the US, or speaking of housing in Germany?

Jenn Viemont: In Germany. I know Ohio State is $1,300 a month. Did you pay close to that in Germany?

Chelsea Workman: Okay. I mean actually, ironically, it was more expensive to live in a dormitory at Ohio State than it was just to get a room on campus. Nevertheless, it was still pretty expensive on campus to live. I think it was about $500 a month for just a room and in a big shared house. So I didn’t have my own kitchen. I didn’t have my own bathroom. But moving to Germany, I was able to get a lot more space where for less money, so probably 200 to 300 euros a month.

Jenn Viemont: Wow. That’s incredible. How about your study abroad? I told her our listeners about how you would wanted to do a study abroad when you were in Ohio and that it was going to cost about 15,000 a year. I know you did a study abroad program Correct?

Chelsea Workman: Well, yeah, I did do a study abroad program. So if First of all, I was at Ohio State and I was looking into studying abroad there, because a lot of my friends were going to Spain or somewhere, somewhere beautiful. And I was very interested in this idea. And like you said, they told me that it would be $15,000 for one semester. And what ended up happening was that I would, I embarked upon a four year program in Germany, or three and a half years. And as a part of that program, I ended up studying abroad in Rotterdam. So I kind of studied abroad while I studied abroad, which was really cool experience.

Jenn Viemont: Did it cost you anything close to $15,000?

Chelsea Workman: Absolutely not. It was pretty incredible and pretty shocking for me, because when I got ready to go to Rotterdam, I actually found out that I would be covered. Even as an American, I would be covered under the Erasmus program. So that means that I got a scholarship of, I think, about 450 euros a month, every year, every month while I was during that semester abroad. 

Jenn Viemont: Well, and here’s another question for you. Your tuition in Germany was $450, I believe, Rotterdam. I know, for our listeners is in the Netherlands. And I know that’s much more expensive. As an Erasmus student, did you have to pay that more expensive tuition? 

Chelsea Workman: Oh, well, actually, it was even less than 450 a month in Germany, my tuition over there was only 52 euros a semester. So in Rotterdam, I didn’t pay any tuition that was just covered with the tuition I was already paying in Germany. That’s part of the Erasmus program where you can freely kind of move around the European Union and you don’t pay extra tuition.

Jenn Viemont: I’ve told our listeners a lot about the Erasmus program, I think it’s so amazing. And I plan on doing an episode entirely devoted to it in the future, because I think it just has such incredible opportunities. So in a previous episode, I talked about that there are other ways to assess educational quality, quality, other than rankings. And we talked about how rankings often don’t correlate with educational quality. And how in Europe, many schools aren’t eligible for ranking, because only schools with a research focus are included. So you went from a school that’s ranked in the top 100 in the US to a school in Europe is one of those, it’s not eligible for rankings at all. So can you tell me a little bit about your difference in the academic experience, some sort of the mindset of those who are really hung up on rankings, like many in the US are would be concerned that that would be indicative of a lesser quality? So what did you experience educationally?

Chelsea Workman: Well, first of all, I was pretty happy to learn that even though my University in Germany didn’t rank high in international standards, it actually did rank high, like for the program itself within Germany. So there was, I did have this feeling like, okay, yeah, there is some value to this program, even though there’s that prestigious name that I know from the US. But in general, I was at a University of Applied Sciences, which is a very common type of school in Germany, and also in other countries in Europe, we have really small classes, where we had the opportunity to have really meaningful discussions with the professor and to get advice from the professor. A lot of teamwork, as opposed to just sitting in a lecture taking notes. Yeah, in general, the philosophy at this kind of university was learning by doing so not just memorizing things in a book and repeating that for your exam, but actually practicing whether that’s preparing a portfolio for the client investor, or to give a presentation for as a consulting team. So we did all kinds of really hands on things like that.

Jenn Viemont: As I’ve visited universities throughout Europe, I often ask people at research universities about the difference between universities of applied science and research universities. And I have heard across the board, how impressed they are with interns who they have from universities of applied science that you know, you don’t have to really explain everything to them, they just kind of get into it, because that’s how they’ve been taught. So that’s pretty cool. So the social differences have to be big to Ohio State’s a typical us school in that it has a huge sports program. And they’re also almost 70 Different sorority and fraternity chapters there. So can you tell me about the social life for students in Europe,

Chelsea Workman: I was really pleasantly pleased with the social life in Europe that I experienced, as opposed to in the US where there was a lot of pressure to just party and to, you know, participate in that kind of adventure. Instead, we had a lot of parties where the the focus was really on conversing. And instead of, yeah, instead of just getting wasted. And yeah, there were just so many things to enjoy, like, like good food or a chic bar or just kind of nice aspects that I didn’t experience when I was in Columbus. Because the options are usually there like tailgating or frat house party. 

Jenn Viemont: And that’s not to say that students in Europe don’t get drunk. But what I’ve heard pretty universally Ways that, you know, yeah, drinking happens, but it’s part of an activity, rather than the activity itself. Exactly. So how about a social group was it was it difficult for you to find a social group to kind of plug in with or to connect to,

Chelsea Workman: I had a really great experience, because as a part of my English program, there were many international students who also took part in that with me. And it turned out to be about 50% German students and 50% international students in all of my classes. So this really just leveled the playing field and made it so that you could get to know anyone, and everyone is very interested, I think, in general, Europeans are really open to meeting people of other nationalities. And so yeah, there’s we everyone kind of recognized the value of that. And everyone was very excited to meet me. And as an American, I felt sort of special. Very lucky to, to get to know really open minded people from all over the world, actually, not just Europe. So I had a good time with finding friends. And interesting, interestingly enough, like some of the friends that I’ve met in, in my university, or after university, they have been the kind of friends that stay with me for life. And I never truly like, say that about the US.

Jenn Viemont: So you said something, when we spoke last time that I mentioned to you, I’ve just been thinking about so much about sort of the this new cultural norm you have amongst your peers? Can you tell me a little bit about that? Yeah. So

Chelsea Workman: One greatt example of this is Thanksgiving, and it’s November now. So Thanksgiving is coming up. And I can remember, one of my later years of study, I organized a nice Thanksgiving dinner at my house. And we all came together, people from Germany, Australia, Iran, Greece, you name it, we all came together, and we could kind of create this new shared culture and this shared sense of, I don’t know, it was just just a connection, unlike anything I’ve ever really had before, where we all are international, but we all accept each other, we all kind of are interested in each other and feel at home in this new environment that we’ve created together. So that was really special for me.

Jenn Viemont: So it sounds like your differences are sort of valued. But at the same time, you have this really strong commonality in the year all international students living in, you know, a country different from your own. I can only imagine the type of connection that that leads to.

Chelsea Workman: Yeah, it just it just helps you to grow so much as a person to meet people from all these different countries and all these different backgrounds. And you really like it just makes you a better person, I guess. 

Jenn Viemont: So I often hear from students who shy away from schools in European towns, they want to focus on the bigger cities like Rome or Paris, the large cities that they know of. You’d written I told her listeners earlier that you wrote a blog for us. And I really liked what what you talked about between the differences in towns in the US and those in Europe. Can you speak to that a little bit?

Chelsea Workman: Sure. Yeah. And I do, I do agree that the trend is to move to big cities, to be attracted to studying abroad in Barcelona, for example. And that was definitely my perspective before I came to Europe. But now that I’ve had the experience of studying in a small German town, or a village, as they would call it, I was really pleasantly surprised by what a nice experience that offered me just living in a town where it’s kind of small enough or manageable, so that you can either walk or ride your bike everywhere you need to go. Everything is very well kept. Everything is very modern. The Library at the University and deggendorf actually is more modern than the one here and lives in the big city. So things like that have been really nice. And because of that, yeah, I definitely never regretted going to a big town. And actually, I found that the bigger, bigger city experience was a little bit more stressful in the times that I did get to experience that life style at the big universities like having to trip like commute an hour to get to your, your class or your your office. So I definitely love the small town experience that Europe offers. It’s very quaint and easy. And then you always walk out of your house and you seem to see someone you know, from university, for example. So yeah, I enjoyed that. 

Jenn Viemont: And I think the other thing to note to people is that, you know, if you’re living in a in a village, as you said, you know, most people be like a village I don’t want to go to a village in Europe, but it’s also a village or a small town in which there’s a university so there’s a strong student life so it’s not like you would think of a small town here, where you know, everything is all sort of sprawled out and there aren’t many resources. If it’s a student town, there are going to be bars there are going to be restaurants are going to be coffee shops and cafes. You know, just like you would find in a larger city. It’s just To me, it feels more neighborhood like to me, I think that the villages or the towns,

Chelsea Workman: It’s so true. And the other great thing is that in Europe, many of the towns are centralized. But I think this goes back to a few 100 years ago, or, I don’t know, a long time ago, the city life centered around the church. So literally everything is kind of organized in almost like a circle format. So you really have all your bars and restaurants and shops in one place. And it just makes life really easy. You don’t need a car to get around. But that was a big benefit.

Jenn Viemont: Totally. And speaking of which, you know, one of the huge benefits to studying in Europe is that it’s so compact, so it’s easy to explore other areas. I’ve talked to graduates who said that they have a couch to stay on all over the world, no matter where they go. So can you tell me I know that you spent some time in the Netherlands as a study abroad and you were a student in Germany, and now you’re in Austria? Where else have you been?

Chelsea Workman: So that’s exactly right. First I, I lived, you know, the first 20 Some years of my life in the US, I moved abroad to Germany. I then did my study abroad, semester in Rotterdam. So in the Netherlands. One summer, I spent some time in Italy, just studying sustainability there and farming needed a break from business. Yeah, and then, on the weekends, it was possible to just you know, take a short trip to France, take a short trip to the Czech Republic, do things like that. And, in addition, I’ve had the great opportunity for the wonderful offer from many friends of mine who live in Brazil, or who live in Hong Kong, and they say, like, Yeah, whenever you’re here, you, you have a place to sleep on our couch, you know, so. So it seems like my world has definitely opened up a lot because of this experience of studying in Germany. And now it’s led me to Austria where I’m working now, for about a year and a half.

Jenn Viemont: And just so you guys know, Chelsea also just got back from a trip to India, which is one of my dream locations. And the funny thing about this to me, you know, I’ve talked about how these possibilities change your frame of reference. When I initially asked Chelsea, we spoke a few weeks ago, and when I asked her, you know about her travel opportunities, I wrote down her quote, she said I did, I didn’t really get around that much. You know, it changes your your frame of reference that you could go to these many countries and still feel like you know, there were other opportunities you should have taken and traveled and explored. So I just think it’s such a great opportunity for people to have and be able to do this at affordable prices.

Chelsea Workman: I was on a budget my whole time. Like there were other exchange students who would go to a different country every weekend, which is absolutely possible. I was just kind of working to support myself to get through school. So I was on a budget, but even on a budget, I could still manage to see many different places. And yeah, then the trip to India. That was a once in a lifetime opportunity that my best friend presented to me and think when I was living in America, I never even met anyone that went to India before, you know. So it was just very, very cool to have these new opportunities. And I thought, you know, what’s really happening to me, like I had to pinch myself and I still am still grateful and just amazed at all the things that have come out of this.

Jenn Viemont: That’s really cool. I really appreciate you joining us today Chelsea College in Europe provides so many benefits and I think it’s awesome that you are sort of a pioneer in the movement.

Chelsea Workman: Thank you. I’m really excited to be I didn’t ever plan on moving to Germany and moving abroad on doing this, but I’m so glad that I did and happy to share my experiences with you guys.

Jenn Viemont: Awesome. Thanks. I know after hearing Chelsea many of you are interested in hearing more about college in Germany. One thing to note is that public universities in Germany, which are the ones that are free, don’t offer a tremendous number of English top programs of the 110 bachelors programs, 44 of them are free tuition, and the overall average for bachelors program is about success on a year in Germany. Master’s degree options are more affordable. There are 713 English taught options for Master’s degree programs. 492 of them offer free tuition. The other thing to note is there are also some rigid entry requirements in Germany. Particularly for bachelor’s degree programs. There are certain courses you need to have completed in high school and though AP courses are not required, like in some other countries, students do need to have a 3.0 GPA and an LSAT score of 1360 or a 29 on the AC t and this is really not negotiable. The only things that will substitute for it are an IB diploma, or a year of college at another university not a it has to be a four year college, not a two year associate’s degree. So I encourage students not to get so caught up on free. It’s really more about affordable. That said there are a couple of other countries that offer free tuition like Iceland and Norway for public UK universities. But really the cost of living can offset that benefit. Those are both pretty expensive places to live. There are a ton of options under $4,000 a year in countries that also have a low cost of living. One thing I love about all these options in Europe is how it’s really changed my frame of reference about what’s expensive tuition and what isn’t the school my son’s interested in, here’s what I would call a more expensive school in Europe, because it’s $12,000 a year. And that said, since it’s a three year program, we’ll pay right around $36,000. In total tuition, which is less than a year at many out of state are private universities, really, I would say most out of state or private universities, and is only $2,000 more total than if he went to our in State University. I know it sounds unbelievable, but I encourage you to see for yourself. We do have some detailed cost comparisons that account for travel and living expenses on our website. And it’s truly mind blowing and empowering to know that there are these incredible options at affordable prices. Thanks so much for listening today. You can find the show notes and guests links on our website beyond the If you have any questions or comments, please join our discussion on the beyond the state’s Facebook page. And you can get inspired with the pictures we post on our Instagram page. If you enjoy our podcast, I’d love if you’d rate us on iTunes or Stitcher. Thanks again.