For our final episode of the season, Jenn dives into a discussion on the rewards of pursuing a Master’s degree in Europe. Her conversation partner this week is Sean Dempsey, a past BTS member and recent graduate of the highly-ranked KU Leuven, in Belgium. It was his study abroad semester in Spain, as an undergraduate, that was the inspiration and gateway to gaining his Master’s degree in Europe.
And speaking of graduate school, Jenn announces our team’s summer plans on the podcast for giving a deserved boost to our sweeping Master’s degree resources and offerings. Get the scuttlebutt on these improvements, and hear about some of Jenn’s favorite grad programs featured in our Master’s database, some of which her own son, Sam, is exploring. It’s happening!
“According to FinAid.org, the average cost for master’s degree programs in the US ranges from $30,000 – $120,000 which depends on whether a student is paying in-statue tuition, out of state or private tuition. English-taught master’s degree programs in Europe are much more affordable. Their average tuition for the more than 6,200 English-taught programs is under $8,000 per year. That average includes the higher priced programs, like MBAs, so it is significant to note that there are over 1,800 options under $3,500 per year and more than 700 that are tuition free-even for international students.” –Jenn
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: As you probably know, we talk a lot about the bachelor’s degree options in Europe. But I’m realizing that we’ve not been giving enough attention to the master’s degree options. In fact, that’s actually about to change. I have an announcement about that later on in the episode. But as I’ve been thinking about these master’s degree options, it’s occurred to me that while I understand that some parents think their kids aren’t ready for life abroad at 18 – though, I would argue that there are ways to prepare them for that – what better time to explore life abroad than in your 20s? Of course, these options aren’t limited to kids in their 20s, you heard an earlier episode with Tiffany, whose kids are getting their bachelor’s in Europe, and she and her husband are preparing to pursue their master’s degrees in Europe as well.
So now that Sam is about a year away from graduating, we’re starting to talk about whether he wants to go straight for a master’s or work for a while first, and he hasn’t reached a decision yet so we’re exploring all the options. Now, there are certainly some great options in the US for sure. We had a recent interview with Martin Tillman, which put SIT Graduate Institute on my radar. They’re based out of — is it Maine or Vermont? One of those two, I can’t remember. They have these really cool one year master’s degree programs that are completed out in the field. There’s a Humanitarian Assistance and Crisis Management program that’s done in Jordan and Uganda. There’s a Diplomacy and International Relations master’s, which is done in South Africa and Switzerland. And both of these are aligned with Sam’s interests, but tuition alone is $46,000 a year.
I also talk about Middlebury a lot when I do tuition comparisons for Sam, mostly because they have a lot of master’s degree programs that aligned with his interest. They also have really cool master’s degree programs like one called — let’s see if I can say it — Non Proliferation and Terrorism Studies. But this one is two years and costs $42,000 a year.
So his best in-state option would likely be the International Studies master’s at NC State, which is two years and cost $11,000 per year. So according to financial aid.org, finaid.org, the average cost for master’s degree programs in the US ranges from $30,000 to $120,000, depending on whether a student is paying in-state tuition or out of state tuition and the duration of the program, of course. So the $22,000 he would pay for an in-state tuition for the two year program is actually below average. But then we get to his options in Europe.
So today, I’m talking about options that pertain to social science type programs that fall under things like international relations, security studies, political science, and international studies simply as an example, because that’s what Sam’s interested in, and also what our guest today studies. But I really want to emphasize that the options in Europe are not limited to this area. In fact, of the 8,633 master’s degree programs — yes, you heard that number right — there are more than a thousand that fall under Social Sciences. That means that there are still 7,611 in fields like humanities, science, engineering, computer science, business, and many, many more.
So at first I thought I’d tell you about programs in this area that were under the low range of the US average of $30,000 total tuition. But then, since our in-state tuition here in North Carolina is on the lower end, I thought I’d challenged myself to programs that are under the tuition that Sam would pay at NC State. So under $22,000 in total tuition.
So let’s start in Switzerland, which may not be a place you first think of when you’re looking for bargains. But I visited the Graduate Institute of Geneva last summer and was just completely blown away. We have a blog about it that you can read more on it in, but a couple of highlights are that 90% of their students find relevant work within four months of graduating. They’re located right around the corner from the UN headquarters, and Kofi Annan is an alum. They have a master’s degree program. They have several, but the one I want to tell you about is called International and Developmental Studies.
So all students in the first year of the program take the same classes as the other students in this International and Developmental Studies program. They take classes about professional skills, research classes and some around sociology, anthropology, international economics, international relations and political science, international law, international history and politics. So these classes are taught around the themes of sustainability, democracy and inequality, fairness and justice, digital and emerging technologies, global governance and education. And then during the second year, students choose either one or two specializations and focus on that area. They can choose between conflict, peace and security, or environment and sustainability. There’s gender, race and diversity, there’s global health, mobilities, migrations and boundaries, sustainable trade and finance, or human rights and humanitarianism. So the program takes two years to complete, and it’s €7,040 per year. So that’s right around US$7,775, so around $15,550 total tuition.
So the next one I want to tell you about is an Erasmus Mundus program, Erasmus Mundus programs were established to promote student mobility, and they provide integrated study programs at the master’s degree level. So not only do you study in more than one country during the program, but you graduate with a degree from all the participating universities. So there are actually a lot of really cool programs under the umbrella of Erasmus. And we have a previous podcast and blogs about those options as well. But this program I want to tell you about is called the International Humanitarian Action program. It is a two year program that is €6000 per year.
So the first semester of the two years, you establish your home university and you can choose — for the English-taught track. There’s one in Germany, there’s one in Ireland, there’s one in Sweden, one in the Netherlands, one in Poland, and one in Malta. So this is a foundation semester and you studied things related to humanitarian action, like politics, public health, culture, law and management, as they pertain to humanitarian action. And then the second semester needs to be at a school that was different from your first semester, and is based on the specialty you choose. You can study humanitarian policy and practice in Germany, you can study societies in transition in Ireland, forced migration and human security in Malta, humanitarian analysis and intervention design in the Netherlands, armed conflict and humanitarian action in Poland, or conflict, peacebuilding and religion in Sweden.
So that’s cool enough on its own, but then the third semester is even cooler, which is a regional training study at a university in Jordan, Thailand, India, Indonesia, Japan, Australia, Colombia, or the US, or work placement, so that’s incredibly cool. And then, you return to your home university for the fourth semester to work on your thesis. I mean, this is just amazing.
Then we have — gosh, we have so many, you guys. I mean, if I were to tell you details about all of these programs that are on Sam’s list, we would be here all day, and I do want to get to our guest soon. So I just want to tell you some of these schools that are on this list. There’s a joint program between the University of Barcelona and UPF, which is in Barcelona. It’s one year, so €11,000, and it’s an international relations program with different specializations, including international security. There’s Dublin City University, which is a one year program for €15,000, and it’s the International Security and Conflict Studies. There are a couple of good options that would fit Sam’s interest in Milan at the Catholic University of Sacred Heart. There’s a Middle Eastern Studies program that’s one year and €7,500. And there’s an Advanced Global Studies that’s one year and €10,000.
And then, let’s see, there’s Berlin School of Economics and Law, which is zero euros a year for tuition — of course, there are still living expenses. It takes two years to complete the International Security Management program. Oslo, Norway is another country that has free tuition for international students, and the University of Oslo has a Theory and Practice of Human Rights program, two years, zero euros a year. If he decided to stay in the Czech Republic, Charles University has a two year International Relations program with a number of really cool specializations. And that one is US$6,835 per year.
Another really cool city in the Czech Republic — most people just think of Prague — but Brno is a really, really cool city and holds a number of awesome universities, one of which is Masaryk. And there’s a Conflict and Democracy Studies program that’s two years for just €3,000 per year, and the cost of living is incredibly reasonable there. And then, if you wanted to go back to the Netherlands, VU in Amsterdam has a Law and Politics of International Security program. It’s one year to complete and €14,762.
So this is just a small sampling. I don’t know where Sam’s going to end up, he might take time to work before going to get his master’s. And he’s actually spending this summer, you know, going over his options. But I did have an incredible conversation with one of our members, who was getting his master’s degree in Europe in Brussels — well, right outside of Brussels. We actually did this interview back in the fall of 2021. But that was right before we moved from Portugal. And in the midst of the craziness with the move, I had difficulty finding that recording. I’m a neat freak in my house, but the organization on my computer is just a mess.
So today, you’re going to hear from Sean Dempsey, who just graduated from this school in Belgium. I recently caught up with him to find out what he’s up to. I learned he has moved to Madrid and he is doing work for two separate organizations. One specializes in transatlantic business consulting. It’s a business based in Spain. And the other is an NGO, which sends doctors and medical supplies to war-stricken areas around the world like the Ukraine, Yemen, and places like that. So really cool. And we’re going to hear from him right after this break.
Testimonial: Hi, I’m Maclan and I’m in my second year studying at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Before I began my degree, my sister started university in the Czech Republic, which inspired me to explore my options of going to school in Europe. But I was still lost at what exactly I needed to do in order to attend university abroad. This is where Beyond the States stepped in. My sister had previously worked with them. They built a best fit list of universities for her to consider. Over time, Beyond the States has expanded its options. I was able to take advantage of the personalized approach to explore what I found most useful. I was a part of the first On Your Mark master class where I learned what I found to be most exciting to study, where my interests aligned, and what universities I was most interested in. Before the master class, I was lost and overwhelmed with what to focus on. Beyond the States gave me a sense of direction. Before, I was only following my sister’s path. Through their help and support system, studying in Europe was able to become a reality for me. The class is offered three times a year and fills up every time. Check the show notes for more information and to sign up for the next session.
Jenn Viemont: So today, I’m talking to Sean Dempsey. He is 26 years old and he’s from Iowa. He got his bachelor’s at Luther College in Iowa, and now he’s finishing up his master’s in European Studies from KU Leuven. So before we start talking to Sean, I want to tell you a little bit about his school and his program so you have a frame of reference when we’re talking about these things. First of all, KU Leuven is right outside of Brussels, and it’s consistently ranked in the top 100 universities globally, often in the top 50, depending on which ranking system you’re looking at. Yet Sean’s tuition as an international student is just €3900 a year, which is crazy. So in his program — it’s again European Studies — and students choose a major and a minor, and elective from the following: European history, integration and political order, European diversity and cultural policy, European governance, European external relations, globalizing Europe, European and global economy, social Europe and European welfare states, sustainability in Europe, comparative American-European Studies, Europe and its eastern neighborhoods, Europe and its southern neighborhoods, and Europe and Asia.
So I just wanted to give you a little context as Sean and I start talking about his school and his program and his experiences. So Sean, thank you so much for being here today.
Sean Dempsey: Thank you, Jennifer. I’m excited to come.
Jenn Viemont: Yeah, I am too. So can you tell me — I mean, wherever you want to start, really — why you chose Europe, why you chose KU Leuven? If I’m mispronouncing it, even though I’ve been there, and why you chose this program?
Sean Dempsey: Yeah. Also, I had graduated — as you mentioned, I graduated from a small school in Iowa, Luther, and I had been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to study abroad in Spain, Seville for just a semester. That was kind of a last minute decision, and I’m so glad that I did. And I really, really wanted to continue with a more permanent stay somewhere abroad. I actually met my girlfriend there as well. That was five years ago.
So things got a little sidetracked. I took an internship in DC and ended up working there for three years with my Iowa congressman, and things just worked out. He was retiring in 2020. And so, it was a great time to just reevaluate, and I knew I wanted to go back to school. And as you mentioned, the tuition was just a huge motivator to come, you know, for a fraction of the cost the equal program would be in the US. Yeah. Of course, it’s been a unique year, the past year. I’m still with the online classes, but I’m just finishing out my thesis. I’ll be done here pretty soon, so.
Jenn Viemont: So which of the majors and minors did you choose? So your kind of specialty areas?
Sean Dempsey: Yeah, I chose History as my major; History of Integration. And then, I chose the External Relations one. My rationale is like, as an American, you know, you’re coming in having to learn, like, at least two times more about the context of — when you to do a program like European Studies. So I really wanted to have a good strong foundation, you know, the history of the EU. And then the External Relations as a minor, that’s a very popular one for the students. People all want to work at the Commission or EU Commission or Council or some diplomatic post. But that was my second choice. I thought I wanted to take a few classes with that.
Jenn Viemont: So are your classmates primarily European or really from around the world?
Sean Dempsey: And that’s been probably the most amazing part, is really from everywhere. Of course, very strongly slanted toward the EU. But I think we have — they showed us in the very beginning, but definitely representation from almost every EU member state. There are a few Americans. I think some of them still had to do it digitally. But I think we’re still four, I think, in — it’s like an 80 person program.
Jenn Viemont: Oh, that’s a good percentage.
Sean Dempsey: Yeah, yeah. So it’s still good, well represented. And then, Hong Kong and China I think were the other furthest away from the EU students.
Jenn Viemont: So what does this not only prepare you for, but prepare students for? So as an American student or as an international student, you need to have a background in politics. Is that what you plan on pursuing? Do you think you’ll pursue it there? What are your thoughts on that?
Sean Dempsey: Well, I’m always hoping that — because that’s a question that I get all the time from Europeans. Like, “Whoa, why did you come here to study European Studies?” And I think that it’s a unique route, which is strong — you know, we’re all, in job searches and schools, we’re all trying to differentiate ourselves from other candidates. So I think to have a level of expertise, hopefully, hopefully bodes well for some future job offers. But it really prepares you, because a lot of people don’t know — a lot of Europeans don’t know how the EU really works. And so, coming out of this program, you get down to the nitty gritty of, you know, how all these regulations advance. And so, many of my friends and students, the other students in the program, are trying to end up in Brussels. I would say that is the place people are really, really wanting to end up. But I mean, I don’t know, I don’t want to do this, but I think if you wanted to do a State Department position at some point, which I know a lot of people have dreams about coming here and learning in depth about, you know, another governmental system is a really good thing to do.
Jenn Viemont: It must have been interesting this year — you know, we moved to Portugal this year, so it’s also our first kind of chance living in a different country. And seeing how the EU has and has not dealt with COVID, and kind of learning how it functions, or doesn’t function, through a crisis time has been really interesting. And I imagine if you’re in the classroom, kind of learning those things that are relevant could be incredibly interesting as well.
Sean Dempsey: Definitely. Yeah, that was kind of cool, because I took a lot of history classes, but there were — I took a current issues class, I think, and the whole point of the course was seeing how the EU responds to crisis. They love talking about their crises over here. And, of course, we had just like Exhibit A, COVID…
Jenn Viemont: Yeah, right.
Sean Dempsey: …Which we were just analyzing real time. It’s been — you know, it’s changing constantly. When I first arrived in September 2020, it was like a different world. Because coming from DC, we were in the midst of one of our — you know, that summer was really bad with COVID, and they had rolled back a lot of their restrictions. And then of course, it kind of flip flopped as the US started vaccinating more, but it seems like we’re coming out of it here, but not definitely out of — you know, I wish it would have been in person, but they really did well, adjusting to the current circumstances.
Jenn Viemont: So it’s hard to compare because of the unique online circumstances this year. But, you know, keeping that in mind, what would you say the biggest differences in either the educational approach — and I know it’s hard to compare bachelor’s and master’s, you know, they are two different things. But you know, I did both in the US, and it was somewhat similar in terms of approach and expectations. What would you say the biggest differences are that you see from the US system?
Sean Dempsey: Yeah. Well, definitely, first and foremost the exam system. It’s mainly one big exam at the end of the semester for each course. And really no busy work. Like for some courses, you didn’t — I mean, the professor, you’d be in class with him and you’d be participating in the course, but there was never any like hand in anything. I know some people struggle with that, because they need something each week. But for me, it was really good because I struggle with the busy work, turning it in. So to be able to have like one big goal at the end was great.
And then, I should explain, it’s much easier to fail then, I guess you could say. Well, the grading system was 1 through 20 in KU Leuven so you need to get a 10 or higher to pass the course. But if you fail, then you have a retake, period. And our retake period is August. So if you would fail that course, you would take both from first semester or second semester in August. So it takes a lot of the pressure off. I mean, it’s still pressure, but to have a second chance at it, I think. Because, you know, if you — like if you’re talking about failing a course in the US, like, it’s kind of the end of the world. You have to make some changes or do something else, so.
Jenn Viemont: It’s interesting. I think that’s a big adjustment, not only for students in Europe, but also parents, because there’s so much grade inflation in the US. And there’s not that grade inflation in Europe. And not only that, but in many countries — and you can speak to whether this is the case at Leuven — like A’s are not the expectation. It’s getting, you know, a 9 or a 10 on the duct system. So I guess that’d be like a 19 or 20 is fairly unheard of. And it is more about even though it’s not pass/fail, it’s more about, okay, am I going to pass? And many students, especially for a bachelor’s, which is longer, will fail at least one class and have to do a reset, when they never failed anything in high school. And that can be a big mindset shift need for students and parents. Have you found that too? Did you have higher expectations of yourself? Or were you able to kind of embrace this?
Sean Dempsey: I had tried to I tried to look into this before. Like I had been asking people and there were people that were such strong students, and they told me like, “Hey, I failed,” you know. It’s not something to be — I don’t know, I think we’re sometimes ashamed if we’re in the US. And it’s really not — like, yeah, what you had mentioned, I had one professor that I think he let it slip to a student that he had never given out 19, let alone a 20. Like full percentage for points, you know, really unheard of. I can give you an average of 9 for an 18. In KU Leuven, you get a personal acknowledgement from the exam staff. That’s so rare, and that’s just 18 out of 20.
Jenn Viemont: Which is like a B. Which is like a B if we’re going to convert it. So if you get an average of a B, they’re like, “Hey, let’s have a parade for you.” So yeah, it’s really a shift.
Sean Dempsey: Definitely, definitely. I’ve enjoyed it, but I know it’s different. It’s totally different, that’s for sure.
Jenn Viemont: Yeah, it really is. So what do you plan on doing next? What’s next on your agenda?
Sean Dempsey: Yeah. Well, I kind of not mentioned it, but apart from like the great education and the tuition, a big motivator was my longtime girlfriend, she’s Spanish. So that’s where I’m at right now. I mean, I’m going back in Seville. It’s really, really hot.
Jenn Viemont: And no air conditioning, right?
Sean Dempsey: Yeah, they do fans usually.
Jenn Viemont: Yeah. Yeah, that’s how it is in Portugal.
Sean Dempsey: So that’s an adjustment as well. But I’d like to end up in Brussels as well. I’m working on getting a residency through a partnership. And then, I think with Leuven, a lot of my non-EU colleagues, I guess — those other students that are non-EU are really excited because Belgium might pass a bill in this next calendar year that would allow non-EU students to job search for nine months. I know other European states have it, and the Netherlands I believe has it, but you probably know better than I, Jennifer. But that would be great. So give us time to try to find some job in Brussels, Oh, I didn’t specify. It would be more — I’m thinking like think tanks. There’s a lot of like focused on transatlantic relations between the US. So I would hope to use my dual expertise here, if I could call it that, with the US and Europe to find something.
Jenn Viemont: For sure. So how long do you have? Is it six months or three months that you have if they don’t pass this, to look for a job after?
Sean Dempsey: Yeah. So I think all the visas expire after October 31st. So that’s over a year. I got here September 2020. And so, it’d be like 13, 14 months, whatever that is. So October 31st, if I don’t get this residency through another avenue, then I would have to go back to the US or figure something out.
Jenn Viemont: When do you technically graduate?
Sean Dempsey: If I get my thesis in, which I need good thoughts on that right now, but I should graduate in September.
Jenn Viemont: You might want to look into it. I’ll actually look into it and email you later. Because most countries have something for after. Like the one that you’re talking about, the nine month thing, it’s shorter. You know, it’s like three or six months, So I’ll look at that and I’ll email you after. We have that in our database.
So speaking of that, so you were a Beyond the States member. Your brother was a Beyond the States member and just graduated from a school in Prague. And my understanding is he’s also in Spain, right?
Sean Dempsey: He’s on his way. Yeah, he’s going to be in Madrid.
Jenn Viemont: And then your parents are in Iowa, yeah?
Sean Dempsey: Yep, yep. My mom is in Iowa with my stepdad and my dad’s in Southern California.
Jenn Viemont: How are they adjusting to both of you intending to settle in Europe?
Sean Dempsey: I think it’s — I mean, it’s definitely tough. I know they get a lot of questions about this from other worrying parents, like how could you ever let them go? But I think they’re really excited for us. I know that they know that both my brother and I wanted something, an experience like this. And they’re excited about the tuition, that’s for sure.
And I mean, so thank God, the vaccinations are coming through. So my mom is actually going to visit this month my brother in Prague, and then my dad later in August. So I mean, we’re lucky in that sense that they’re able to do that. But again, like, you know, FaceTime, what we’re doing right now, that helps. We can stay really close.
Jenn Viemont: It really does. I mean, though there’s a time difference to deal with on phone calls, I feel like when I talk to my son in the Netherlands, whether it was from the US or not, like I know what his room looks like, I’ve met his friends. It’s not much different than if he were in school or living in a different state, other than the time difference. But yeah, my mom has the same thing; myself and my two brothers all live in Europe. So she gets the questions too, like what did you do wrong?
Sean Dempsey: Exactly, exactly.
Jenn Viemont: Interesting. Well, this has been really, really helpful. I’m so excited for you and I’m excited for your future, and I can’t wait to hear what’s next on your life.
Sean Dempsey: Yeah. Well, thank you for this. And then also, really your work, I hope to get the ball rolling, because it I know can be intimidating when you come to this, you know, idea of “Oh, I want to go.” So I appreciate it. I appreciate all that you do.
Jenn Viemont: Absolutely. Thanks for being here.
So I usually put the Special of the Month at the end of the episode, but I’m just too excited to wait. So we’re spending this summer beefing up our masters membership resources. They’re already substantial; we have webinars, our member Facebook group, the database of more than 1,000 master’s degree programs, our office hours, but we’re also going to be adding a separate member Facebook group just for our masters members, programs for the month about these graduate programs, blogs with master’s students experiences, classes, and more.
So in the meantime, we’ve lowered our price for our masters membership, probably until the fall, to $49 a month. And this month, for one of our monthly specials, we’re offering a 50% discount on the first month of your masters membership. So use the code 50offmasters, all one word, to receive your discount. And if you’re driving and you can’t write that down, no worries, we’re going to have that in the show notes as well.
We also have our bachelors-related special of the month too. We’re calling it the Almost Crunch Time Special. We have a really popular offering that we offer in the fall and spring of each — well winter of each year for students who are applying for the upcoming fall. And this one is a modification of this, this would be for students who are applying for fall of 2023. So rising seniors mostly, and it includes a best fit list, it includes consultation time with me. It includes video lessons around the admissions process, and then a call with me after to narrow down the list and to make an admission strategy and all of that, and just everything you need to have all of your ducks in a row by the time school starts in the fall, so you can just apply with ease. So we’ll have the link to that in our show notes as well, which you can find at the beyondthestates.com monthly special.
So you guys, it’s summer. So we just moved into our house in Durham here in North Carolina, and I’m really enjoying nesting after the last few years that was just full of moves. Sam is home from Prague for the summer, and he really found his academic groove this year, which has been great to see. He’ll go back in the fall for his final year. He’ll have an internship and a thesis so it’ll be a busy one for him. And then Ellie is going to be just 30 minutes away at NC State this fall.
So summer is a super busy time for all of us and scheduling interviews during this time is never easy. So we’re going to take a break from the podcast for the fall, but we would love to hear if there are topics you’d like us to cover, or guests you’d like us to interview. Please do send us your suggestions. You can send those to [email protected]. Have a fantastic summer.