Beyond The States
What You Need to Know About College in Europe
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Jenn covers the basic concepts about going to college in Europe. She explains the different types of higher education institutions in Europe, the types of degree programs, along with housing and student life.

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: Thanks for joining me today. I’m Jenn Viemont, Founder of Beyond the States. And I’ve been thinking, you know, as I’ve mentioned, on other episodes, in the future, we’ll be interviewing American students who are already studying in Europe. And as I’ve been catching up with them, I realized that if you’re not already a member of beyond the states, or if you haven’t listened to any of our webinars, it’s going to be helpful for you to know some basic information about the differences in higher education in Europe versus here in the States before you hear these interviews with the students. So today, I’m going to talk to you about the key differences that pertain to the types of educational institutions, the types of degree programs, the application process, housing and student life. So the first thing to understand are the different types of institutions. These are all institutions that provide full bachelor’s degrees, and full master’s degrees. So here, we have universities and colleges in the States, and I couldn’t even really explain to you well, the differences between the two. And there are even some schools like Boston College that qualify as a university, but still call themselves a college. So it’s confusing here in the States, and guess what is also confusing in Europe. So here are the different types. First, we have research universities, these are like you think of our universities here. They’re large, they’re different departments, although I’ll tell you they call the academic departments, faculty, you know, here we call staff, faculty, and there, they call the academic departments, faculty, they offer full bachelor’s degree programs, full master’s degree programs, usually PhD programs, Master’s degree programs are either one or two years, the two year master’s, in some countries, like the Netherlands, they’re called research masters. And those qualify you for PhD programs, then we have universities of applied science. And there’s really nothing comparable to that here. I mean, there’s a full bachelor’s or master’s degree, but the focus is different is about the educational approach and the program offering. It’s more of a focus on real world experience, how to use the knowledge, practical use of the knowledge, there’s some programs like nursing or graphic design, where you wouldn’t be learning a lot of research anyways, definitely more hands on that you need, you’re not going to find a nursing degree at a research university. There’s some overlap in programs that are offered at research universities, and and at universities of applied science. But the real distinction is a lack of the research focus, you’re not going to have classes like stats, for instance, or you’re not going to have a research method class at a university of applied science. And when I think about my own educational experience, I have my master’s in social work, and the classes that I really loved the most. And the classes that I use the most professionally, were those that were more practical in nature. And I would have loved to have had more of that in my own master’s degree program. So then there are university colleges. And this is where it’s tricky, because in some countries, if it’s called a university college like in Denmark, when they say University College, that means university of applied science. But then there are these university colleges in the Netherlands. And I talk a lot about these will probably do a whole episode on these in the future. But these are, is they are a department of an actual research university. So your diploma comes from the University of Leiden University College. Your degree comes from Leiden University, but it’s more self contained than most programs. And it’s a liberal arts focus. So you don’t choose your program, right. When you go into it. You have some gen ed classes, and then choose your your program from there. And there are an honors program there. It’s really cool opportunities different than university of applied science. So keep that in mind. And then there are specialized schools or business schools or art schools and their hospitality schools. So the biggest difference in Europe is when you apply for a bachelor’s program, you’re applying to an actual program at that school. You’re not just applying to Leiden University, you’re applying to the International Studies program at Leiden University. So you basically have to know what you want to study. You have to know your major. There aren’t Gen Ed requirements, so it’s not like you can easily switch your major like you do here you have To switch actual programs or schools, and this sometimes scares people, they think that they don’t know what to study. And so how are they going to know this ahead of time. And there are some people I completely agree that there are some people have no idea what they want to study. But you do have those liberal art programs, options that I talked about at the university colleges in the Netherlands. And also, there are a number of combined programs that integrate knowledge in different areas in a meaningful way. So as opposed to having a major and a minor, there’s a program that combines them together. And they’re also really sort of broad program choices as well. So let’s go through what some of these options might be from, from abroad to a more narrow to an integrated program. So certainly, there are a ton of business programs that are just general business administration programs. And then there are choices for agribusiness, or, more specifically, there’s an international wine business program or international business of food and flowers. There are also a lot of business programs that combine business with area studies, like you’re learning business, and then you’re also learning about an area of the world like, you know, a country in Asia, and you’re also learning the language associated with that. And then often there’s an internship component there too. So you’re getting some sort of a lot of the social science and again, languages incorporated into that same program. So when you’re looking at arts programs, there are some that combine arts culture and media or their fine arts programs with a more narrow choice of even programs like character animation. There, you could take General Communications, or a more specific public relations program, computer science, or game design, or cybersecurity, you know, broad to more specific. Engineering is generally pretty specific, though aside from there is an integrated engineering program in Estonia, which allows you to kind of be exposed to the different areas of engineering before you decide on a specialty Health Sciences. Another one that’s that’s generally more specific nursing, physiotherapy, global or public health, things like that, although there are some general life science programs as well. Earth Science, you can take a general Earth Science Program, or one that speaks to sustainable use of natural resources. There are general general hospitality programs, or tourism to more specific like restaurant entrepreneurship, humanities, it can be a general humanities program.

And somewhat broad like philosophy, or, more specific like in so I’m going to mispronounce this antiquity in archaeology, Social Sciences is one that’s often combined with a number of areas. Sometimes even with humanities, there are these programs that are popular in Europe. They’re called PPE, or PP le, and the peas and ELLs and E’s can also stand for different things, but usually political sciences in their philosophy, economics, law, sometimes psychology, and again, they’re merging these things in a really much more meaningful way. And then there are also international studies programs are not only international relations, but international studies where you’re focused on an actual area of the world, and how politics applies that area of the world history, language, culture, all of that. So I guess that’s just to say, don’t let it scare you off. If you don’t know what you want to study, there are still options for you and Europe, where it doesn’t mean that you have to have such a specific focus right when you apply. So master’s degree programs are generally more specialized, because you should know what you want to study when you go for a master’s degree. For instance, psychology programs, where you’ll have choices in clinical psychology, forensic psychology, developmental psychology, environmental psychology, cognitive psychology, and even I kid you not traffic psychology. I don’t even know what that is. And I studied psychology. So but there are some options for Master’s degree programs that are integrated and and really relevant. There are these programs. Under the Erasmus program, which we’ll talk about in future episodes, I’ve talked a little bit about in the past, where different universities come together and create this program. And students spend one year at two different schools and in two different countries. So for instance, one is Journalism, Media and globalization. Students study in Denmark, the Netherlands, UK, or Germany, or two of those locations. And they get to specialize in four different areas of journalism. You choose one, whether it’s war in conflict, business and finance, media and politics or journalism, and media across cultures, which is Pretty cool. There’s also a Food Science Technology and Business program, which is a great way to merge interest in technology and business. And the aim of that program is to foster and develop knowledge and awareness of scientific trends and health issues in food science, technology and business in a global context. And then there’s migration and intercultural relations, where students do discuss things like migration and mobility and refugees and, and look at it on a policy level and, and an economic level and social development, international relations, you know, all those different topics, go into this program. Okay, so next, the next big difference, and this is one of my favorite differences is about the admissions process. So I believe it was episode three of our podcast where we really kind of dive deep into how admissions works in Europe versus here. Man, in case you didn’t hear that one, kind of the, the cliffnotes to this topic is that it’s so much better, it’s really different. What they’re looking for, are not candidates who have the most extracurricular activities and who have, you know, this, this great essay that speaks to some, you know, epiphany they had in their life, what they’re looking for in the admissions process, is whether you have the qualifications that are needed to succeed in their program, and these qualifications are transparent. So you pretty much know ahead of time if you qualify for the program or not. And if there’s not an enrollment cap, and you qualify for the program, in many schools, and in many countries, you’re you’ll get in, so master’s degree programs, what you’re going to need though is you will need to have a related major, you can’t study, have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and then get into a business program. For instance, without certain you know, significant courses as your electives in business, make sure you have a related major. Sometimes you will need specific classes, you may need a GMAT or GRE but that’s really not frequent like it is here.

For bachelor’s degree programs, it’s a little bit more tricky, because what they’re looking at there, it’s about whether the US high school diploma is equivalent to theirs. So in some countries, only a few, so don’t get too hung up on this one. In a handful of countries, you need to have either an IB diploma, or a certain number of AP test scores of three or higher. Again, that’s only you know, four countries or so that have those requirements, there are plenty of schools, you can go to if you don’t have the AP requirements. But for those countries, the AP requirements, the AP test you took, that’s what makes your high school diploma, the equivalent of a high school diploma in that country. So Germany has a combination of courses, GPA, and either an essay tear or a CT score, and they do have a minimum score set for those. But other than that, other than those countries, again, that the admissions criteria are pretty transparent in terms of needing a high school diploma, sometimes you’ll need to write a motivation letter, sometimes there’ll be a Skype interview, a couple of countries have entrance exams, but again, it’s a lot more transparent. So there are also some academic differences. One is about the duration, your bachelor’s degree, the programs there are either three, three and a half or four years most are three or three and a half. And a lot of this is because you don’t have those Gen Ed requirements, your Gen Ed requirements are going to be related to your program of study. So the first year, if you’re a political science student, for instance, your first year, maybe a lot of general political science courses, and then you specialize more as you proceed through the program. Lots of the English conducted programs do have small seminars as kind of a hallmark of their programs. Sometimes it’s in addition to lectures, but the nice thing about these seminars are that the professor’s actually lead them. So you do have to be on top of your reading. It’s not like you can just cram for your test at the end. Because these these discussions in the seminars are a real important component to your education. So in Northern Europe, there’s a really flat hierarchy, which extends to the classroom. So you know, students call professors by their first name and often professors served in an advisory role with the students. There are also these things called Friday bars in Denmark where professors in each department set up the bar on Friday afternoons and then students and staff from that department all get together. hang out. So some schools have continual assessment where you’ll have projects throughout the semester. Some schools base grades just on the midterm and final. And often oral exams are used as well. And as we’re talking about exams, I’ll tell you great inflation is not a thing there, you should not expect an A, I’ve heard more than one person from more than one country say that the philosophy about A’s are that A’s are reserved for God. And that if you go to your professor saying, hey, you know, you gave me a B and I deserve an A, you’re basically saying, Hey, I know as much as you do. And that’s not thought well of, but what they do have. So it’s more about are you passing your classes as that’s the goal is to pass your classes. And they have something called binding study advice in a few of the countries, which means that your first year of study, you do need to pass a certain number of classes in order to come back your second year, and we’re not talking about you have to have a certain GPA, we’re talking about passing a certain number of classes, you’re going to know if you’re in danger of not doing that by around Christmas, and they can get structures in place to help you. So don’t feel like you know, oh, that means I’m gonna fail out, it’s definitely doable. Another academic difference is the opportunity for internships is often a requirement for programs. And when it’s not a requirement is almost always offered as an option. You can either do this through Erasmus, or through your school. And what’s cool is that if you do it through Erasmus, there are certain structures they have set up, to make sure that you’re doing something actually meaningful that you’re not just fetching coffee. And I realized I just mentioned Erasmus without saying what Erasmus is, which is the point of this episode is to give you some of this background information. Again, Erasmus is something we’ll do a full episode on in the future. But just again, sort of a summary. It’s an umbrella program for the EU. And all students, including international students can participate in these programs. And it’s to encourage student mobility. So internships are often done in another country, then, then for your studying. And they have study abroad options that is that are very easy to do, and very affordable. Will tell talk more about those in the future. But again, speaking of that, studying abroad is also something that happens with many, many students. It’s not sort of this special thing. There’s, you know, your third year, the first semester, students are generally either doing an internship, studying abroad or a minor. And that’s just sort of incorporated into the program. And I will say that master’s degree students have Erasmus options too, like we talked about with those combined programs. Those are Erasmus programs that aim to encourage mobility even among Master’s Degree students. And even if you’re just participating in a regular master’s degree program, there are still the semester abroad opportunities, which you don’t see a whole lot with master’s degree programs here in the States. So now let’s touch down on housing and student life. This, this is a huge difference. So first and foremost, students are students of the city, as opposed to students of the school. So much of student life includes students from many schools within the same city or town. Housing is one of those areas. Unlike here in the States, housing is generally not provided by the schools. There are some rare exceptions in which it’s required, like the university colleges in the Netherlands, and some American schools, but that’s the exception. Usually, schools don’t even own housing.

They may contract with student residence providers within the city though, and the great thing about that is it creates market competition that you don’t have here, which makes it a lot more affordable. So student residences are generally more apartment like students have their own bedroom, usually a private bath, and then share a common room and a kitchen with somewhere between four and 10 other students, again, we’re talking about a whole continent, it varies country to country, city to city, this is just generally speaking, sometimes the student residences are reserved partially or wholly for one school. And sometimes there are a mix of students from around the town. Sometimes there is a floor that’s reserved more for international students. Sometimes it’s all integrated in it just really varies their housing will either be required guaranteed assisted or you’re on your own. And that’s, you can tell that from the websites, you can tell that from our database, we put that in there too.

It’s great when it’s guaranteed, but then you don’t have quite as much of a choice assisted, I think is a really nice level, because then they do let you know about the different options around the town. Sometimes they’ll have someone who can actually help you with the paperwork and all of that. But even when it’s on your own, they’re going to they’re going to point you into the right direction. Housing is often first come first serve, though, unless it’s guaranteed or required. So move quickly, you should be able to find housing in the ballpark of around 350 euros a month, cities in Eastern Europe are often going to be less than that, and can be found for even under 200. And then bigger cities in the west of the North may be a bit higher, certainly the North is much higher. But even still, and these are the prices I’m talking about for student residences, there are other options to share an apartment with another student, or have your own apartment. And in France, as an international student, you actually qualify to get this allowances housing allowance called Caf Cas, which is usually around 100 euros a month. So it doesn’t cover your whole rent, certainly, but it’s it’s a nice assistance to have. Unlike here, there’s generally not a board option. With room and board, there are cafes and cafeterias on many of the school campuses. But even those aren’t open seven days a week or for every meal, often use more for a quick bite. Students really cook for themselves. When you’re sharing a kitchen with, you know, four to 10 other students, students often end up cooking for each other, it becomes a multicultural event, which is pretty cool. And also just a fun way to socialize. And then students often take leftovers for lunch, and use microwaves around campus to heat it up. But I will say I think of my own cooking skills when I was 18. And they were pretty limited. But I do look at the grocery stores when I travel to figure out sort of what the student friendly meals are for those who don’t cook. And you know, there’s ramen frozen pizza in every country, in addition to more prepared food choices, like we have in the larger grocery stores here. And also, you know, if you have a kitchen, and you don’t have someone cooking for you, you might find that you actually enjoy cooking, we have a student who we worked with who, who went away to school and really developed a love of cooking and exploring the different foods that he would find in the grocery store and experimenting with them. And so it’s a pretty cool opportunity. And of course, in addition to that there student food everywhere Kebab shops are big with students.

And we’re actually going to do an episode on student food and street food as well in the future, and then their student life. And let’s first talk about the obvious, the drinking age is definitely lower in Europe. But as I talked to students who are studying there already, what I’m hearing is that the drinking mentality there is very different than it is here. That’s not to say that students aren’t drinking they are. And that’s not to say the students don’t get drunk they do is just a drinking is part of an activity, not the activity itself. You know, it might be a part of dinner, and then you go out afterwards, certainly, they might stay out too late, and drink too much. But it’s not like a hey, let’s go out and get wasted. It might just be that that ends up happening. But it’s less of the focus and the goal. And there’s not the binge drinking, like happens here.

Part of part of I think the more responsible drinking comes with the fact that it’s not taboo. And also it’s being done in settings in which they really do need to monitor the amount that they’re drinking. Like, for instance, in Friday bars, if you’re drinking with your professor, you certainly know that you don’t want to get wasted with that and and learn to drink in a way that’s not to get drunk. The students I’ve talked to more than one has called it a more civilized sort of approach to the party world in the drinking world. So in terms of other aspects of student life, because there are other aspects of student life besides drinking. The first thing you’ll encounter when you get to campus, there’s usually an orientation for international students. Some schools have buddy programs. A good thing to look at is how comprehensive that is, you know, sometimes they’re just really loose and other times. It’s more structured with workshops and regular events throughout the year. I think a structured one, especially if you’re going to a country that has low English proficiency. A more structured Buddy Program is a real benefit. Because it does teach you your buddy does teach you things about like buying a public transportation ticket, which can be daunting or like checking out at the supermarket, which if I had a penny for every kind of difficulty I had the self checkout line and a foreign country, I would be a wealthy woman. And then there are opportunities within your own academic department, which is said before, these are called your faculty. So each of the academic departments have study associations. And so these are department based, but they have academic and social events. So you have these opportunities for students within your department, not just your program, you know, again, if it’s a the Department of Business, you know, you’ll have these events with students who are in the marketing program, as well as economics program, for instance. And then there are also student associations with the school, which are usually around interests. So sometimes there are clubs just for international students. And if you’re at a school, with more English conducted programs, or a higher number of international students, more of these clubs are likely to be in English, but they might be about academic or professional interests, the arts and theater and music, volunteering, culture and religion, political food and drink, I’ve seen some about coffee, cooking whiskey, wine and beer, Student Publications, LGBT issues, environmental issues. And then of course, there are some sort of general socializing and party associations. For instance, in Sweden, they have something called nations. And these are sort of like the Greek it’s sort of like the Greek system here, except they’re more inclusive, but it’s definitely more of a social group that you join, for social reasons. So then there are some countries have their version of a student or who’s it which is, you know, for all the students within the city, and you can hang out and they have parties and music, a coffee shop, they even have study rooms in some of them. Schools have student unions that organize parties and trips and there was one school I visited in Helsinki, and they had organised sort of like a overnight cruise thing to Stockholm, which was very popular. And then there was also some like, it was around the time a new Star Wars movie was being released, I believe. And so they had had some, you know, weekend marathon of Star Wars movies. And then there’s also the local ESN chapter. And this is a chapter like I was talking about before with Erasmus. And they provide all sorts of trips and parties and events, and I’ve seen like a speed friendship events, things like that, for exchange students, but it’s open to all international students. So yes, the social life is really different, but not necessarily better or worse, just different. If you’re concerned that you’d miss out on the typical American college experience, I’d encourage you to identify what it is that you really hope to get out of that experience. I think the underlying goals as they pertain to the US college social life relate to fun and connection. So are there ample opportunities for fun in Europe? Absolutely. And it’s not just one type of fun. It’s not isolated to just your school, you can explore different countries and explore the different sort of partying and social and, and such opportunities in a wide variety of countries. So are there ample opportunities for fun in Europe? Absolutely. I think we’ve covered that. So let’s talk about the opportunities for connection in Europe. When my kids were young, I was in frequent social situations with people. And the only things we necessarily had in common are that we had similarly aged kids or we lived in the same geographic area, we generally had the same socio economic background. Not only was I really bored, but I felt really disconnected. Now, my kids are older, and my peer group and social interactions don’t revolve around them and their friends. Some of my very favorite friends are good 20 years older than me. We have really different lifestyles, and we’re at different stages of our life. But we have a few core values. I admit these are food related values, and we’re regulars at our farmers market and met there. But food is very important to me. But these are the interests and values that then connect us on many levels. So typically, when someone goes to college here, it’s like me when my kids were little, you have a similar socio economic background, same stage of life living in the same dorm. Since your first year is filled up with Gen Ed courses, you aren’t even able to connect with people who necessarily have the similar academic interests that you do. But what I’m hearing across the board from students in Europe is a deep connection they’re forming with other international students. Their classmates in the students in the student residences who are in the English top programs are from all over the world. That’s why the English taught programs exist. You Your friend from Singapore Are your friend from Peru, your friend from Spain, your friend from Finland, all come from totally different backgrounds, there’s no denying your major differences, so there’s no pressure to conform. At the same time, you all share this really significant value and experience the experience of living as a foreigner in another country, and the value of global citizenship and hearing that the connections made through this are our family like and they carry on well past graduation. Okay, so that’s all I have for today. Thanks so much for listening. We’ll start with deaths again, Americans who are studying in Europe or recently graduated. On our next episode in two weeks, you can find the show notes and guests links on our website beyond the states.com/podcast. If you have questions or comments, please join our discussion on beyond the state’s Facebook page and you can get inspired on our Instagram page. If you enjoy our podcast I’d love if you’d rate us on iTunes. Thanks for listening.