Timeline: When to Apply to Colleges in Europe

The planning process to pursue American colleges is pretty well known, but we get a lot of questions about the study abroad timeline as a direct student in Europe.
Jennifer Viemont on Oct 21, 2022
Timeline: When to Apply to Colleges in Europe

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Jennifer Viemont
Founder & Chief College Advisor
Our database offers students a unique opportunity to find a degree from a top-ranking European university while still being able to study in English. We make it easy to find and apply to these programs, and provide all of the support you need along the way.
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Article updated Nov 23, 2022

The planning process to pursue American colleges is pretty well known, but we get a lot of questions about the study abroad timeline for a bachelor’s degree as a direct student in Europe. To be clear, we don’t consider college in Europe as study abroad since the students are in Europe for the duration of their studies, but many newcomers to the topic see the term as synonymous, so we are including it here. 

While it is possible to start at any point throughout the process, here is what we suggest from a planning perspective. Interested in the graduate school process? We have suggestions for that too at the end of the post!

Freshman and Sophomore Year

I recently had a roundtable discussion with several of our members who are studying in Europe. Many of them said they wished they’d had a more robust study abroad timeline earlier in high school! They all said that this would have helped with course planning, allowing them to pursue electives (related or unrelated to their area of study), spread out any AP classes, and forgo any stress around US admissions requirements.

Many parents think freshman year is too young to start. I agree that it is too young to choose a specific program and school, but it is not too young to start considering the idea or and options around college in Europe. This could start with an exploration of our free resources-like our blog posts, podcast episodes, and student profiles. You can also find more in-depth information in College Beyond the States: European Schools that Will Change Your Life without Breaking the Bank. Although our book was published a few years ago, and certainly some details around admissions have changed, it’s a great way to get a lay of the land. You can purchase the physical copy through Amazon.

Spending some time digging into this information will help you decide whether college in Europe is something you want to pursue or not. Many families become Beyond the States members during this time, either for a few months or they start-now taking advantage of the savings offered by our lifetime membership option. Joining at this stage of the game can serve many purposes:

  • You can confirm that there are enough options of interest, determining there are enough appealing options that you won’t need to participate in the US admission process.
  • You can check whether the types of programs and countries that appeal to you have extra admissions requirements (AP and sometimes SAT) which will allow you to plan your courses accordingly.
  • You can plan deliberate ways to explore academic interests and explore how they might relate to potential areas of study. The How to Choose A Major course is another good option that helps with this!

This is also a great time to explore whether you have any possibility of dual citizenship. Dual citizenship allows the student to pay substantially decreased tuition costs in all the countries we have listed.

If a student’s parent holds an EU passport, this is already part of the discussion. It is less well known that citizenship can be passed down from the grandparents as well in some European countries such as Spain, Italy, Ireland, Germany, and others. The topic of immigration law is beyond the scope of the Beyond the States project, so you’ll have to research the topic on your own.

Junior Year Timeline

This is the part of the study abroad timeline that most families and students find Beyond the States. The goal this year is to identify the specific programs and schools that you are interested in, are within your budget, and match your qualifications. This is a deeper dive than what occurred during the freshman and sophomore years and should include an exploration of individual needs and preferences around location, teaching approach, curriculum, university specific criteria, and more.

Most schools now offer virtual tours and online workshops throughout the year, particularly since Covid-19 put a temporary halt on international travel. While many of our members started at universities without visiting ahead of time (even before Covid-19), junior year is a great time for visits, if possible. University visits are much different in Europe, and regularly occurring tours aren’t necessarily prevalent. That said, visits can be useful and it’s often possible to meet with the school and current students. Many schools offer in-person events at specific times during the year as well. All in all, we suggest doing visits after your initial list is narrowed down a bit. It’s also important to note that the feel of many places in the summer is quite different than when students are present. Thanksgiving is an ideal time, since it’s a relatively affordable season for travel to Europe, and you can spend a full week abroad and only miss two days of school in the US.

There are several resources we offer to help with during this stage. Junior year is the prime time for our On Your Mark Masterclass, which is a self-paced, six week class that takes students through the process of choosing an area of study and identifying the schools and programs that best fit their individual needs. If the class doesn’t fit your schedule or budget, you might also consider our self-paced Choosing A University Course.

Many families opt for our best selling Best Fit List during junior year. This is a service in which we use our expertise to curate a list of 3-5 programs that meet the student’s specific parameters around area of study, budget, general needs or preferences, taking into consideration the student’s background and qualifications. These services are available with or without membership, but the ongoing member resources are incredibly valuable at this stage. For instance, we have a group of student ambassadors (BTS members already studying in Europe) who answer member questions in our students-only Facebook group and parents who have navigated these options who provide incredible support and information in our members-only Facebook group. 

Membership also includes access to monthly answers from members’ Q&A, discounts on all services and classes, monthly highlighted programs, and of course searchable database access, and more! The annual membership is perfect for juniors. If there are other students in the home who may pursue the options (whether younger or older for grad school) the lifetime membership can provide tremendous savings as well!

Senior Year (or later)

We’re nearing the end of the study abroad timeline and it’s application time! Many schools have rolling admission periods that start as early as October. Some have admissions periods that don’t begin until later in the year. Because of the transparent admissions procedures, most of the students we work with apply to just 1-3 programs. There just isn’t a need for any more than that! The beginning of the year will require narrowing down the list, determining an application timeline and working on motivation letters, if necessary. Any matters pertaining to immigration/residency permits and housing don’t begin until after you are accepted, which is usually in late spring.

Don’t worry if you are just learning about these options during your senior year! Though you do need to hit the ground running, we have many resources to help. Our On Your Mark Masterclass appeals to seniors just starting their pursuit, and our Get Set Masterclass then keeps going, and walks students through the application process.

What About a Study Abroad Timeline for Graduate School?

The biggest obstacle American students have when pursuing graduate school in Europe is that most require that applicants have a related major. This is generally defined as a set number of credits achieved in the study areas that the university defines as “related”. There are also sometimes requirements for research-related classes. For these reasons, the ideal time to start exploring is when you still have time to register for and take these required courses. Starting before the second semester of your junior year gives you ample time to plan accordingly. In fact, even if you are continuing in the same field of study, this is still an ideal time to start since there are a number of master’s degree programs with international student deadlines as early as January. 

Due to the massive number of English-taught master’s degree programs in Europe - there are 8000+ in our database alone - a Best Fit List is a great way to jump start the process, allowing us to use our expertise to curate a list of 3-5 grad programs that we believe are a “best fit” for your parameters and background! 

Remember-exploring the options does not have to mean that you are committed to them! The research will allow you to make an informed decision about where you study, be it in the US, Europe, or elsewhere in the world. The bottom line is that though there are certainly ideal times to start the process, it’s not too early or too late no matter what stage you are in!

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3200+
English-taught bachelor's programs in our database.
8200+
English-taught master's programs in our database.
550
Beautiful European cities to choose from.
870
Top-tier universities accepting international students.
332,948
Typical savings against a private university in the US.
60,123
Typical savings against in-state tuition in the US.
All inclusive of tuition, living, food, books, health insurance, travel expenses, as well as hidden fees. Compiled with data from students and the official websites from KU Leuven, UNC, and Duke.

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