Originally Posted: May 16, 2019
Last Updated: May 17, 2019
Even before my oldest started high school, I was worried about the cost of college. Though we had regularly put money away for college through a 529 plan, our savings wouldn’t even scratch the surface of private or out-of-state tuition. I also had concerns about the rat race the college admission process has become and was worried that my son wouldn’t be a good player of that game.
We were both thrilled to stumble upon the existence of English-taught, full-degree programs held at European universities. Prior to this, I assumed international students would have to know a foreign language to study in Europe. I had no idea that, in non-English-speaking countries in Europe, over 400 universities offer full-degree programs conducted entirely in English—no foreign language skills needed!
These options have been a game changer for us as well as families across the country. Families and students are excited about these options for different reasons, but most of the benefits fall into one of these categories.
On average, international students pay less than $8,000 per year to attend one of the 1,800+ bachelor’s programs across continental Europe. There are more than 600 programs with tuition for less than $5,000 per year and more than 60 options that are tuition-free—even for international students!
The savings are further increased when you factor in that most bachelor’s programs take three or three-and-a-half years to complete. In many cases, it costs less to obtain a full bachelor’s degree in Europe, including cost of travel, than one year of out-of-state or private school tuition in the United States.
Even after accounting for housing and travel costs, the savings are immense. My own son, Sam, will soon attend Leiden University in the Netherlands. At $12,550 a year, it’s on the higher side of the tuition range in Europe. The program at Leiden takes three years to complete, which will be a total of $37,650 in tuition costs.
If Sam were to go to school in the United States, Vermont’s Middlebury College would be a good fit for his academic interests. Yet tuition for one year is $54,450, which is almost $17,000 more than the full three-year program at Leiden. Even after factoring in living costs, travel home, and his student visa, we’re saving more than $200,000!
2. Understandable admission
The important thing to recognize is that in Europe, schools don’t use admission rates as an indicator of educational quality or prestige. The reputation of the school is not generally linked to how selective it is. At most schools, the admission process is less competitive—even at highly ranked ones.
Each school has its own set of admission requirements, and admission decisions are solely made around these transparent criteria. The admission criteria might be a certain ACT/SAT score, a set GPA, a defined number of AP courses, or as little as a high school diploma. A number of very reputable European universities have programs without enrollment caps, so students who meet these criteria are accepted, period. It doesn’t matter if they have a higher GPA than the one required or more AP courses.
Students aren’t being compared to the other applicants; they are being assessed to see if they have the qualifications needed to succeed in the program. This process allows students to make mistakes, explore their interests—even those that aren’t quantifiable—spend time with family, get after-school jobs, and end the day with a good night’s sleep. It also levels the playing field, as factors like legacies, donations, and financial portfolios aren’t part of the admission decision.
Other than learning, an important outcome of attending university abroad pertains to employment. There are a few reasons that college in Europe gives students an edge in this area. Many of the English-taught programs in Europe have an entire semester set aside for internships.
They partner with multinational companies (including Google, JP Morgan Chase, Accenture, Deloitte, and Skype) in order to provide meaningful experiences related to the academic program. There are incredible internship options that are unique to Europe as well, including opportunities with the Counterterrorism Center, the International Criminal Courts, the World Health Organization, and the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center. Given that, according to the Collegiate Employment Research Institute, employers hire 50%–75% of the interns who work for them, these options put students on a fast track to employment.
4. Build soft skills employers find valuable
Equally important to employers are the soft skills that international students develop. Students who have studied outside their home country are immersed in a different culture and able to cultivate their awareness and appreciation for cultural differences.
The emphasis on group work in European schools gives students the opportunity to work with people with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. These graduates are often flexible, adaptable, and experienced in navigating unfamiliar circumstances, all of which lead to success in the workplace.
A recent study by the Institute of International Education found that studying abroad for longer periods of time has a high impact on job offers as well as job advancement. Also, according to a study published in Harvard Business Review, employees who live oversees as students are more adaptable and tend to receive promotions more quickly than students who don’t.
5. Life-changing experiences
The English-taught programs in Europe are developed to attract students from around the world. Classroom discussions include perspectives and experiences from these students, which allow you to have a better understanding of the world and how current issues affect their citizens.
International students have peers from around the world. Though there are differences in background and culture, there are meaningful common experiences and values among international students. They are all experiencing living outside of their home country, which is a significant and life-changing experience. Further, most of these students have the values associated with global citizenship, which connects them on a deep level.
Yes, I’m relieved that we’re going to save an incredible amount of money with college in Europe. Yes, I love that the application process was simple and transparent. Even without these benefits, it would be worth exploring for the less tangible benefits.
I want my kids to feel invested in the problems around the world. I want them to experience and value diversity. I want them to know how to work with others—even when they have differences. I want them to know they can manage unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations. I want them to know the world is within their reach. We’re both confident that attending college in Europe will lead to these traits.