Does College In State Cost Less than Studying in Europe?

The first benefit of college in Europe that caught my attention was the dramatic cost difference! Some of our Facebook ads and posts are about these savings and people sometimes comment along the lines of “In-state is still less expensive”. First of all, I find it interesting that people express this as a fact. Certainly, there are some in-state options that are less expensive than some options in Europe, but how about more generally speaking?

I’ve done a tuition cost comparison for public universities in the past, using tuition information from one of our members who is studying in Prague. Her tuition in Prague is right around the average in Europe, at $6,700 per year, but her in-state tuition at public University of Connecticut is quite high at $12,848 (which does not even include the almost $3,000 of mandatory fees). Since the program in Europe takes just three years to achieve a bachelor’s, she will pay a total of $20,100 in tuition. At UConn, she would pay $38,544 in tuition alone for the four year program. That’s a savings of $18,444, which does not even consider how much less expensive her housing and meals are in Prague. According to Expatistan, the cost of living is 59% lower in Prague, so the savings will still be significant, even after factoring in airfare.

We recently had dinner with some family friends and their daughter, Nicole, who is a freshman at North Carolina State in Raleigh. We talked a lot about her college experience and the various costs involved. I decided to do a more in-depth comparison using the numbers she provided as well as the budget we have for Sam’s first year to see if the savings hold up.

Sam will attend Leiden University, in the Hague. The first thing to note is that the tuition at Leiden is on the higher side of the tuition range in Europe. The average tuition for the English-taught bachelor’s programs in Europe is right around $7,000. We will pay $12,010 per year for Sam’s tuition as an international student. Nicole pays $2,910 less for in-state tuition at NC State. The cost of books is comparable.

Food and housing is where we start seeing a big difference! In much of Europe student residences aren’t owned by the school. This creates choices for students in addition to market college in europe cost competition. Though students can often find housing for under $500 per month, I put the housing budget for Sam at $680. This is on the higher side of the range in order to show that the cost difference is significant even if a student can’t find the least expensive option. So, for $6,800 per school year (10 months), Sam will have a private room that is larger than the room Nicole shares with a roommate. He will either have a private bathroom or will share with one other student. He will share a common space and kitchen with other students as well. Nicole shares a bathroom with seven other students and does not have access to a kitchen, which brings me to the cost of meals….

Nicole has a meal plan through her sorority that provides 10 meals per week for $2,000 per year. Of course, there are more meals in a week than that, so she has a meal plan on campus that provides $1,500 worth of food per year and then she gets take out or delivery about 5 times per month. Her overall food total is then $4,000 (or $400 per month).

There aren’t meal plans in Europe. Larger universities have cafes and cafeterias on campus, but they aren’t meant to feed students for every meal. The norm is that students cook for themselves. This is often an adjustment for American students, but so many of the students I have talked to love how meals in their student residences become a multicultural event! I’m not sure whether $200 a month, as in the budget for Sam, seems high or low to me at this point. It’s a number that seems reasonable, given what I saw on many different Dutch university websites about student budget. Certainly, $200 per month could buy a lot of ramen noodles, but I am hopeful that he expands his repertoire!

One benefit to living in many European cities is the ability to use public transportation! Students in the Netherlands can take public transportation for free at certain points of the day and have discounted rates at others. The $600 total transportation budget includes local travel, travel within the country, as well as the purchase of a second-hand bike. In Raleigh, Nicole does not have access to many public transportation options. She spends about $50 per month on Uber and another $15 a month on the party bus her sorority rents to take to events.

The $2,000 sorority dues are the reason that Nicole’s social budget is so much higher than Sam’s, as well as the personal care budget since the sorority events usually involve things like getting her nails and hair done and such. Sam has expenses that Nicole won’t have, with his student residence permit and costs for traveling home. Of course, there will be other expenses for both that this budget doesn’t account for, but those should be comparable enough that they would be close to a wash.

So where does that leave us? Each year, Nicole pays a total of $29,150. Sam will pay $25,860.

You might think that Nicole’s number is higher than it needs to be, since she is in a sorority. That would only take $2,000 per year off though, which is still higher than Sam’s yearly number.

You might say to yourself that a savings of $3,290 per year is not that significant. I totally agree. Where we get to the real savings is when you look at the fact that many European bachelor’s degree programs, including Leiden, take just 3 years to complete. That make our overall savings $39,020! Also consider that Sam will be earning an income (and off our bankroll…) one year earlier which increases the savings even further.

While the savings are certainly a tangible and significant benefit, we would still have pursued these options if the price was comparable. Certainly, there are other benefits like a transparent admissions process and those related to educational outcomes. Just as important to us, though, is w hat this experience can do for the overall perspective of the student. He will make friends from around the world, which helps cultivate his identity as a global citizen. He will gain great confidence from learning to successfully navigate unfamiliar situations. According to research published in the Harvard Business Review, this international experience will help his career, too. One of our members-the one who is studying in Prague-described it incredibly well. She told me that when she first went to school in Europe it felt like a really big deal. After being there for almost two years and developing the traits noted above, she feels like the world is within her reach. I can’t tell you how much I love that!

Internships: One More Advantage of College in Europe

As many of you know, Beyond the States was formed in response to my concerns about the state of higher education in the US. Of course, ever rising tuition and the high stress admissions process were my two greatest worries, but I was also troubled by the post-graduation prospects for many grads these days. For recent college graduates under the age of 25 has risen to 9%(compared with 5.5 percent in 2007) and nearly half of college graduates in their twenties are underemployed, meaning the jobs they can get don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

I read these facts in There is Life After College by Jeffrey J. Selingo. This book gives recent and soon to be college graduates advice regarding ways to increase their employability. Selingo spends a go od amount of time talking about the importance of internships. He noted that few schools in the US required internships or helped students find them and only 1 in 3 graduates had an internship in college. This, despite the fact that, internships are a fast track to a job. According to the Collegiate Employment Research Institute, employers hire around 50% of the interns who worked for them as full time workers after graduation and in some fields it is closer to 75%.

Internships help students learn how to apply what they have learned in the classroom. They are learning relevant skills, seeing what others are responsible for and gaining exposure to occupations that they might not have known about. They are able to try out an industry, role or organization while also building contacts and gaining relevant experience for their resumes.

One thing that sets bachelor’s programs in Europe apart from those in the US is that most programs in Europe have at least one semester set aside for an internship. Often, internship semesters are required. Having a semester to do internships removes many of the obstacles that students in the US report. With the dedicated semester, students don’t have to choose between a paying summer job or an internship, they don’t have to juggle internship duties and class work, they aren’t competing with all the summer internship applicants, and the internships can be completed in countries outside of the one they are studying in.

Internship placements are often handled by the student’s study department, but some schools have an office devoted to handling internships, like IESEG School of Management in France. The Business Administration program has a really interesting internship. Each year of the three year program, the student has an internship focusing on a different level of management. The first year includes a one-month labor internship. The second year has a three-month internship at an assistant level and the third year has a three-month management internship. This allows students to have firsthand knowledge of how each level of an organization is impacted by the other.

There are many international companies with locations and internships offered throughout Europe. Google offers internships related to business, software engineering, legal work, and customer service in many of their European locations. Others include BP, JP Morgan, Accenture, AIG, Deloitte, Bayer, Cisco, Bayer, and BMW. Many schools have partnerships with these companies that help place their students in internships. These are not limited to business related internships. Many of these companies have internships that related to engineering, science, and other fields of study.

I think the opportunities that are unique to Europe are especially interesting. Students can intern with the International Center for Counter Terrorism or the International Criminal Courts in The Hague. The World Health Organization is headquartered in Geneva. The UN Regional Center is in Brussels. Students who are interested in sustainable energy can intern with European Energy in Copenhagen. The options are truly extraordinary.

I often mention Estonia in my presentations and blogs. I could not have told you where Estonia was on the map a few years ago, but it is now one of my favorite places. It’s also a great place for students looking for engineering internships at places like NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center and the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center. Skype was founded in Estonia and they have internships in Tallinn, Stockholm, and Prague.

I am really excited by the internship opportunities our members and my own children will have when studying in Europe. Selingo believes that “For American education to remain relevant to students, it must abandon the antiquated idea that schools and colleges broadly educate people for life, while employers train them for jobs. It’s not either or anymore. Given the amount of money parents and students spend on a degree, there is no reason colleges shouldn’t provide both a broad education as well as the specific training and skills needed for the workplace”. I have said before that I hope that reform does happen in the US and includes some of Selingo’s ideas about internships. That said, I am not optimistic that such reform will occur in the immediate future, so I am thrilled to have an alternative route that provides solutions to these problems.

What I Learned About College in the Baltic Countries

I arrived in Vilnius, Lithuania, after spending 10 days in Jordan with my son, Sam. I loved Jordan, which provided so many different sensory experiences. There were the sounds of the calls to prayer five times a day which I found soothing (except the one that happen before 5 am…). There were the smells of spices and grilled meat. There were amazing sights I could not have even imagined in Wadi Rum (the desert) and Petra. There was the Frogger-like experience of crossing the street each time (even at crosswalks) and then there were the ups and downs of traveling with a teenager, which included good bonding conversations, as well as seemingly constant “advice” (not criticism I was told…).

College in Europe

Though the experience was absolutely incredible, I didn’t realize how much energy it took until I got to Vilnius. I was a bit grumpy when I arrived. I flew Ryan Air-which I always say I will never do again but then get sucked in by the low price. The boarding process reminds me of the old days with Southwest Airlines-sort of a mob mentality and then the flight attendants spend the entire flight peddling their goods. The person who came up with the idea to allow passengers to sample perfume in an enclosed space is not on my good list…We got to Vilnius late, and the cold fresh air when I walked out of the airport helped improve my mood almost immediately.

I had the weekend to explore the town before my meetings at universities began on Monday. I like visiting places in winter, as if you like a place as it’s worst weather wise, then you can imagine how great it would be at other times of the year. There are some places that felt depressing to me in the winter, like Sofia, Bulgaria and Warsaw, Poland. Though the skies are just as grey in Vilnius winters, I didn’t have that same feeling. “Hygge” is a Danish word, that has been entirely worn out internationally now, but really applies to Vilnius. The simplest way of describing it is a really cozy feeling. There are a ton of coffee shops with comfortable seating and lit in a certain way that make you want to go in with a book. There are wine bars-again with the warm lighting-with signs for mulled wine. The streets are clean, the architecture is beautiful, the people are friendly. I felt like I wanted to listen to classical music as I walked around the city (which is not something on any of my playlists). It just felt nice, and calm, and cozy.

Now, what I appreciate as a woman in my forties is very different than I would have liked as a college-aged student! This made me especially curious about student life in the city. I noticed that I didn’t see a lot of college-aged students out and about. Of course, it’s quite possible that the hours that I am out are not the hours in which college students are out (or awake). Certainly there are cafes, bars, nightclubs, theaters and more. It did get me thinking about the international student experience though.

One thing to note is that when a school reports their international student number or percentage, it includes all levels of study (bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate) AND almost always includes exchange students. This makes a huge difference! The international student percentage at Vilnius University, for instance is right around 9%. While that’s not a huge number, it’s not alarming. When you look at the percentage of degree seeking international students, however, it’s less than 3% and, again, that includes all levels of study!

So, why does this matter? For one thing, it can impact whether or not there are sufficient resources for international students. Vilnius University does not have an international student association or an international student office. They do offer an orientation week for international students (which includes exchange students) and they have an ESN office, but these are more directed at the exchange student experience. Further, one of the great benefits around studying in Europe is that students form friendships with people from all around the world. If half of your peer group leaves after just one semester, those meaningful bonds are harder to form and maintain.

Academically, Vilnius University has some strong programs and may be a good fit for some students. A student who is a little older may have the independence required to get their academic and social needs met. A student with a Lithuanian background may know enough of the language and culture to socially integrate with local students. These are just important considerations when looking at a school.

The international student population at Vilnius Technical University is similar to Vilnius University when you include exchange students, however it’s right around 5% when you look only at degree seeking students. It’s still small percentage, but they do have resources in place for their students. There is an office staffed with four people who work specifically with international degree students reading problems, questions, where to find resources, and more. Since they are a smaller university, they do this as the university level so all international students get the same information. There is an international coordinator in each academic department who helps students with the academic piece of things. They also have a mentor program for new degree seeking international students. Additionally, they reserve the newly renovated student residences for international students, which cost under 150 euros per month!

After recharging in Vilnius, I enjoyed the energy in Riga! It’s more urban, with people of all ages out and about at all times of day. It’s also remarkable beautiful with striking Art Nouveau architecture and abundant green space. Though the population is under 650,000 (similar to Portland, Oregon) it is the largest city in the Baltic region and, thus, provides an active night life. It’s an incredibly affordable city, even more so for students. For instance, students pay just 16 euros a month for an unlimited public transportation pass (the regular price is 50 euros). I really fell in love with Riga and it’s now on my list of favorite cities in Europe.

Of all the schools I visited on this trip, I was most excited by what I learned about Riga Technical University. Their total international student population is 15% which is at 10% when you subtract exchange students. The international student body is diverse, representing 87 countries. Not only does the university have an office that assists international students, but they also have an International Student Council which represents international student interests and arranges social events.

Unlike most universities in Europe, the university has a true campus, just a 25 minute walk (or 15 minutes by bus) from the city center. The campus houses the different academic departments, dorms (which cost 65-180 euros per month), and an Olympic size pool (there is a large recreation center off campus). There is a large shopping center directly next to the campus which includes a grocery store. The buildings were very well maintained, inside and out, which is not always the case with public universities.

Each program is split into groups of no more than 50 students for lectures with much smaller groups for labs and computer classes. Students are always taught by professors (not assistants) who are accessible for help outside of the classroom as well. All of the four year programs are very hands on, with lots of labs and internships in order to prepare students for the workforce. They evidently do a good job at this, given their strong reputation with employers. When I visit schools I look for strong academic programs and educational outcomes and an environment that supports international student life-academic and otherwise. Riga Tech checked all of these boxes.

My visits to the other schools in Riga helped me realize other questions students should ask when exploring a particular school or program. The majority of the international students in the other schools I visited are in just two programs (the integrated Medicine and Dentistry programs). There are only a handful of international students in each of the English-taught bachelor’s degree programs, and these students represent just a few countries. At one of these universities, classes for international students in the English-taught programs are separate from Latvians in the English-taught programs so it’s almost like private classes taught by the professors. While there is something to be said for the personalized attention in the classroom, I’m concerned about how isolating this would feel.

Though I absolutely love the Baltic area, I don’t think that Lithuania and Latvia are as far along with internationalization as Estonia is. That shouldn’t rule out the two countries for students. I would absolutely recommend Riga Tech, and there are certain types of students who the other schools may be a good fit for. More than anything, this trip helped me realize that there are some important questions students should look into when exploring a particular school or program. These are:

What is the number of degree seeking international students?
How many countries are represented by the degree seeking international students?
What is the percent of degree seeking international students in the program of interest?
Is there an international student council?
What types of international student associations are at the school?
Is there an international student office at the university level? Do they work with degree seeking student exclusively or also exchange?
Is there an international student coordinator at the program level?
Is there a mentor/buddy program for international students?

After gathering that information, you can consider the impact each area would have on your own personal experience.

Free Virtual College Fair in January

Our next college fair is the last one this school year. This free event is scheduled for the weekend of January 12th. You can register here.

Take care,

Jenn

Interested in Learning More About College in Europe?

A Beyond the States membership costs just $39 per month and includes access to our searchable database of the 1,700+ accredited and English-taught bachelor’s degree programs in continental Europe. Members also benefit from monthly member Q&A calls with me, monthly office hour recordings, a private member Facebook group, webinars, and courses, and a highlighted program of the month. Click here to join!

Bucking the Status Quo

Now that we’ve been around for a few years, the word is getting out and we have a substantial group of members who will be attending universities in Europe this fall. This is so exciting to me. I’ve been thinking about the members who I have met through through consultations, best fit lists, member calls, and the member Facebook group and considering unifying qualities among them. Certainly, the cost savings elements of college in Europe appeals to all of us first, but it’s there’s much more to it than that.

college in Europe I’m reading a great book right now, The Five-Year Party by Craig Brandon, that started me thinking about these member qualities. The book is written by a former professor who exposes many of the academic problems that are occurring as administrators attempt to appease and retain the tuition paying student. It’s really a page turner and I highly recommend it. I’ve been trying to find a way to contact the author to come on the podcast but have thus far been unsuccessful. I’ve wanted to pick his brain about why so many parents are resistant to believing the research about the problems with US higher education and outcomes. Is it because many of the problems did not begin until after people in our generation graduated? We didn’t experience it so we don’t believe it? Is it because they don’t see other options, thus choose to turn a blind eye to problems? Is it because the propaganda created by the universities that are run like big business are more successful at convincing some than others? I really don’t know the answer to this.

One quality I believe is true of all of our members is that they don’t feel the need to accept the status quo. They seek alternatives to what they see as problems even if it goes against group norms. Like our members, I am not someone who could be described as “going with the flow”. I need to see where the flow is going an determine whether or not it’s aligned with my values and goals before I go with it. If this describes you, I recommend listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast about threshold theory. This episode gave me a lot of insight into myself, and may provide you the same.

Going back to the shared values and goals, our members do value education, but not the often meaningless work that is involved in “winning” at the US admissions game. They recognize that this work often limits meaningful learning and experiences that assist with growth and independence and are eager to identify quality higher education options that allow them to opt of of the rat race.

These families have values related to global citizenship. They want their children to identify as a member of the world community and provide experiences and education with that end in sight. They realize that international experiences are a part of global citizenship and cultivate independence in their children so they can find success, even if temporarily far from home.

If you are/you have a college bound student and the above resonated with you, I encourage you to join our community of families who are exploring the English-taught bachelor’s degree programs in Europe.

College in Europe: The Escape Plan From The Madness of US Admissions Process

I just read that there are over now almost 40 schools in the US that charge more than $65,000 per year. SIXTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS PER YEAR! That is absolutely mind blowing to me. What is just as shocking to me is the cut throat admission process which is actively hurting our kids. A recent Psychology Today article notes that it is this aspect of the high school experience that is creating a mental health crisis on campus.

I’ve talked recently about what I’ve learned about the crazy US admissions process. I’m not even living this and thinking about it stresses me out! Why don’t more people opt out of this costly, stressful, and arbitrary system? I think it’s because many don’t know that there actually is a better way! Let me tell you about how things can be different. When we founded Beyond the States, our son Sam, knew that he was interested in studying in Europe. Going into his freshman year, he knew some countries required US students to have either an IB diploma or up to (but no more than) four AP scores of 3+. He decided to take the four AP courses throughout sophomore, junior, and senior year in order to keep all his options in Europe open. Though I have issues with APs, spreading the four courses out over three years seems very doable.

Sam knows that he is interested in studying the Middle East, specifically the various conflicts in the region. One school in the Netherlands has two programs he is interested in; an International Studies program and a Security Studies program. The International Studies program allows him to choose a regional focus area from their offering of seven, one of which is the Middle East. This focus is chosen after the first semester of study. Students study the history, economy, culture, and language of their chosen region, along with general courses on international economics, politics, and globalization. During the third year, students can do an internship or do a semester abroad in their region of study. The final semester is spent in a practice course, which teaches them to apply the knowledge from the program through case studies with international organizations. A thesis is also completed in the final semester.

Students in the Security Studies program “learn to analyse contemporary security and safety issues and devise strategic solutions”. The first year introduces students to the threats and the vulnerabilities through looking at Syria and Iraq as well as the threat of natural disasters that affect infrastructure like Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant. The second year, students learn more about strategies for protection by studying the challenges of terrorism and counterterrorism, cyber threats and risk management, as well as war and peace building. The third year student can specialize through a minor, study abroad, or do an internship. The third year ends with an integrated project and thesis.

Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? Both of these programs are at Leiden University, in the Netherlands, which is ranked in the top 100 schools globally. As you may know, I’m not that interested in rankings. I only mention it because once I tell you about what the admission process looks like, you might make the incorrect assumption that it’s not a good school.

At many schools in Europe, including Leiden, the focus is on the fit between the student and program as opposed to the “holistic” process in the States. Neither of these programs has an enrollment cap, which means that if an applicant applies by the deadline and meets the admission requirements, then he is admitted. The Netherlands is one of those countries that have an AP requirement for their research universities. Sam should be able to meet that requirement. He will need two reference letters, one of which is academic. These are not shielded in secrecy like they are here. He uploads them to the school himself. That way if, by chance, one of the recommendations is not as strong as he would like he can either talk to that teacher or ask someone else to write one for him. He will also need to write motivation letters-a separate one for each other programs he applies to. These do not have to reveal any emotional revelations or talk about any trials and tribulations he encountered through his life. He will just need to write about his interests and future goals as they pertain to the program and speak to why he is interested in the particular program, specific school, and specific city and country. Given that he has spent his high school years exploring his interests (the Middle East is one of them along with -full disclosure- playing video games), this should not be particularly challenging.

So, not only does Sam not have to pad his resume with all sorts of activities and accomplishments in areas that don’t interest him, he also doesn’t have to take ACT or SAT prep course as the scores are not used in the admission decision. Further, Leiden uses rolling admissions which begin in October each year, so Sam will be able to apply in October and receive a decision 6 weeks later – well before Christmas! Just like the acceptance offers in the US, this will be a provisional offer which requires him to graduate high school and obtain a 3+ on his final AP. Ready for the kicker? Each of these programs only takes 3 years to complete and cost just around $12,000 a year -and that’s on the high end of tuition in Europe! What a breath of fresh this all is!

Would you like to learn more about how and why we made our plan to send Sam to Europe for college? Would you like to see the thousands of affordable, English conducted options? If so, then check out our membership options. Members of Beyond the States gain access to our database of over 1,700 English-taught bachelor’s programs. Graduate members have access to 5,329 English-taught master’s programs.

Are US Study Abroad Programs a Good Path to Global Citizenship?

I’ve talked before about the importance of exposure to cultural diversity and how grateful I was to have it as an integral part of my life growing up in Chicago. I knew that this was something my kids would not have in their day to day life growing up in our homogeneous town of Chapel Hill, NC. Tom and I made it a priority to expose them in different ways with an eye towards global citizenship. We made it a priority to travel internationally from the time they were young, even when it meant long flights with cranky kids or making financial sacrifices. As they are older now, we see them developing the qualities associated with global citizenship.

“Global Citizenship” is a bit of a buzz word, but something that is important to many individuals and global citizenship families. A global citizen is one whose identity includes, but expands beyond, the country in which they grew up. Global citizenship means being aware of, respecting, valuing and identifying with the world community, not just your home country. Since the countries of the world are part of their identified community, global citizens are just as devastated by atrocities occurring around the world as they are about those that occur in their home country. Thus, the problems occurring in different countries around the world have global citizens attempting to affect change around the world’s problems.

Experiencing other cultures can help lead to global citizenship. Through travel, you can see similarities and differences of each culture. You can incorporate parts of the cultures into your own life. In our home, we always take off our shoes like they do in Japan and Sweden and try to include various hygge throughout following the Danish tradition. I love a good post lunch nap (Spain & Italy) and our pantry reflects food discoveries we have made in various countries. Further, I adapt the guidelines of Italy regarding acceptable levels of wine consumption!

Interacting on a personal level with people from different countries enables a greater perspective on world events. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I had a really eye opening discussion with a 30 something hipster in Prague about his own experiences as a child under communist rule and his thoughts on the current situation in the US. While the qualities associated with global citizenship are important for personal development as well as increasing the problem solving around world issues, it is also highly valued by employers.

According to the Institute for International Education in 2016, 268,910 of the 1,785,452 US college students attended a study abroad program. That’s 15.1% of all students. Many students in the US hope to experience the world through these study abroad and many do. I have to tell you that I think these programs are the biggest rip off of all time. It’s yet another example of the problems associated with universities running like big business. In addition, some of the programs decrease the true impact international experiences can have. Let’s talk about a few examples.

global citizenship The University of Illinois (U of I) has many study abroad choices. One is with KU Leuven, in Belgium. Students attend classes at KU Leuven with KU Leuven students learning from KU Leuven professors. Students doing this exchange can expect to pay over $15,000 for one, single semester!

Here’s the crazy thing- The tuition for an entire year for an international student is right around $1,425-as opposed to the $4,525 U of I charges for one semester of access to the same classes! U of I study abroad students pay just over $600 a month for housing that U of I arranges in a student residence with all the other American students. An international student can find easily find housing in student residences for $375 per month. Then, of course, there are the tremendous number of fees in addition to tuition at U of I (reduced, but still!) you will pay during your semester abroad. A full time international student at KU Leuven will pay less for his entire degree than an Illinois semester abroad student!

Some schools use a private study abroad provider. With many of these, students live a fairly self-contained existence and take classes through the provider, not even on the campus of a university. It reminds me a bit of a cruise and experiencing the semester as a tourist as opposed to a visiting student. There is a reputable provider who offers a semester in Copenhagen for $25,500. For one semester! That does include housing and some meals, but not transportation to and from the US. Let’s compare that to a student at Copenhagen Business School(CBS)-a prestigious school with triple crown international accreditation. Yearly tuition at CBS is right around $10,000 and rooms in student residences can be found for $400 per month. Thus, you could be a full time student for two years with housing for what it would cost for one semester of study abroad.

For students who desire an international experience, I highly recommend exploring the 1,700+ English conducted full bachelors programs offered throughout continental Europe by becoming a member of Beyond the States. Not only are the financial benefits tremendous, but true immersion in another culture provides a path to global citizenship. Beyond the States offers a variety of ways to help students and their families navigate the European programs, admissions processes, housing and more with packages starting at just $89.

European schools have a number of programs and policies in place to increase internationalization of their students-even if you are already an international student! Next week’s blog will piggy back on this week’s topic. You see, European schools have a number of programs and policies in place to increase internationalization of their students. We will look at the programs avaliable that enable students in Europe (even international students!) to study at school’s in more than one country (as a bachelor’s or master’s degree student) with no additional fees-and the possibility for a monthly stipend!

Four Tips to Navigate European College Admissions

European college admissions My 16-year-old son, Sam, recently came home from school and said he needed my assistance choosing his courses for next year. I was intrigued, given that most of my advice is unsolicited and met with resistance, and also because he wanted to talk before he even made his giant bowl of ramen or cereal for his after school snack. It seems that the counselor spoke to his class about the college admissions process and course registration for next year and Sam had fallen victim to some of the fear mongering. He began asking me if he should take certain classes (that he had no interest in) because they would look good on his applications. Since he will be completing the European college admissions process, his path will be different.

European college admissions If Sam were applying to schools in the US, these would be valid concerns. I recently read “Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid into College” by Andrew Ferguson, which chronicles his family’s experiences as his son applies to college. Let me tell you, this is an enjoyable and readable book, particularly if you know that you are not going to have to jump through these hoops. Instead of stressing out about the upcoming process, I was able to read it feeling grateful that we would bypass these struggles. He learned that the typical college admissions counselor spends an average of just five minutes reading each application. With so many highly qualified applicants, admissions counselors often have to look for reasons not to admit an applicant, whether it’s that the applicant doesn’t have enough AP classes, their class ranking is not high enough, their SATs/ACTs are mediocre, there aren’t enough extracurricular activities (with leadership roles preferably), or their summers aren’t filled with sufficient enrichment. But wait! Too many extracurriculars may indicate that the applicant lacks focus. Also, the applicant shouldn’t focus on just one type of extracurricular or it might look he doesn’t have a diversity of interest. The list of reasons not to admit an applicant goes on and on…I can’t even imagine how I would cope if we had to navigate that system. I was able to confidently reassure Sam that his experience would be very different. You see, European college admissions decisions are based on the amount of space in the program, whether or not the applicant has the requirements needed to succeed in the program, and whether or not the program and applicant are a “good fit”. Some programs at very reputable and highly ranked schools are non-selective. These programs don’t have an enrollment cap so, if you meet the objective admissions requirements (be that GPA, a set number of AP test scores, etc.), you’re in. Is this the “holistic” approach taken by US schools? No, but it’s certainly less subjective and more transparent. Not only is the holistic approach highly subjective, but it also has led to the highly competitive admissions process. This competition is not just at the Ivies and their counterparts. Even schools that many haven’t heard of, like College of the Ozarks in Missouri, Jarvis Christian College in Texas and Rust College in Mississippi accept less than 16%! It is virtually impossible to excel in every category colleges are looking at so students (or their parents) almost always feel inadequate and vulnerable to rejection.Here’s the advice I have given Sam about how to prepare for European college admissions process:

1. Be aware of admissions requirements of different countries have and plan accordingly.

There are a few countries that require American students to have either an IB diploma of a certain number of AP scores of 3+. Sam knew that he was interested in one of these countries last year, so he is spreading out the 4 AP courses he will need through his sophomore, junior, and senior year and will not take more than two in a single year. He’s not interested in Germany, which has requirements that pertain to GPA, SAT scores, and courses were taken, so we aren’t focusing too much on the SATs. One of the programs Sam likes has a math requirement which can be met through an AP or a SAT/ACT score. Math is not Sam’s strongest subject, so he would rather not take an AP math. We will see how he does on the ACT and then if it’s not high enough, we will determine whether he is close enough to raise the math score through some self-study (or a tutor) or not.

2. Follow your interests as opposed to padding your resume

After assessing whether an applicant meets the admissions requirements (which are the indicator of whether or not there are the needed skills/knowledge to succeed in the program) the other thing schools in Europe look at is whether or not the student is a good fit for the program and the program is a good fit for the student. Fit is usually evaluated through a motivation letter. Sam is interested in international relations and area studies, particularly pertaining to the Middle East. Arabic was only offered for one year at his high school, which he took, and then has continued with self-study. After the counselor visit, he was concerned about Arabic only showing on his transcript for one year. I assured him that this is something he could address in his motivation letter. If you are applying to a program that is a good fit, not only in terms of subject matter but also in terms of city and country, you will be able to speak to it in your motivation letter. Choosing to apply to schools in Europe is not the status quo, so you likely have reasons behind it. Talk about that in the motivation letter. Talk about why that particular city or country interests you whether it’s the history of the area, different outdoor activities it offers that are aligned with your past interests and activities, your own heritage, etc. Relating these interests to your future goals will be of much greater interest to these programs than an endless list of clubs you were involved in.
And let me mention for a minute how much I prefer this to the essay requirement in the US. Ferguson talked about the US college essay questions that force emotional catharsis on the applicants with intrusive questions. His son, like most 17-18-year-old boys I know, struggled greatly with this. Further, how does being in touch with one’s emotional side and willingly expressing innermost thoughts to strangers relate to future success in college?

3. Take Statistics!

European college admissions I know many kids who take the calculus route because they think it looks better to colleges. Most schools in Europe aren’t looking at your course selection, except those courses that pertain to their admissions requirements. They don’t care if you took earth science over chemistry (unless it’s a requirement of their program). Certainly, there are fields of study for which calculus would be more valuable. For students studying business or social sciences, I highly recommend taking statistics. It is often a required course for the first year and is less of a struggle with a little background.

4. Don’t get caught up in the admissions stress around you

I recently spoke with a father whose son is particularly interested in a school that requires 4 AP scores. The father noted that since they don’t know if he will have the required scores needed for European college admissions until late in his senior year, they will also be applying to American schools as backup. He wasn’t happy about this due to the cost and admissions process here. I assured him that there were other programs at schools without the AP requirements that would also be a good fit and encouraged him to explore some of the options. As a matter of a fact, most of the programs in Europe don’t have the AP requirements. With over 1,700 English conducted options throughout continental Europe, there really is something for everyone’s interests, strengths, and qualifications.

Sam is not planning on applying to any schools in the US. Of course, now that we know about these affordable high-quality options it would be hard to justify the expense of US schools. Just as important, though, Sam is super excited about going to Europe and the benefits it will provide not only from an academic perspective but also for the travel and life experience opportunities. Of course, the immediate benefit is that he does not have to jump through the ever moving admissions hoops in the US. Opting out allows him to pursue his interests in and out of the classroom and still have a tremendous number of excellent academic options at the end of the road. And it allows all of us to relax.

University College Groningen: a Deep Dive

I was really excited to visit Groningen again. When I visited last year, it was just for a few hours. This time I was there for 3 days exploring the town and meeting with administrators and students from Groningen University College (UCG). Since so many of you have expressed interest in Dutch universities, particularly the university colleges, we are bringing you what we are calling a “deep dive” into UCG.

Let’s start with the city. Groningen is located in the northernmost part of the country, about a two-hour train ride from Amsterdam. It is the youngest city in the Netherlands, with half of the population under 35. Further, 25% of the residents are students. Because Groningen is the urban center of the northern Netherlands and has such a large student population, its cultural scene is remarkably big and diverse with an strong underground music scene, a comics museum, a tobacco museum, and a science museum. It has a vibrant nightlife, dominated by students.

As is the case for many European schools, there is no true campus, and buildings are located throughout the city. They’re easy to identify with the red triangle visible in the picture on the left. In some cities, this seems disjointed but in Groningen, it feels as though the city and university are very connected and the town serves as one big campus. There is a really community feel throughout the town. Almost everywhere I went, I observed people running into people they know. Like most places in the Netherlands, English is widely spoken. People are also really accommodating and friendly about the use of English. I was in one cafe that did not have an English menu and the waitress offered to translate the menu for me verbally! Thanks to Google Translate I did not have to take her up on that.

The majority of my time in Groningen was spent learning about UCG in depth. University colleges in the Netherlands are the liberal arts program within a research university, and they are self-contained. UCG is a department of the University of Groningen, which is a top 100 school in the various global rankings. Though the overall university is one of the oldest schools in the country (founded in 1614), UCG is still a fairly young program, having started in 2015. They stayed intentionally small with around 30 students admitted each year for the first two years in order to straighten out any kinks that arise with any new program. By the third year, they admitted 86 students and anticipate a larger number next year as well.

UCG requires that each student lives in a student re sidence for one year. UCG students are generally placed together in the residences, which consist of a very large single room with bathrooms, kitchen and living area shared with seven other students. Here’s a video tour of the residence. These cost 480 Euros a month. After the first year, students can stay or take advantage of the many other student housing options in Groningen including the new Student Hotel, apartment rentals, or even a houseboat rental!

What’s Your Major?

Each University College in the Netherlands has a different distinguishing quality. At UCG, their focus is maximizing the integrative aspects of their program, combining more than one area of study. They take an interdisciplinary approach and use project-based education. During the first year, student take core credits in Global Challenges, Research and Methodology, and Integrative Projects and Academic Skills. The other half of the year is made up of credits from Sciences, Social Sciences, or Humanities.

Like American schools, students choose their major in the second year, after being exposed to the various fields of study. UCG has 5 majors students can choose from: Physics of Energy (which includes Applied Physics, Astronomy, Math and Industrial Engineering), Health and Life Sciences (Global Health, Immunology, Human Anatomy, Genetics, Cell Biology and Biochemistry), Cognition and Behavior (Sociology, Environmental Psychology, Biopsychology, Cognition and Decision Making), Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (International Law, Ethics, Global Economics, Political Science, Cognitive Neuroscience) and Reflecting on Culture, History and Criticism (Culture and Media, History, Religion and Diversity, Cultural Geography, International Relations, Philosophy). Students have a lot of freedom within their major. A student with a Reflecting on Culture, History and Criticism major, for instance, can have (but isn’t required to have) a lot more variety in their courses than a student who is in a pure culture and media program. Students also have the opportunity to create their own major by combining areas of study. UCG students are also able to take courses offered by the overall university (which has 29 English conducted bachelor’s programs) which add to the possibilities and flexibility.

Integrative Projects is a required course of each of the three years, culminating in a 15 credit Capstone Project. Since this is such a key feature in the UCG approach to education, I had a lot of questions about it. The goals of integrative projects is to teach students to communicate across the disciplines, acquire scholarly knowledge, and learn useful ways to apply that knowledge. The first year, students are given topics such as immigration or global warming and their projects include building communication and presentation skills and developing research approaches. The second year projects focus more on acquiring the scholarly knowledge through a chosen project and the third year students have to set up a project with defined goals for their Capstone Project. Some examples of the projects can be found here

There is a lot of value to having these projects continuously through the years. We already know that the classroom diversity related to the students’ country of origin adds to the educational experience. Now we are adding to that working with students with different academic focuses. Integrative projects also have students working with people who have different academic focuses. In the corporate world, multidisciplinary teams are the norm, so the students are learning skills seen as valuable by future employers. Further, many research universities have a singular research focus at the expense of applied knowledge. The integrative programs provide that applied knowledge component that is often missing.

Support for Students

Students at UCG have a lot of support. Students are assigned a faculty advisor who works with them for the entire 3 years. The advisors and professors and even the dean serves as an advisor. The advisor helps with course planning, academic struggles, internships, and preparing for future plans. The dean explained to me that they believe that there is an implied contract between the students and professors to complete the program in three years and faculty is committed to helping students achieve this. The close relationship between students and faculty serves as a personal support as well. I was told about a regular Dungeons and Dragons night that a group of students and professors participate in!

One of the benefits of attending a university college is that you have the benefits of a small school experience, but also the resources of a large university. Students at UCG can join any of the clubs of the University of Groningen and also have their own student association just for UCG students, called Caerus. This group arranges social and academic activities including parties (lots of parties), dinners, and workshops. You can get an idea for some of the things they do on their Facebook page

Any Drawbacks?

If you are a Beyond the States member, you probably know that I look to find and report the challenges or drawbacks of the schools I visit as well. I had trouble finding many weaknesses here. The ones I did find were pretty small in significance. For instance, some of the other university colleges have more architecturally impressive buildings. The building at UCG is well maintained and has some wonderful features, but not to the level of some of the other schools. That said, a new building is being built near the square and is anticipated to be complete by 2020.

The main problem is that the overall admissions department for the university is quite rigid in their interpretation of the admissions requirements set by Nuffic (the Dutch government). American students who don’t have an IB diploma are required to have 4 AP scores of 3+ to be admitted to a Dutch research university. Nuffic allows schools to determine whether they allow substitutes for the AP tests with things like college courses. Some schools also have a math requirement that can be met through an AP test, an ACT or SAT math score, or a math entrance exam. Groningen University College does not allow for any of these substitutions and the math requirement must be met through an AP score. This is something that I hope they will have more flexibility around in the future, but for now, it is what it is. Please note that the University of Groningen does not have the same math requirement as the university college. The positive side of this is that the admissions requirements are totally transparent so if you don’t have the qualifications, I don’t advise applying. I met with the Admissions Director of the UCG program and you can find more about the admissions process in this video interview.

 

Would You Like to Learn More?

UCG has some great ways to explore the program from afar. First off, their website has some really good videos that speak to students about their majors. There’s a Day in the Life video here. They also have a virtual student for a day program where you can choose from options like webinars, talking to a current student, a Q&A about an academic program, and attending a lecture – all from the comfort of your own home!

UCG charges 12,000 Euros per year (convert to $) and is a three-year program. Check out our cost comparison of another student we worked with who is studying at a comparably priced university college program in the Netherlands. Non-EU first-year students can apply for the 5,000 Euro Holland scholarship for their first year of study.

 

Firsthand: Student Life in Brussels

As I mentioned in my last blog, Brussels is not my favorite city in Europe. Recently, I spent some time with Jared, and his friends, Sebastian (from Luxembourg) and Lisa (from Atlanta) to find out their opinions on student life in Brussels.

They all appreciate the offerings of the urban atmosphere. Of course, no car is needed and they are able to get anywhere they need to go on foot or by train. Though Brussels student life Brussels is known as a somewhat ugly city, the Grand Place is truly beautiful. In some cities, it is hard to find student residences in the city center. Jared and Sebastian, however, live very close to the Grand Place and Jared frequents a coffee shop right in the square. If I were experiencing the Grand Place and it’s surroundings on a regular basis, my impression of Brussels might be different.

Jared and his friends all appreciate the perspective gained from the different backgrounds of the students in their classes and residences. In some cities, diversity is limited to the university student population. This is not the case in Brussels, which is an incredibly international city. The diversity is further increased by the fact that one’s social life is more often associated with their place of residence than solely with their program or school. This allows students to have friends from schools all around the city.

student life brussels Belgium has two official languages. Flemish, a dialect of Dutch is spoken in the northern region, while French is spoken in the south. Brussels is actually in the northern region but has special status as the Belgian capital and both languages are spoken. I had a really interesting conversation with Sebastian about how the Belgian economy and population in different areas affects the perception of Belgians who speak each of the languages.

Alright, let’s get to the elephant in the room which is, of course, safety in Brussels. Jared and his father were in Brussels on March 22nd, 2016 visiting KU Leuven when the bombing of the metro and airport occurred. Despite this first-hand experience, he still chose to make Brussels his college home. Jared, Sebastian, Lisa and I discussed their perceptions of safety, as it pertains to terrorism in Brussels. They all had a really good perspective on it and noted that terrorism can and has happened in many cities around the world, including US cities like Boston, San Bernadino, and Orlando. There is also a strong police and military presence in the city, which has increased since last spring. We discussed how horrible events can create a “new normal” of sorts. An example in the US is the regular lockdown drills in elementary schools due to school shootings. Any safety concerns that Jared and his friends have were around safety precautions you need to take in any urban area, and were not related to terrorism at all.

Universities in Brussels also have unique opportunities for the refugee issue. Vrije University Brussels, for instance, has a “Welcome Student-Refugee” program to help refugees continue their studies. They had 18 students enrolled in the program in the fall of 2016. Some of these students are in English-conducted Social Science program. Students in this program include refugees as well as students from expensive UK private high schools. Talk about a range of perspectives in the classroom!

Jared and Lisa both attend KU Leuven’s International Business Program. Though the campus is in Brussels, Lisa lives in Leuven which is about 20 minutes by train. I really wish I had the time to visit Leuven on my trip. Belgium has some incredible cities (I know it’s cliche, but I LOVE Bruges), and it sounds like Leuven is one of them. Over half of the 100,000 residents are students, which means that it has the accommodations of a student town and active student life. The city is filled with medieval architecture, has a low cost of living, and is very safe and compact. The city is also known as a technology hotspot and is part of Health Axis Europe which is a “a strategic alliance initiated by the biomedical clusters Cambridge (UK), Leuven (Belgium), Heidelberg (Germany), Maastricht (Netherlands), and Copenhagen (Denmark) in order to cross-leverage innovation resources and thus jointly increase the international competitiveness.” Sounds like some great internship and job opportunities there!

An administrator told me that one needs to really know Brussels to appreciate it. Given the diversity, culture, opportunities provided by the UN and NATO offices, and ease of exploring Belgium and Europe as a whole, I’ve decided that I was premature in my negative opinion. Student life in Brussels has a lot to offer.

Vesalius College: Small School Benefits in Brussels with Large School Facilities

Let me just start by saying that, though there are many parts of Belgium that I think are incredible, Brussels has never been my favorite city in Europe. That said, I have learned that the city has a tremendous amount to offer students.

The first has to do with the price. The government subsidizes public universities and I visited two schools during this visit with tuition under $3,000 per year. Remember that these are three-year programs so you are getting your full degree for under $10,000! The school that impressed me the most on this trip, however, is a private school. At $12,500 per year, it is not the bargain of the Belgian public universities but still offers great savings compared to US schools, tuition at Vesalius College is less than in-state tuition at many public universities such as Michigan, Illinois, and UMass. This becomes even more apparent when you factor in the benefit of the three-year program. Not only is this a year of tuition and fees avoided – it’s also a year sooner in the workforce generating income and experience. The school also offers merit-based scholarships which provide a 50% tuition reduction.

This school is Vesalius College. It was founded in 1987 by Vrije University Brussels (VUB) and Boston University to provide English conducted bachelor’s programs that merged the best parts of the European and American approaches to education. Though Vesalius Collge is right across the street from the VUB campus and is technically part of the school, it has its own private school status and functions independently from VUB. That means that students are able to enjoy the amenities and facilities of VUB (clubs, sports facilities, libraries, etc) without the struggles that often accompany a larger school.

Vesalius College offers bachelor’s programs in Communication Studies, Business Studies, International Affairs and International and European Law. Though they tout a liberal arts education, they are referring more to the interactive teaching style and not the broad education that involves students choosing a specialty/major after introduction to various fields. Though all of the programs have strengths, I want to focus on the International Affairs program.

The first strength that Vesalius College offers International Affairs students is the fact that their students come from 60 different countries. Combined with the interactive teaching style, small classes (large lectures are even limited to 30 students) and group work, students are exposed firsthand to perspectives from around the world which I believe is a key component to International Affairs.

The school uses “Theory-guided, Practice Embedded and Experiential Learning”. Though it’s a mouthful, you can certainly see that it is implemented in their curriculum. Of course, students get the theory component in the classroom. There are some interesting and timely classes like Legal Aspects of Migration, NATO and Transatlantic Approaches to Security, and Global Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism, and De-Radicalization. Students are also able to choose from a broad array of electives at partner schools which include VUB, Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, Institute of European Studies, and the Royal Music Conservatory Brussels. Unlike many other Belgian schools which base grades almost solely on final exams, courses at Vesalius College are continually assessed through projects, papers, and exams. Further, the fall semester ends in before winter break, so students don’t have to spend their holiday studying for final exams.

For the practice and experiential components, International Affairs students really benefit from the school’s location in Brussels, the de facto capital of the European Union. The school has guest lecturers that include speakers from NATO, the UN, various relevant EU committee chairs and directors, ambassadors, and foreign ministers. Students must participate in a capstone project, which involves working with high-ranking diplomats on foreign policy issues and also have the option of doing internships (for academic credit) with the UN, NATO, and various embassies.

Vesalius College Vesalius College’s modern building is located across the street from the VUB campus and is about 20 minutes from the city center. The school has its own cafeteria which sources many of its ingredients from organic farms and won the SMC Sustainable Seafood Certificate in 2013. Of course, as previously stated, students can also cross the street and use the large array of VUB facilities.

Coming as an international student to a foreign city can be overwhelming, so Vesalius has a number of support systems in place to smooth the transition. Though they don’t have their own student housing, the school does assist students in finding space in the student residences throughout the city. Each student is assigned a study advisor (a professor) and a separate career advisor which speaks to the priority of educating students and also making them employable. Though student life is enjoyed with students from schools all over the city, the school has a real community feel. The small size allows the students to really get to know each other and their professors. This community feel was something I noticed when I was observing students while waiting for my meeting to start.

Students are sometimes concerned about going to a small university. Often their concerns center on student life. I had dinner with Jared from North Carolina and his friends Lisa (from Atlanta) and Sebastian (from Luxembourg) while I was in Brussels and this was one of our topics. Though Jared knows Lisa from class, most of his other friends are from his student residence and attend various schools through the city. Jared and Sebastian both told me that their social life is more from their student residence and less from their academic program. Further, even when one attends a large university (like Jared at KU Leuven), the majority of their classes are held within one department so larger schools have a small school feel as well. Given that students at Vesalius College have access to all the clubs, facilities, and even classes of the larger VUB, the school size does not present limits but does provide advantages.

Preview: Next week, I will be writing more about what I learned from Jared and his friends about student life in Brussels…