With rising US college costs, students are considering the possibility of earning their full college degree abroad. Media headlines touting free college in Germany and other countries have many US students wondering if it is a realistic option to attend university internationally. Students excited by the possibility of college in another country will find planning different in may key aspects including admissions, course of study available, and financing.
Getting Accepted to College Abroad
US colleges consider a wide range of factors in admissions including student grade point average, course of study, ACT or SAT scores, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, demonstrated interest, counselor recommendations, and student essays. In the US system different public, private, and homeschools can all use their own systems of grading or course descriptions. Internationally it is much more common for all schools in a country to use a single standardized national curriculum. Most foreign universities internationally consider a much narrower range of factors with a focus on standardized metrics aligned with specific benchmarks such as national exams. Americans who wish to enroll in college internationally are well advised to plan to provide this kind of documentation. Foreign universities often are most open to US students who have Advanced Placement (AP) courses and scores or International Baccalaureate scores. SAT subject tests may also be an option at some schools. Providing some evidence that the student has met external standards is important. Students who wish to study in some foreign countries will also have to establish foreign language fluency through testing.
Many US students enter college undecided about major. It is common and accepted for students to take time to explore different courses of study as they complete general education requirements. Most foreign colleges operate differently. Students are expected to apply to a particular major or course of study and to begin with much more focused study right away. Students who are still exploring or unsure what they want to study in college may not be well suited to for foreign study for this reason.
In the US students often expect a residential college experience. They live in dorms and eat most of their meals in campus cafeterias. While some foreign universities operate on this same model, it is more common to expect students to be more independent and live in off-campus apartments or flats. This model may be appealing and well-suited to homeschoolers who aren’t drawn to the typical US college experience. Students interested in enrolling in college out of the US should look at housing availability early in their decision making process. Housing costs are typically not included in college costs.
College Costs Abroad
Tuition is much less expensive in most parts of the world than it is in the US. In some countries in Europe, tuition is free to all admitted students including US students. In other countries students pay tuition but even at many top schools tuition is half of the cost of tuition at public or private colleges in the US. As with every other aspect of cost planning for college this is not a one size fits all proposition. For US students who are “full pay” and will not be good candidates for financial aid, university abroad may be significantly less expensive. On the other hand, US students who have very high financial need or high academic merit, may find study in the US much less expensive. US government financial aid can be used at some international institutions, but many students enrolled abroad will find they can receive only loans. As a general rule students will be expected at a minimum to cover their own living expenses and travel and those can be substantial costs. Students trying to calculate their costs for studying abroad are well-advised to research carefully to determine if they will be allowed to work and if work is readily available. For students interested in study in Germany this article from the BBC has particularly helpful information about the costs of rent.
Value of Degree
As is the case for all college students, it is crucial to evaluate the value of the degree you will earn. Consider the degree you intend to earn, where you intend to live, and what career you will pursue. Lesser known foreign universities may take some explaining on a resume, but having lived abroad brings a range of experience that can help a job seeker stand out.