Are “Tuition-Free” European Colleges Really Free?

A while back, I posted two articles on a concept gaining momentum here in the U.S. — going to college in Europe. The thrust of these articles included such insights as (in my first post):

… I received a press release last week that intrigued me. It’s about a new Web site that will debut mid-April of this year. BeyondTheStates.com‘s (BTS) mission is to educate American families about more than 1,500 bachelor’s degree programs available to American students — in English — throughout Europe.

There’s a growing trend for American students to avoid U.S. university’s fast-rising fees by pursuing their undergraduate degrees in Europe. Costs for these programs are generally much more affordable than at U.S. schools, with an average tuition of  $7,291 per year, BTS states. In addition, over 40 European public universities offer American students a full bachelor’s degree programs tuition free …

free german university

And in my second post:

… Yesterday, NBC News posted an interesting article about Why American Students Are Flocking to Germany — and Staying. Sounds exciting. Many American high school students have gotten a taste of foreign travel already, thanks to globe-trotting, vacationing parents or summer programs that have taken them outside the U.S. …

… If you haven’t already done so, take a look at the student budgets for just about any American college. The costs you’ll see there, even after including potential financial aid, are mind (and wallet) bending. Of course, I shouldn’t have to mention the issue — and consequences — of student loans, which many undergraduates need to finance their higher education. As I’ve written before, a number of times, student loan debt is a simmering volcano that threatens to impact not only the American economy in general but also the long-range, post-graduate lives of college students …

Plus this:

College Confidential’s Roger Dooley highlighted this article in a thread on the CC discussion forum. He makes a interesting comment about Germany’s largess:

The article describes it as a win-win situation, though I wonder if at some point the German government might start limiting its subsidies of foreign nationals.

I have to agree with that. Some comments from posters to Roger’s thread:

– Germany is fighting population decline, so if their educational system can bring in students who stay, I’m guessing this will continue for some time.

– My son is graduating this year, read this article and now wants to apply to grad school at the University of Bonn. I am curious about the living arrangements. He said he talked to a friend of a friend who said living with an older couple is not an uncommon way to manage living expenses …

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My posts, the news articles, and the College Confidential discussion inspired a boomlet of interest among my readers regarding the subject of overseas higher education. So, in order to balance this burst of enthusiasm, I received some interesting and , especially, objectively realistic information from a genuine source of authority — Jennifer Viemont.

beyond the states

Jennifer is co-founder of North Carolina-based Beyond The States, a website that offers a comprehensive searchable database of more than 1,500 accredited, bachelor’s degree programs taught in English throughout Europe. She offered me some interesting (and valuable) insights into the real world of going to college in Europe. To expand your knowledge on this popular topic, I want to (with her permission) post Jennifer’s comments in full:

Are Tuition-Free European Colleges Really Free?  Four Shrouded Expenses You Might Not Be Aware Of

The dream of tuition-free college in America continues to live as long as Bernie Sanders is in the presidential race.  But with Sanders lagging in the primaries and other candidates declaring his proposals unrealistic, it’s looking less and less likely that the U.S. will solve its cost of higher education problems any time soon.

As a international education consultant, I get a lot of requests from American high school students who want to know more about the 40+ tuition free bachelor’s degree programs throughout Europe.  These programs are conducted in English and open to all international students, including Americans, tuition-free.

But exactly how “free” is tuition-free anyway?

It’s important for American students to understand that there are still costs associated with free tuition.  Here are four shrouded expenses to keep in mind when considering  tuition-free European bachelor’s degree programs:

1. Semester fees.  Germany offers free tuition at its public universities, but each school charges something called a “semester fee.”  This fee supports the university’s student union and is usually somewhere between €50-250 ($55-$280 US) per semester.  The good news is that the semester fee usually includes a public transportation pass, so students can easily get around town and campus for free.

2. Housing.  Though it varies depending on the country and city, most college housing can be found in the range of €300-450 ($335-$500 US) per month.  This, is still much more cost-effective than the average cost of student housing at public or private American universities.

3. Visa and proof of means.  There is a yearly fee for your student visa to study abroad, which varies country by country).  In addition, many European countries request “proof of means.”  Proof of sufficient financial means is an amount that is set by the specific country.  Essentially, the university is requesting proof that there is money set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses (i.e. food, housing, transportation, books, health insurance).  Sometimes a parent can be a proof of means guarantor.  Often, scholarships or FAFSA letters suffice as “proof of means” documentation.

4. Trans-Atlantic travel.  Consider that as an American living and studying in European, you may get homesick and may want to visit home from time to time.  It’s not as easy or cheap as hopping on a train or a Greyhound bus.  Even if you’re a tough, independent cookie who’s happy with just one Thanksgiving trip home per year, factor in the costs of trans-Atlantic round trip travel as part of your educational budget.

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By way of disclaimer, please note that I have absolutely no connection with Beyond The States and Jennifer Viemont. My interest is only to pass along information about going to college in Europe. Today’s young students are the most mobile demographic ever, as well as perhaps the most adventurous. Thus, the opportunity to “jump the pond” for their higher education experience can seem to be too good to resist.

However, for the sake of economic reality, I feel that it’s important to see these opportunities in bold dollars-and-cents relief. Ergo, Beyond The States’ insights. My thanks to Jennifer for sharing them. For more information: info@beyondthestates.com.

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Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.