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Articles / Applying to College / More about College Abroad

More about College Abroad

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Feb. 18, 2016

Just last week, I wrote about the emerging trend of American high school graduates choosing to undertake college abroad, particularly in Europe. I was surprised to see a coincidental news article that focused not only on that general concept but also on the specifics about one country where American students are heading.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.

In my post from last week, I noted that:

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.

In the NBC News article, we learn about the student “surge" …

… The number of Americans studying in Germany has risen sharply, recent figures show, driven in part by the low cost of higher education compared to the United States.

More than 10,000 U.S. students are presently enrolled in the country's higher education programs, according to data from the Institute for International Education. It's an increase of almost 9 percent compared to the previous academic year, and 25 percent more than in 2008-2009 …

And, amazingly:

… Students in Germany pay a fee to cover university administrative costs and to support student unions. This “semester fee" rarely exceeds $250, and in many cases it also covers the cost of books and public transportation …

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.

Speaking of long-range consequences of student debt, I saw a sobering article just the other day about that very thing. The headline read:

US Marshals arresting people for not paying their federal student loans

The article ended with a chilling fact:

They [U.S. Marshals in the Houston area] have to serve anywhere from 1200 to 1500 warrants to people who have failed to pay their federal student loans.

It looks as though those who have been avoiding making their student loan payments will be looking over their shoulders now. That's an unfortunate situation, which should be food for thought for high schoolers and their families regarding dealing with the increasingly skyrocketing cost of college here in the U.S.

Meanwhile, NBC News cites some students who have taken advantage of college in Germany …

… Natasha Turner, 25, from Rochester, New York, came to Germany on an exchange program three years ago but decided to stay when she realized how “cheap it was to study here." …

… “For my undergraduate studies in the United States, I needed a lot of loans," she said. “After my studies in Germany I essentially finish with no loans at all." …

That's an amazing statement. One can imagine what it would be like to graduate debt free before heading into a career or life's work. Here's a glimpse of another student's Deutschland details:

… Minnesotan Sarah Johnson, also a University of Bonn master's student, has a total monthly expenditure of $600 in Germany — or $7,200 per year. That compares to $20-30,000 dollars in tuition fees alone she would have paid back home.

It “makes all the difference" to Johnson, 25, who does not get any financial support or scholarship and has a part-time job as a hotel receptionist. Besides having the advantage of learning a foreign language and a different culture, “the system is very easy to pay for," she said …

So what's the rationale behind Germany's highly appealing option for Americans?

… The cost of Germany's essentially free public university education is met by the federal states and the central government. In 2015, state expenditure on higher education accounted for almost one percent of Germany's gross domestic product.

A two-year master's program costs the government about $18,000 per student, while an enrollment for a bachelor's degree adds up to more than $30,000. A full degree program for medical students poses the highest burden for the German taxpayer, with total costs of more than $220,000 per student …

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 …

– European universities are too minimalist for me. Fewer frills, smaller support infrastructure, and the vast majority of students live off campus in normal apartments.

The low cost sounds great until you realize you get what you pay for — an education, and that's about it. To each his own though!


Depending on the personal circumstances of students and families, college abroad may be a viable option. However, I would offer a bit of caution about being overly enthused over the sheer savings alone. Many young people today are eager to escape the familiar and sometimes boring (or even “stifling") circumstances of their cloistered family life.

Taking a major cultural leap in going to a foreign country for higher education sounds exciting and even exotic, but there are a number of other considerations to be weighed, in my view. Of course, there is always the language factor. Granted, the surface appeal of these programs offers English-language instruction and many of the locals are also bilingual, with strong English skills.

However, sometimes Americans can clash with European locals due to their (the Americans') presumptive attitudes about behavior and cultural customs. That's another area to research before making a decision to go to college abroad. How do Germans and other Europeans view Americans?

So, if you think you (and your family) are compatible with the strictures of higher education in a foreign country, by all means do your homework, so to speak. It could be one of the best moves you make in your young life.


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

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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