English-Language College Overseas: Plentiful, Cheap, High-Quality
A bachelor’s degree in three years without the coddling
What words come to mind when you think of the U.S. college admissions process? Mine are “ugh” and “nausea.” The thought of dragging my children through a multi-year slog of pricey campus visits, time-consuming extracurriculars and endless application hoops sounds dreadful, particularly when the prize is an education that might bankrupt us, and — let’s be honest here — is likely at a lower-tier school than hoped.
Heaps of parental stress dissolved when I discovered the world of high-quality, affordable universities that await beyond U.S. borders. I invite you to add the word subsidized to your daily lexicon: Many foreign universities are publicly funded, leading to low or no tuition. You can reasonably expect to pay around $5,000 in tuition per year, plus living expenses. This is 14% of the average U.S. private school tuition, and half the average U.S. state school tuition in-state. Harvard University’s 2020-2021 price tag is $72,391, including room and board.
But wait, there’s more! Foreign bachelor’s degrees cost even less because the programs are often shorter, typically three years, due to minimal common core requirements. Students typically pick majors at the onset, and all classes relate to that topic or topic group. (Indecisive students can choose, say, a multidisciplinary program that melds political science, public policy, international relations and law.)
Here's a look at some popular English-language courses abroad.
Why haven’t you heard more about international degrees? These days, 53,500 Americans are enrolled in international degree programs, according to the Institute of International Education. Until recently, English-language slots were limited.
“I think language is playing a big role. American students are now able to actually consider this as a very viable option, because they don’t actually have to be fully fluent in the foreign language,” says international education expert Rajika Bhandari. In native languages, students’ first year grades typically suffer as they gain fluency, putting them at risk of expulsion at the close of their freshman year, when European universities commonly axe poor performers.
Jennifer Viemont founded BeyondtheStates.com, an excellent resource for English-language degree programs, when she struggled to narrow down the options for her own children. She particularly recommends international degree programs for kids who like learning, but flatline in courses they don’t care about or just aren’t going to play the U.S. admissions game.
Many foreign programs “are not super competitive,” she says. “They care that you meet the requirements that they have deemed necessary to succeed in that program.” Translation: All applicants who meet the entry criteria are often accepted, so your kid can enjoy high school, and avoid the senior year admissions Russian roulette.
Students who are not self-directed and resourceful will do better stateside. “They’re not going to be spoon fed at all in Europe,” says Viemont, whose son attends Erasmus University Rotterdam. “The resources are there, and the help is there both academically and otherwise, but students have to seek it out when they need it.”
For example, a professor might send an email listing available study support at the beginning of the semester… and that’s it. Struggling students are expected to connect the dots themselves, as well as arrange apartment rentals and meal preparation and self-care. The upside of this arrangement is that students tend to be more interested in their classes. “There’s a lot more that they’re actually invested in, so that makes passing a little bit easier,” Viemont says.
Bhandari says that the real benefits of an international degree are “becoming a global citizen, learning about different cultures, immersion in a completely different cultural context, and possibly learning a foreign language. That global mindset has tremendous value professionally and in terms of employability.”
The process also has a reputation for quietly forcing students to get it together. “International study seems to have the magic touch of getting young people organized, planning ahead and completing more and more of their assignments,” says Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the Institute of International Education. “Every piece of data we have suggests that.”
You’re best served by starting your research on countries’ ministry sites dedicated to attracting foreign students. For example, the U.K. has Study-UK.BritishCouncil.org, and the Czech Republic has StudyIn.cz. BeyondTheStates.com also offers a searchable database of English-speaking university programs. Start planning early, when children are in 8th or 9th grade, to make sure students meet academic requirements.
And then get traveling, allowing students to fall in love with foreign cities and breathe the local air (post-pandemic, that is). “The absolute first step is for parents to help get high school students a passport,” says Goodman. “The passport is the 21st century driving license. And then they figure out when to use it, where to use it, how to use it.” Happy trails.