I have a little secret that I’m almost afraid to share with other parents of teenagers (I have three), but it’s just too good to keep to myself: American families can save a hefty sum of money by sending their high school graduates to university overseas. And no, I’m not talking about a “semester abroad” program. I’m talking about sending your teen to Europe (or elsewhere) to earn his or her bachelor’s degree. It’s what I’m doing, and you can too.
More than 46,500 U.S. students are pursuing degrees overseas, roughly 84 percent of whom are enrolled in bachelor’s or master’s degree programs, according to the most recent data from the Institute of International Education. The United Kingdom is the most popular destination, followed by Canada, France and Germany.
The advantages to earning a degree abroad are many, but one of the main ones is the money saved by students and families. Many programs in Europe offer bachelor’s degrees after only three years and often at a fraction of the price charged by U.S. institutions. In my case, my oldest son decided — after two semesters at a $60,000-a-year university in Boston — that he didn’t want to go back, mostly because he felt class sizes and the school itself were too big. My husband and I were gobsmacked — especially since we spent a year with him looking for the “perfect” college. But there was a silver lining. After doing some digging, we came across a small English-language university in Holland that charges students — American students included — less than a tenth of the yearly tuition fees we were paying to the Boston-based school. Instruction is first-rate, the surroundings are beautiful and class sizes are generally smaller than 25 students. Yes, there is the cost of flying him home for holidays, but the overall price still pales in comparison to what we were shelling out before.
In America, the average tuition rate for freshmen at a private, four-year college is $31,231, a dramatic increase from the $1,832 paid in 1971-1972 (in current dollars), according to the College Board. The cost to attend many top-notch institutions is even higher, often upwards of $60,000 a year.
But in Europe, many countries are helping students — including foreign students — pick up the tab. In Germany, for example, the government has been fully funding university costs since October 2014. More than 900 undergraduate and graduate degrees are offered in English at dozens of German universities that consistently place near the top of international rankings. According to the BBC, at least 4,600 U.S. students are currently enrolled at German universities, an increase of 20 percent in the past three years.
Many other countries also offer classes in English at incredibly low costs. Finland currently charges no tuition fees to students, regardless of their nationality, although students do have to cover their living expenses. International students in Norway also pay no tuition fees at institutions that include the University of Oslo, although the country’s cost of living is one of the highest in the world.
Even at a prestigious institution like King’s College London, the cost of tuition is roughly $25,000 a year — far from free but less than what many students pay at an American college. What’s more, American students can use U.S. federal financial aid to help cover costs at this school (as well as at many other international schools) and can apply via the Common Application, same as they would here.
Besides money, here are five other reasons your teen might want to think about getting a degree abroad:
1. Exposure to a new language.
Even if all your child’s classes are taught in English, mingling with foreign students in a foreign country will no doubt introduce them to other languages. Sure, your student may have taken four years of French in high school, but there’s nothing that boosts fluency quite like total immersion. Whereas many students choose to study in English-speaking countries such as Canada and England, many others opt for France, Spain, Germany or other countries where English is not the main language.
2. It looks good on a resume.
Exposure not only to a different language but also to a different culture for multiple years could help your student stand out on paper among the masses when they start applying for jobs. Studying abroad shows that your child is adventurous, culturally aware and willing to adapt to new environments and situations. “I do think that attending college and getting a college degree overseas is a really nice option for American students who want to be truly prepared to work in a world that’s increasingly global,” Dr. Allan Goodman, the president and chief executive of the Institute of International Education, told The Huffington Post. “It makes sense for potential global employers to hire someone who can not only find China on a map but who has actually been there and studied there.”
3. It saves time spent in school.
In Canada and Europe, three-year bachelor’s degree programs have long been common. For families trying to save money, this means putting a kid through college at a 25 percent discount. Generally speaking, the coursework abroad is similar to that found at American universities — it’s just that the same number of credits aren’t required to graduate.
4. A greater ability to travel.
People often talk whimsically about the time they studied abroad for a semester and could zip off to Rome or Vienna or Bruges for the weekend. Imagine being able to do that for years. Think of all the new places your student can experience — experiences that may not have been possible if they’d studied in the States. Getting a degree abroad also can expose them to a wider variety of people from all over the world.
5. A chance to become more independent.
No doubt earning a degree abroad is not for every student. Your child may be terrified of being that far from home. But if not — and if your teenager is accustomed to traveling — studying overseas can be an invaluable path to true independence. When 4,000 miles away, it’s impossible to run home to do laundry, eat a home-cooked meal or get a parent’s help with homework. “Getting a degree abroad pushes a student outside their comfort zone and give them the skills they’ll need to compete for jobs in a very competitive world,” Goodman said.
For more information about pursuing an undergraduate degree abroad, check out the U.S. News rankings of global universities when it comes out on Oct. 6.