Imagine Spring Break in Paris or Rome, without running into horrible credit card debt. Or studying only what is important, without having to get up for an 8am Statistics class. Or knowing that your university experience is truly unique and prepares you for a globalizing economy.
Hundreds of thousands of students will apply to college this fall, all of them looking for something to set them apart. For those who would like to truly be different while getting an unparalleled education, earning a degree in Europe may be worth considering.
Colleges in the United States tend to take a holistic approach to student admissions. This means that in addition to academic qualifications like grades or test scores, admissions committees also consider extracurriculars, work history, socioeconomic background, and community service. Those are all important factors that can shape a person’s life, but for European admissions, almost none of it matters.
Instead, an applicant’s chances of admission come largely down to his or her demonstrated ability to study a given field. Put plainly, that means academic achievement.
However, it is not a simple matter of getting a 3.5 GPA and a decent SAT. Instead, because of the way that European degrees work, achievement within a given field is what is important. Because of this, that means European admissions lean heavily on tests like the AP, IB or SAT Subject exams.
There is a silver lining to this. Most European universities only require those scores in subjects viewed as relevant to the applicant’s degree.
Want to study history but hate math? In that case, feel no need to submit scores on AP Calculus AB. Additionally, this almost means that demonstrated passion about a field is important. Make sure that it shines through your letters of recommendation as well as your personal statement.
This focus only on the field of a degree carries through to the study of the degree itself. Unlike American colleges, which often require nearly a quarter of coursework to be in general education courses, European universities require students to do the vast majority of their work in the field of the degree. Electives can be chosen in related topics (e.g. a math student can take extra courses in computer science), but European universities are not the time to “find yourself” in terms of interests.
This means that you will pursue your field to considerable depth. The Rhodes Trust compares a European BA to an American MA, and this is not without merit. Additionally, because of subject-specific admissions requirements, many degrees have few prerequisite courses.
Less Time and Lower Cost
This increased focus on the field of the degree, and lack of general education requirements, means that European degrees can typically be earned faster than their American counterparts. A typical BA takes only three years. Some language degrees take four, but that includes a year abroad, while science degrees that take four years often include both a BA and an MA.
This decreased period of study makes for a much cheaper degree. In places like Germany, this is further enhanced by the fact that tuition is free for American students.
Even in the UK, which has some of the most expensive degrees in Europe, the total cost of the degree is comparable to that of in-state tuition and fees. That includes living expenses and travel to and from Europe.
While financial aid is often more restrictive than in the United States, many Federal loans still apply. Finally, because the degree is earned faster, that means less time living on loans as a student and more time making money as a professional.
Did We Mention Europe?
Perhaps best of all, studying in Europe affords the opportunity to live in Europe for an extended period of time. Breaks from studies no longer mean a road trip to a rundown motel near the beach, but instead offer flights to Paris, London, Rome, or Barcelona. Other students’ dream trips become your weekend escapes.
A semester study abroad program often tends to be insular among other Americans, but enrollment as a typical student affords the chance to build relationships with students native to the host country. That can not only enrich personal experiences, but also lead to unique professional experiences down the road.
Not for Everyone
That said, a European degree is not for everyone. While a handful of universities offer enrollment to undecided students, most expect for applicants to know what they want to study. Also, due to the greater focus on academics, instructors and fellow students will expect for you to have an interest in the field.
Social life can also be different. Fraternities and sororities are almost non-existent in Europe, but instead are replaced by other forms of socialization. Well-run student unions often handle many aspects of student life, and being in a leadership position of one of them is a considerable achievement.
Finally, varsity sports are unheard of. Club sports may compete under the banner of a university, but none of them receive any amount of funding comparable to what can be found in the United States. That said, the Europeans do know a thing or two about rugby and soccer (and the British love American football), so there are still plenty of chances to scream from the stands.
In short, a degree in Europe may not be for everyone. However, for those who know what they want to study, would prefer to not spend time on general ed requirements, and won’t miss Greek life or tailgating, it can be a truly life-changing experience.
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By Kevin Newton. After pursuing his dream master’s degree at the University of London, Kevin Newton found himself spending as much time helping friends find ways to pursue degrees in Europe as he did working. To that end, he founded An Education Abroad to help other American high school students realize the advantages of earning degrees in Europe. To learn more, follow him on Twitter @BA_abroad or visit www.aneducationabroad.com.