Story time, Magooshers. Just recently, I had a week-long adventure in Dresden, Germany. During my time there I took a day trip to Gorlitz, a perfectly preserved city on the German/Polish border. On train back to Dresden, I sat next to a very interesting young man. For the purposes of this article, let’s call him Tim. Tim was a nineteen-year-old American college freshman studying at the Technische Universitat Dresden (Dresden University of Technology), also known as TU Dresden.
“Are you studying abroad?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I decided to go to college here to get my degree. Just started last month.”
Thus began one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had regarding post-secondary education. I learned a lot about what it takes for a young American to go to college abroad. Using Tim’s experience, and a little of my own research, I want to discuss whether or not college abroad is right for you.
One of the things Tim told me was that studying at TU Dresden was costing him about $10,000 a year. That included housing, which the German government afforded him a small monthly allowance to offset his costs. This came to a surprise to me, as I assumed financial assistance would be awarded only to German students. Not the case, and good news for Americans thinking about studying in Germany.
I went on to research how other foreign governments treat students from abroad. When it comes to ‘bang for your buck,’ Germany and Canada seem to be the two best places for American students to save money. Both countries’ public colleges are heavily subsidized by their national governments, and the quality of education is on par with many well-known American colleges. In Germany, expect your yearly expenses to be about what Tim is currently paying. In Canada, expect to pay about twice as much. That may sound like a lot, but that is still a significant savings compared to private colleges in the states.
Tim went on to say that though his parents were well off financially, and that he did really well in school, the cost of private college/university in the states (upwards of $60,000 a year) was just too much. Many times in my Magoosh articles, I have stressed the importance of a cost-benefit analysis when it comes to choosing a college.
Could Tim have found a cheaper alternative in the United States? Of course he could have. Everything from community colleges to state universities offer significant savings, and many provide educations that will lead to successful job prospects after graduation.
Yes, many well-respected foreign colleges cost significantly less than their American counterparts. Yet it wasn’t just money alone that made Tim want to ‘run for the border’ when it came to college. His decision had a lot to do with his interests.
What do You Want to Study?
Besides money, Tim’s decision to go to college in Germany, and specifically at TU Dresden, came down to his choice of major. Unlike most American college freshmen, Tim knew what he wanted to study back in high school: Transport and Traffic Sciences. The major is a mix of science, economics, and engineering. German schools are the place to be when it comes studying it. I gave him credit for having chosen a major so early in the college game.
What Tim’s story taught me (and should teach you) is that foreign colleges offer a variety of majors/opportunities that their American counterparts do not. The reverse is also true. That’s why lots of foreign students go to college in the United States. Most American students easily find their niche when they get to college, and decide on a major. Yet Tim knew from an early age that he wanted something different. If you’re a high school student researching colleges, and the opportunities for majors don’t seem to fit your talents/interests, you may want to give foreign colleges a look.
One thing to keep in mind is that when it comes to foreign colleges, many of them ask you to choose a major on day one. This is a very different system than the American model, which allows students to sample different courses for a year (or two) before settling on a major.
“So,” I said to Tim, “I guess you had to start learning German pretty young.”
Tim told me that he had taken German throughout high school, and it was that in his sophomore year that he decided that he wanted to go to college in Germany. After that language acquisition became his main focus. After all, all his classes were completely in German.
Unless you’re going to college abroad in an English-speaking country, you have to know the local language. So like Tim, you need to focus on language acquisition as early as possible. Dedicating himself to German meant that Tim had to get the SATs out of the way in the sophomore year. After all, back then he didn’t know what, if any, German college would accept him. If you’re planning to go to college abroad in a country where the primary language isn’t English, Tim’s strategy should be your strategy.
Do You Want to Work Abroad After Graduation?
Near the end of our journey, as the rolling hills of Saxony turned into the suburbs of Dresden, I asked Tim whether or not he wanted to live and work in Germany after he graduated.
Tim admitted that he hadn’t thought that far ahead…which is fine. In his situation, he is golden, due to the fact that many German high technology companies (which need the services of Transport and Traffic Sciences experts) have offices and factories all over the world.
Now, I would never tell someone to choose a major just because it is ‘useful,’ but if you’re considering college abroad, you want to leave yourself with the option of staying in that country, coming home, or living in another country entirely. Are there other majors besides engineering and the sciences where this is possible? Sure. If you want to be a university professor, whether abroad or in the U.S., an undergraduate degree from a foreign university would be a good first step on that path.
When it comes to post-graduation employment, it’s good to remember that like American colleges, foreign colleges have connections with companies and institutions in their home countries. This means that depending on your major, you may only be able to find work abroad, at least for a little while until you can build up some work experience.
The Challenges of Going to College Abroad
Going to college abroad can be a scary proposition. Few, if any, of the adults in your life will be able to give you advice or help you with the process of applying. Other issues you will need to solve involve obtaining a passport, visa, and health insurance during your time in college.
Living in a foreign country also presents other obstacles, such as adapting to a new culture, feeling like an outsider, and making new friends. (Granted, these three challenges also exist at American colleges.) There may be long stretches of time when you don’t see your family, too.
Now, none of these challenges are impossible, and in many cases, the rewards can outweigh the stresses that come with going to college abroad. I mention them to let you know what you’re getting yourself into if you choose this path. I’m sure that Tim, despite his intelligence and drive, will have his low moments. Yet all college students have their low moments getting used to their new situation. Tim will do just fine, and so will you if you choose to follow in his footsteps.
Final Thoughts on if College Abroad is Right for You
If the thought of going to college abroad has crossed your mind, you certainly have a lot of work to do. But when it comes to getting ready for life after high school, every teenager has a lot to do.
Even if you ultimately decide to attend college in the United States, researching foreign colleges will no doubt open your eyes to new possibilities. And isn’t that what college is supposed to be about, anyway?
Till next time, Magooshers.
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About Thomas Broderick
Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.
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