Choosing a university for your child: Would you consider an international school with free tuition?

Even before our first son was born, my husband and I started to plan for our children to go to college.

Like so many other parents, our dreams for our sons include a future where they can take advantage of any and all available opportunities – and that includes having the best possible education.

An education can open doors. It can help you build new skills. It can allow you to pursue your passions. It can enable you to achieve further independence. And, of course, it can help you get a job and build a career.

We want all of that and more for our sons. But, we know that, as it stands right now, it comes with a steep price tag.

Today, the average cost of in-state tuition at a four-year college or university (with room and board) in the US is nearly $19,000 per year. Out-of-state students attending that same school will need to pay more than $32,000 per year. Private, four-year, nonprofit colleges will cost you even more, with many topping out at more than $42,000 per year (with room and board).

According to USA Today, when adjusted for inflation, college students are now paying more than triple what students paid 30 years ago to attend a public, four-year institution and about 2.5 times more to attend a private, nonprofit college.

And, the cost of tuition is coming at a price.

According to USA Today, about 60 percent of students who earned a bachelor's degree in 2012-2013 from the public or private nonprofit schools where they began their studies graduated with debt, borrowing an average of $27,300.

That means that university or college could be out of reach for more and more American students. Or, they may be saddled with exorbitant student loans for the start or most of their careers.

But, that doesn’t have to be the case. More inexpensive higher education options do exist. You may just need to broaden your search to include international options, too.

International English programs with free or low-cost tuitions

Did you know that, as of October 2014, students can now go to college in Germany for free?

Yes. The cost of tuition for German universities is now completely free, with students only needing to pay a small amount towards administration and other costs per semester. And, that goes for international students, too.

According to The Independent, Lower Saxony was the last German state to abolish tuition fees for university students – even for international students.

Dorothee Stapelfeldt, Hamburg’s senator for science, as noted in The Independent, commented that tuition fees “discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study." She also added that "it is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality free of charge in Germany.”

Given that a university education now comes without a price tag in the entire country, it's not surprising that TopUniversities.com now lists Germany as the fourth most popular destination for "further education." Germany comes after the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, in that order.

And, you don't need to speak German to take advantage of free tuition at German universities.

According to the Washington Post, about 900 undergraduate or graduate degrees are offered exclusively in English at German institutions, with courses ranging from engineering to social sciences.

Germany isn't the only country with universities where American students can study in English for free (or almost free).

According to the Washington Post, six other countries offer alternatives to "pricey" American college degrees - Brazil, Finland, France, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden.

For example, in France, public university programs charge only a small tuition fee of about $200 for most programs. Other French institutions charge tuition fees based on the income of the student's parents, with the maximum fees topping out at about $14,000 per year, which can still be less expensive than many American colleges or universities.

Campus France, the French national agency for the promotion of higher education, international student services and international mobility, lists more than 700 programs for non English-speaking students in its catalog of post-secondary programs.

Guidance for students seeking to study aboard 

Our sons speak English and French, and as of this time, they want to learn to speak German next.

The opportunity to study in multiple languages (including their native tongue) at an international educational institution for free is a very appealing option.

It would mean our sons would be able to connect with students from other parts of the world. They could learn in another language (or more). They could take advantage of new and different programs. They could get to know another country - its culture, customs and people. And, they’d do it all for free - without the potential need to be in debt after receiving their degrees.

The only potential concern for me, as a parent, is the distance.

My sons are young now - at just six and nine years of age. It’s hard for me to imagine them not living under our roof and being away at university - let alone being on a different continent.

But, I would never want my own maternal anxiety to hold them back – especially if they had the opportunity to have an enriching international educational experience that would provide them with unimaginable benefits and not saddle them with debt after graduation.

That's why I'm glad to learn of resources that could help guide my children through the whole process - like Eight Hours and Change.

Eight Hours and Change is an educational advisory service that helps students study in Germany - and support them through every stage of their studies. At its helm is Chicagoan, Jay Malone, who now resides full time in Germany.

Malone studied in Germany twice while an undergraduate college student at Miami University. So, he knows firsthand what American college students need most when choosing a German university to study, and then being a student in the country.

Students enrolled in Eight Hours and Change can benefit from workshops that provide an in-depth introduction to the German university system. The workshops help point out the important  differences between American and German universities, including the three-year Bachelor's degrees offered by German universities that come with different requirements than most American degrees.

Eight Hours and Change also offers students the chance to participate in mentoring programs, which pair American undergraduate students with older German students who can help them more quickly acclimate themselves to student life in Germany. In addition, Malone and his team help students find jobs to help support themselves as needed during their academic time in the country.

According to Malone, only a few thousand Americans are currently studying in Germany. But, that number may grow as students begin to be aware of the educational opportunities available in Germany - for free.

But, for Malone, the reason most American students ultimately choose to study in Germany isn't based on financial reasons alone. Rather, it's for the experience and adventure of living and studying abroad.

He's also keenly aware of the reason that American students choose not to study in Germany - which is the fact that living and studying abroad can be intimidating, especially for those who don't speak German well enough to enroll at German universities.

And, that is why Eight Hours and Change is set to level the playing field, helping to ease a student's potential anxiety about living and studying aboard - while helping them enroll and excel in universities thanks to the expert help of others who've been through the process.

In the coming months, Eight Hours and Change will be leading tours for American students to Germany. Malone has two tours scheduled for April 24 - May 3, 2015 and May 8 - 17, 2015 for interested graduate students. Later, in June, Eight Hours and Change will led a larger tour for high school juniors and seniors interested in undergraduate studies.

While Eight Hours and Change focuses on German universities, Malone also is happy to provide general guidance to students interested in studying in other European countries, and can connect you with his contacts at universities in Finland, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, who can further assistant your child's in his or her exploration of university options in those countries.

Tempting educational options for “world citizens”

My husband and I will join our sons in actively looking at higher education options in just about eight years.

And, I’m telling you, the idea of having our sons attend university in Germany, or another European country that offers a more affordable educational option, is very tempting.

To some degree, it seems like their educational path would be well suited to culminate in university abroad – for some if not all of their college years.

It’s an enticing option for so many reasons – and one that I hope will be available to them when it comes time to choose a college or university of their own.

Have you started planning for your child’s collegiate education? Would you consider having him or her enroll in a university abroad? What would most influence your college or university choice - the experience, the financial cost or both? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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Filed under: Education

Tags: College, Education, Germany, University

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