After almost three months of cycling around Europe, my wife and I pulled into the seaside town of Split, Croatia. We heard that the local islands were beautiful, so we wandered over to the ferry terminal. A couple of young Americans stood in line ahead of us. They were speaking to the ferry attendant. “Could we take our car to one of the islands?” asked the woman. “Would you like to go to Hvar?” asked the attendant. “That sounds great,” said the woman. “What time do we leave?”
I guessed that the couple didn’t know anything about Hvar. But their adventurous spirit impressed me, so we invited them out for a drink.
Twenty-four year old Claire Sembera is from Austin, Texas. She was traveling with her brother, Josh. They had rented a car in the Croatian capital of Zagreb and were driving around the country.
Claire Sembera is a Master’s student at the Technical University in Munich, Germany. She had earned her Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Texas, at Austin. “I could get a decent job with my Bachelor’s degree, “ she says, “But a Master’s opens up a few more doors. It will allow me to get a job that I’m passionate about, something that focuses on the research and development of biofuels.
I wondered why she studies at a German university. There’s a simple answer. She said that colleges in the United States cost far too much. She didn’t want to add extra weight to her student loan debt, so she sought a cheaper alternative. “I went onto the website for the Technical University of Munich,” she says. “But I thought there was a mistake. I logged back on the next day, and there it was again. It said that international students could earn a degree for free! The courses are in English.”
The university accepted Claire so she flew straight to Germany. She’s taking the road less traveled. According to the National Center For Education Statistics, about 20.5 million Americans are attending U.S. colleges this fall.
Far fewer Americans–about 46,500–are studying abroad. That’s according to Raisa Belyavina, Jing Li and Rajika Bhandari. They did a 2-year analysis of American college students who have chosen to earn degrees outside of the United States. They published their findings for the Institute of International Education in a paper titled, “New Frontiers: U.S. Students Pursuing Degrees Abroad.” Of the many Americans studying full-time abroad, 84 percent are pursuing Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees. About 16 percent pursue doctorate degrees.
Business Insider says that the United States is the 6th most expensive country in the world to receive a college education. They compared average tuition costs to average wages. But note the total cost column in the table below. Compared to the United States, the rest of the world looks cheap. That’s why a growing number of Americans are deciding to study abroad.
Most Expensive Global College Costs
|Ranking||Most Expensive Relative To Country Average Income||Average Tuition Cost For A College Degree|
|Source: BusinessInsider; Expert Market analysed tuition-fee data from the Quacquarelli Symonds Top Universities for the academic year 2014-2015 and the Gallup Median Self-Reported Income report data in 2013.|
Some of the most expensive private U.S. colleges might skew these numbers upward. According to the College Board, the average cost for an undergraduate degree at an in-state U.S. public college is $37,640 for a 4-year degree. Out-of-state students pay $95,560. Four years at a private college averages $129,640.
These costs are high, no matter how you slice them. It’s no wonder Claire Sembera decided to leave for Germany. But other countries offer Americans a cheap education too.
In 2014, The Washington Post’s Rick Noack wrote, “7 Countries Where Americans Can Study At Universities, in English, For Free (Or Almost Free). He profiled Germany, Finland, France, Sweden, Norway, Slovenia and Brazil.
Slovenia caught my attention. My wife and I just finished cycling from the country’s capital (Ljubljana) down to the Croatian coast. Ljubljana is a beautiful city. It’s also the location of Slovenia’s top university.
Michael Moore profiled Slovenia in his documentary film, Where To Invade Next?In this clip, he interviewed a couple of Americans who left the United States to study in Slovenia. Leeana Whirl was one of those students. “I couldn’t even afford to finish community college [in the U.S.],” she says. “So I found out about the situation in Slovenia. I had never heard of anything like that before.”
Moore then interviewed Ivan Svetlik, the Chancellor at the University of Ljubljana. He confirmed that university is free for Americans in Slovenia.
If Americans, however, choose to study abroad, there are a few things worth considering. Flights home can be expensive. Students might also suffer from homesickness. You won’t find a 7-11 on every corner. Far fewer stores are open all night. You might never see a Wal-Mart. Students who wouldn’t be thrilled to embrace a foreign culture might be better off staying at home.
Low college costs and a unique cultural experience, however, were just what Claire Sembera wanted. Her tuition isn’t completely free. But it’s close. She pays about $127 per semester. That includes a discount ticket for local transportation.
Student-housing costs are also cheap in Munich. “It costs me about $700 to live each month,” she says. “That includes what I spend on rent, food and entertainment.” That sounds suspiciously low. But the cost of living in Munich, Germany might be lower than it is in most U.S. cities. I used Numbeo.com to compare Munich with Austin, Texas. Rental costs are 24 percent lower in Munich. Groceries cost 12.35 percent less. Consumer goods cost 6.15 percent less in Munich.
She joins a few other American students who work part-time at her university’s English Writing Centre. They help other students with their writing skills. The university funds it. Claire’s 8-hour commitment each week pays for most of her living expenses.
“I can afford to study here and travel,” she says. That’s when we wrapped up our conversation and she headed for the rental car.
“Let’s check out the island of Hvar,” she said.
Without the dark cloud of an ever-mounting debt, she says she’s able to enjoy her life.
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller, Millionaire Teacher and The Global Expatriate's Guide to Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat.