Applying to university in Europe

Grace Chalhoub, Copy Editor

Every year, the number of Americans leaving the country and attending university in Europe increases. While the cheaper costs of universities, shorter time taken for undergraduate degrees and the experience of living abroad can be appealing, applying to university in Europe requires a lot of research. Here’s a short list of things to keep in mind when looking at university in Europe.


Consider foreign language requirements

Unless you’re fluent in the language of the country in which you would like to attend university, check to ensure that the courses you want to take at your desired university are offered in English. 

It’s also worth considering that if you want to work, some countries will require you to understand the language.  


Understand how university works

In many European countries, you apply to a major within the university. That means you have to know your desired major before you apply. This is one of the biggest differences between European and American universities. If you have no idea what you want to major in, European university is not for you. If you know exactly what you want to major in, then European university is highly desirable.

This process of choosing a major before beginning university enables students to jump straight into their studies right when they start university. German majors do not have to mess around with math or physics–they study German. If you’re very focused on one subject, this may be ideal, but if you enjoy many different subjects, this can be off-putting.

This cutting of required classes also means that undergraduate degrees only take three years instead of four in many countries. Students who ultimately intend to gain a Masters or a PhD may appreciate the shorter amount of time.  


Check living costs

Many Northern European countries have significantly higher costs of living than the U.S., and while tuition may be free in countries like Norway or Finland, the high living costs may make up for what you would have paid in tuition. Also research what these taxes cover, such as free healthcare. 


Research the application process–and what constitutes a desirable student 

Educational systems differ greatly per country. Being an Ivy-bound student in the U.S. does not mean you are desirable to Ivy-equivalent schools in other countries, and vice versa. Most international schools care more about your performance in the particular subject your intended major, not about your overall performance. In fact, many international schools don’t even require high school transcripts or GPA; instead, there tends to be more emphasis on AP test scores. In fact, if you have a high GPA but low AP scores, you will probably experience difficulty in getting into top colleges.   

Remember that the application process also differs greatly from American applications. For instance, most European universities do not look very closely at extracurriculars. This is for two reasons: many European schools do not provide the same breadth of extracurriculars as American schools, and admissions officers prefer to see dedication to particular subjects or interests, rather than a little of everything. Soccer, band, three national honors societies, theatre, academic bowl, and dogsitting is not going to impress–it’s going to make admissions officers feel that the applicant is spread too thin and not truly dedicated to any of the activities (more than likely, there won’t be a place on your application to list all these activities: you will have to include the most important ones in your essay). College essays are also very different, as European schools expect less about personality or personal experiences and more about your academic interests.   

Also have a good answer if asked why you want to attend university in that country. These colleges don’t want to invest time and money into an American who knows nothing about their country and may even end up going home after one year. Give a good reason you want to study in their country. It doesn’t hurt to mention somewhere in your application the pre-med camp that you attended for a few weeks or foreign exchange–they want to know that you can handle being on your own for a while in an unfamiliar place.  


Where do you plan on living in the future? 

If you plan on moving back to the U.S. after college, be aware that on job applications your college name (unless easily recognizable like Cambridge or the Sorbonne) may not carry the same weight in the U.S. as it does in Europe. Some students who attended undergraduate programs abroad have pointed out that it created difficulties for them in pursuing Master’s and PhD’s in the U.S., due to differences in class credits.  


What do you want out of your college experience?

To some students, dorm life and sporting events are an important part of the college experience. If this is you, you may not enjoy college life in Europe. One of the main reasons that college is so much cheaper in Europe is that universities do not offer the same amenities as American college, such as the recreational activities and sporting matches. 


Make up for the gap

Keep in mind that the students who live in the country you are applying to university in have a serious home field advantage. For instance, these students are receiving help from teachers, counselors or admissions officers in putting together their application, while you’re probably figuring out the process for yourself. To make up for the gap between yourself and home students, put aside some extra time to make sure that your application is perfect and don’t be afraid to contact the college often for assistance. Research example college essays and study for any extra exams that the university may require.