Paying for College Abroad
By Joe Messinger, CFP®
November 29, 2018
Attending college in a foreign country will appeal to many college-bound students. The architecture, the history, and the learning experience of traveling is priceless. Should families hesitate and discourage studying abroad? Not necessarily! Families can find it relatively easy to pay for college in a foreign country for their student.
Can my student go to a university in Germany for free?
The short answer…yes. Wow, right?! Many countries in Europe consider a free education to be a right not a privilege, and their tuition is free. Some provide free tuition for EU countries only. Some like Germany include non-EU countries. (Free tuition at public German universities is not guaranteed forever. Some states like Baden-Württemberg have instituted small tuition fees. We may see more states going in that direction.)
Note that only the tuition is free. Most higher education in other countries will incur fees although these are a fraction of the costs in the US. In addition, you must consider the standard of living in other countries. While tuition in Norway, France, Iceland, and Germany is free, living expenses are high.
Not every country will offer classes in English (or they may change higher fees for English courses) so keep that in mind. Germany is one with a high proportion of programs in English.
Important things to consider
Do your research. Keep a to-do list. Pay attention to resident permit requirements (visas) for students spending more than a certain number of months in a foreign country. These vary by country and take time to get in advance.
Also, pay close attention to timelines for admission. A student’s education will be compared to the requirements of the German state the college is in. If a student’s qualifications are short of those needed, a student may have to pass an assessment test, called the Feststellungsprüfung or university qualification exam.
Can a student receive federal financial aid for a college in another country?
Yes and no. The federal government includes student loans in their definition of “financial aid” so yes, you can receive federal student loans to help pay for an education in a foreign country. However, students cannot receive federal grants like the Pell Grant to use towards a degree at an international university. Loans have to be paid back in the future so we don’t consider them “aid” exactly!
To obtain federal student loans, a family must complete the FAFSA just like as if the student was attending a US college. The Department of Education keeps a list of eligible foreign institutions: International Schools for Federal Student Loan Programs.
Remember, programs and requirements are always in flux. Not every college in a foreign country will offer free tuition. The prerequisites to obtain admission must be met. The practices of the past may change in years to come. Do your research. For the right student, the opportunity may be just the thing.
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