Paying for College Abroad
By Joe Messinger, CFP®
January 21, 2022
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…maybe.
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 or offer significant scholarships for non-German residents.
(Free tuition at public German universities is not guaranteed forever. Some states like Baden-Württemberg have instituted small tuition fees or fees for non-EU students. We may see more states going in that direction.)
Note that only the tuition is free, and in some cases, students may need to establish German residency prior to enrolling. Most higher education in other countries will incur administration fees, although these are a fraction of the costs we experience 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 charge 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 and keep a to-do list. Just because tuition is free to non-residents in some countries doesn’t mean they don’t have other requirements! Your student may need to navigate visa or resident permit requirements and could take time to obtain. Planning ahead is critical if this is the case! The last thing you want is to have your student ready to tackle college in another country, but miss a key requirement before they move.
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 My Student Receive Federal Financial Aid?
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! Additionally, only some international universities and programs qualify to participate in federal student loan programs. The Department of Education keeps a list of eligible foreign institutions: International Schools for Federal Student Loan Programs.
It’s important to keep in mind that to receive student loans or financial aid you and your student will need to complete the FAFSA each year, regardless of whether they go to school state-side or internationally.
A Final Word
Remember, programs and requirements are always in flux, and the global COVID-19 pandemic has made this even more true. Not every college in a foreign country will offer free tuition, and obtaining visas during a global health crisis can be difficult. Even during a “normal” admission period, the prerequisites to obtain admission must be met regardless of where your student is a resident.
This means it’s critical to do your research ahead of time! For the right student, an international study opportunity may be ideal. Make sure it’s the right financial and lifestyle fit for your family!
Have questions? Reach out to us today by clicking here. We’d love to help you navigate the college application and funding process.
Updated January 2022.
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