Countries with free college: how to get a free degree abroad
Americans are so accustomed to the exorbitantly high cost of higher education, it can be hard to wrap our heads around the idea of countries with free college. But there are many countries with low-tuition and tuition-free college which can be amazing opportunities for American students.
Beyond its financial benefits, going to school in a country with free college can provide an invaluable cultural education, expand your network, and help you achieve fluency in a second language. We’ve compiled a list of countries with free or low tuition college for international students that delves into the benefits and restrictions of attending school in each country.
When exploring the financial viability of international colleges, it’s important to keep non-tuition costs in mind. The costs of enrollment fees, course materials, travel, housing, and food, as well as the conversion rates of each country’s currency should all be factored in as you budget your expenses.
Countries in Europe
Germany’s public institutions have all eliminated tuition. Students are responsible for some administrative fees, but they typically add up to under $500 per semester. This fee breakdown at Berlins’ Freie Universität shows that their summer semester fees in 2021 were about $350.
Schools in Germany are very English-friendly, and although you will have many opportunities to learn German, it is not altogether necessary in cities like Berlin. German universities are well-attended by students from all over the world, making them amazing opportunities for cultural exchange.
The cost of living in Germany varies based on the city you choose. The German government estimates student cost of living to be around 850 euros per month. Altogether, this is a much less expensive option than paying full tuition at universities in the US!
Similarly to Germany, public universities in Iceland do not charge tuition. Students are merely responsible for administrative fees which are typically about $500 per semester. The cost of living is higher than Germany, averaging about $2,000 per month in Reykjavík.
Iceland is less English-friendly than Germany for pursuing undergraduate degrees. The University of Iceland is the only institution in the country with a Bachelor’s program, and they have a limited list of majors that they offer in English. However, there are more postgraduate options for English speakers.
Public universities are tuition-free in Norway, but the cost of living is extremely high. Norway utilizes kroner as currency, which has a less favorable exchange rate with USD than Euros do.
Like Iceland, there are many postgraduate programs taught in English, but less bachelor’s degree programs. You can browse Norway’s programs for international students here. Norway also requires that American students receive a score of 3 or above on at least 3 AP exams, or have completed their first year of college.
Public universities in Sweden offer tuition-free research doctoral degrees, and other degrees for low tuition. Like Norway and Iceland, Sweden is known for its extremely high cost of living. If you are interested in pursuing studies in Sweden, click here for a valuable collection of resources to help you understand what to expect. The average monthly student budget is estimated to be around $1,000.
Other European countries
France, Austria, Spain, and Luxembourg’s public universities also have opportunities for international students to attend for free or low-cost tuition. Programs in these countries typically require a knowledge of the local language, but if you speak Spanish or French, they could be great options for you.
Outside of Europe
Public universities in Mexico charge little to no tuition to international students. There are few, if any programs offered in English, so these opportunities are open only to students who are confident in Spanish.
The University of Guadalajara is tuition-free for international students and estimates the cost of living to be around $500 per month. This is a highly affordable option, as the US dollar carries a lot of buying power in Mexico.
Public universities in Brazil typically charge under $1,000 per year in tuition to international students. Courses are not offered in English, so students need to be fluent and willing to conduct their studies in Portuguese. You can read more about the University of Brasilia’s international program here.
Other considerations for international study
International study is a great option for some students, but the process can be complicated and it’s best to know what you are getting into beforehand. Here are some of the barriers that you may face as you start to plan international study.
Ineligibility for financial aid support
International students are not eligible for the same financial aid resources. Programs like the Pell grant cannot be applied towards international study, and there are significantly less private scholarships available. With free tuition, your main expense will be the cost of living, which you will not have the same resources at hand to pay for.
Student Visa Requirements
Obtaining your student visa can be a complicated process that requires a lot of planning. Make sure to start the student visa process long before you depart, and leave time for any possible delays or complications.
Limited wages for living expenses
Many countries limit the number of hours an international student can work in their country, or restrict them from working at all. This could make it difficult to pay for your living expenses. One way to overcome this barrier is to secure a remote job in the United States before you leave.
If you are planning on finding work in the United States after graduation, your degree might be harder to recognize by many employers. Having an international degree can be a selling point, or it can be viewed as less prestigious. Be prepared for a different job application process than that of your friends who got their degrees in the States.
Don’t forget scholarships!
Students who want to have an international experience can also study abroad while at an American University. This can take the form of a pre-college gap year (Verto Education offers students a gap year that includes full college credit) or a traditional semester abroad.
Best of all, there are specific scholarships for students who want to study abroad! Despite these barriers, enrolling at a tuition-free college in an exciting new country is a very attractive opportunity! If you can make it work for you, it can have amazing rewards. Good luck with your search, and be sure to explore scholarships for American universities as a contingency plan!