Hand holding degree

Illustration by Bruno Moraes

But they still aren't 'Murica.

Tuition costs have been on the rise in the U.S for long enough that most readers are probably sick of complaining about it. It may be hard to imagine, but in many countries around the world, post-secondary education is free or significantly less than it is in the U.S. 

Keep in mind, however, that the high costs of living and tax rates in many of the European countries—and the high degree of difficulty of the tests you must pass before you can apply—could still be barriers to entry. 

There are also major differences in college culture outside of America. For example, most German or Swedish universities don’t offer the pricey amenities and summer camp-esque experience their American counterparts do. But for the self-motivated student who isn’t going to change their major halfway through junior year, a much less expensive college degree may be worth considering. 

For U.S. students looking to apply, grade requirements vary depending on what you’re applying for. Some universities in Germany only require a 3.0 high school GPA. In the Netherlands, many universities only require some essays and no SAT score, and grants are given based on your high school GPA. Another way to apply is to obtain a graduate degree or enroll in an International Studies program, for which graduation from a post-secondary institution and some language tests are often the only academic requirements. 

Supporting yourself through college can be a bit difficult, as some countries don’t allow you to work on a student visa. The conditions of a student visa differ with each specific situation and the level of grants you may receive. For example, in Germany you’re allowed to work part-time, but you’d still have to show enough funds in a locked account to be granted the visa. 

Germany

Not only does Germany offer 900 English-speaking programs, it recently made all of its public universities tuition-free, down from the whopping price of $200 per semester. The government pushed toward this move as a method to attract foreign students due to the country’s lack of skilled workers.

Application process: To study in a German university, you must pass language tests and send a high school transcript, but you don't have to speak German for the international degree program.

Cost: Free tuition at all public schools, but you may have to pay room and board.

Brazil

Brazil’s public universities charge registration fees, but not regular tuition. Private schools cost around $2,000 per year. Many schools also offer courses in English.

Application process: Everybody in the country takes a weeklong exam called the “Vestibular” in order to gain admission to Brazil’s free public universities, which makes admission within the country highly competitive. For foreign students, you can apply to English-language programs with your high school or college transcript.

Cost: $18 registration fee plus room and board.

Scandinavia

Finland, Norway, and Sweden don’t charge tuition for domestic or foreign students. Scandinavia has been lauded as solving many of the problems that plague Western nations, and the cost of education is one of them. However, the cost of living in Northern Europe is high, and the winters are harsh.

Application process: English test results and a high school transcript. The application process is relatively easy for foreigners and can often be done online.

Cost: Free tuition at all universities with a high cost of living. Carrying debt, on the other hand, is much cheaper than in the U.S.; interest rates are low and subsidized by the government.

Slovenia

This tiny country in Eastern Europe offers more than 150 English-speaking programs at no charge, other than the registration fee.

Application process: Varies from school to school, but most require some sort of language test as well as a high school transcript. You may also apply for undergraduate or post-graduate studies at a university in Slovenia if you have a secondary school leaving certificate or a degree certificate from a recognized foreign university.

Cost: Registration fee, around $50.

Honorable mentions

Some countries do charge tuition, but vastly less than in the U.S. Many also have grants and programs specific to English-speaking foreigners that could cost less.

France

At around $200 for public universities, education in France is still far below what you would pay at an American state school. Many universities also offer graduate programs for English speakers.

Mexico

In America’s neighbor to the south, Mexican college tuition is also significantly cheaper than America. Public school tuition costs $527, while private school averages $11,777. 

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