5 Ways Free University Tuition Could End Up Costing You More Than a Paid Degree

By Toby Lior Carmel

If you are about to study abroad for an extended period of time, you probably realized already that, unless you are on a full-ride scholarship that pays for absolutely everything, most likely you will have to pay special attention to how much you will be spending in your new destination.

Germany and Nordic countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway or Finland have become famous study abroad destinations, particularly due to their fantastic combination of free-tuition and excellent education. But are there any disadvantages of the free-tuition status?

As an international student, you will not just have to consider the cost of tuition fees, but you will also have to think about how much you’ll spend on accommodation, food and living costs in general.

So before deciding which university to attend, start making some estimates on your overall expenses.

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Which European countries charge tuition fees to international students?

In Europe, free tuition fees usually apply to foreign students coming from the European Union. Students pay no tuition fees in countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Scotland, and most of Germany, while several other countries such as Belgium offer tuition at very low prices – under 1,000 EUR/year.

Find out more about tuition fees in Nordic countries.

This can come as a shock to those who are used to paying a lot for tuition, in particular British students who have been accustomed to paying around 8,000 GBP/year in tuition fees.

Many of the Southern and Eastern European countries, while happily accepting international students and offering many programmes in English, do charge tuition fees, and these are normally higher than those found in the Western part of the continent.

If you plan to study in Poland, expect to pay around 2,500 EUR/year, while Spanish universities charge around 1,000 EUR annually.

Check this comparison of tuition fees in European countries and find ways to pay less for your studies

Some universities and colleges in the United States also offer free tuition fees for all international students. Some offer full scholarship coverage of tuition fees, while also financing food or accommodation expenses. Other higher education institutions offer students the opportunity to pay for their tuition by working no more than 20 hours a week on the university premises.

What lies behind the free tuition

Countries offering free tuition are not quite havens for foreign students since they are not representative of the overall cost of living in any of those countries. Paradoxically enough, the countries that offer free or very cheap tuition are often the ones that will end up costing the most to actually live in.

Examples of challenges that you could face:

1. High living costs

The best example are the Nordic countries (Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark) where accommodation, food, and other expenses will end up costing you over 900 – 1,400 EUR/month. As a foreign student and not speaking the local language, you might not find a job that easily to support your expenses.

Check out living costs in these popular student cities:

2. Finding good accommodation

A common problem for many foreign students is finding good and affordable accommodation, including within the university campus. Although there are ways to avoid this problem, such as looking for accommodation options early on and asking students that already studies in your chosen location, sometimes it’s impossible to find student housing that fits your desires.

Most students are interested in finding accommodation options that are not too expensive and that also have a good location, such as a good and safe neighbourhood.

3. Few work opportunities during or after studies

You may benefit from the free tuition, but if you’re interested in earning some pocket money and look for a job, you might not find too many options, at least not for students. In some cities, you either have few options in terms of part-time jobs or most employers require you know the local language very well.

Additionally, you may also find few work opportunities after graduation as well, especially if you want a job in a certain field that is not specific for the city/country where you studied. For instance, you may not find that many job opportunities in the agriculture field in Germany.

4. Bad location –mediocre study options and few social activities

Let’s say you found a free-tuition programme in a small town, regardless if it’s in the UK, Italy or the Czech Republic. As you look closer into detail at the study degree, you realise it’s either too theoretical and you’re more interested in research focused programmes. Or it simply doesn’t match your study goals.

Since it’s a small town, it’s highly likely that you won’t find too many interesting and entertaining social activities. So you’ll have nothing interesting to do outside classes except enjoying the landscapes.

You can always travel to nearby cities, but that will always require extra time and money for travelling.

students oslo norway.jpg

European countries with good low tuition – living costs ratios

1. Study costs in Poland

In Poland, foreign students are expected to pay around 2,000 EUR/year in tuition fees alone. To this, you also have to add living expenses. An average student will survive with around 350-800 EUR/month, so one can say that Poland ends up being a cheap place to study.

2. Study costs in Austria

Public universities in Austria charge on average around 700 EUR/year for all study degrees, including for undergraduate and postgraduate level. However, monthly living costs are mostly above the European average, ranging at 850-1,230 EUR/month in Vienna, the capital and around 750 – 1,000 EUR/month in smaller cities like Salzburg, Innsbruck.

3. Study costs in Estonia

Although the average tuition fees in Estonian universities range at 3,000 – 4,000 EUR/year for all study levels (Bachelor, Master and PhD), you might be pleasantly surprised to discover that some universities charge no tuition for certain degree programmes.

In terms of costs, Estonia is also a cheap destination for students, as you would spend on average around 420 – 660 EUR/month for all expenditures, including housing, food, study materials and leisure activities.

Check out an extended list of affordable countries where you can study abroad.

Make use of the scholarship possibility

To get the best of both worlds, you should always apply for a scholarship. These are more common than you might think – and they are available for practically anyone. Begin your scholarship research at the same time as you are searching for your future university of education institution.

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Take all factors into consideration

As you can see, it’s important to make sure you’ve taken into consideration all the costs, advantages and disadvantages of studying abroad in a certain country, city, and university. Regardless of free, low or high tuition, you decide the value of a study programme. Free tuition doesn’t mean lack of quality as much as high fees also don’t guarantee top excellence for a degree. What matters is how much you appreciate a study degree will bring you the benefits you expect or more.

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