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Free Master’s Degrees – 4 Ways They Could Cost You More Than a Paid Degree

By Toby Lior Carmel

If you are about to study abroad for an extended period of time, you've probably already realised 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.

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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 do free-tuition degrees have any disadvantages?

As an international student, you will not have to consider just 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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What lies behind free tuitions?

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

Here are some examples of the challenges you could face:

1. High living costs

The Nordic countries (Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark) are the best example. The accommodation, food, and other expenses will end up costing you between 900 – 1,400 EUR/month. You might argue that the quality of the products and services is better, but still, this will prove to be a problem if you don't have the financial means to cover these expenses.

Check out living costs in these popular student cities:

2. Finding good accommodation

Most students are interested in finding accommodation options that are not too expensive and are located in a safe neighbourhood and as close to the city centre as possible.

Finding an ideal place can be quite difficult, including on the university campus. Although there are ways to avoid this problem, such as looking for accommodation options early on and asking students who already studied in your chosen location, sometimes it’s impossible to find student housing that fits all your needs.

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, you might not find too many options, at least not for students. In some cities, you either have few opportunities when you start looking for part-time jobs or most employers expect you know the local language well.

Additionally, you may also struggle to find work opportunities after graduation, 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're happy because you've 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 at the study programme, 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 very 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.

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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. You also have to add living expenses to this. 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 and Innsbruck.

3. Study costs in Estonia

Although the average tuition fees in Estonian universities range between 3,000 – 4,000 EUR/year for all study levels (Bachelors, Masters and PhDs), 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.

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 and high fees don’t guarantee top quality for a degree. What matters is discovering the right degree for you, which usually means finding the right balance between the quality of the education, the overall costs and the study experience as a whole.

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To get the best of both worlds, you could also apply for a scholarship. These are more common than you might think – and they are available for practically anyone. It's a good idea to start your search for a scholarship at the same time as you are applying for your future university.

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