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10 European countries with free or virtually free college tuition

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Contrary to what you might expect, studying abroad can actually save you money.


With the cost of college continuing to rise, many Americans are turning to universities outside of the United States for their education. Europe remains a popular destination as many European countries offer free tuition at their public institutions of higher education. These countries typically only offer free tuition to students from EU and EEA member countries; however, some, like Germany and Norway, offer free tuition to all students regardless of nationality. Moreover, when non-EU students are charged tuition and fees, they still tend to be much lower than those of colleges and universities in the United States. Add to that the low cost of living in many European countries, and it’s easy to understand why so many Americans are choosing to get their degrees abroad. Here are 10 countries that offer free or virtually free college tuition.


1. Germany


Germany is a popular destination for American students as it is one of the few countries that offer free college tuition to all students enrolled in state higher education institutions regardless of nationality. One exception is the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, which started charging non-EU citizens tuition fees of 1,500 euros per semester since the 2017-18 winter semester. All students have to pay a semester contribution, which averages 250 euros per semester, and this often includes the cost of a “semester ticket,” or a public transport pass. Another reason why so many Americans choose to study in Germany is the number of programs offered in English. Germany has made an effort to increase its courses taught in English, and admission to many universities do not require proof of German skills. The cost of living averages 850 euros per month. Additionally, as of 2020, international students looking to study in Germany must deposit 10,236 euros into a blocked account that they can withdraw from on a monthly basis.


2. Norway


In Norway, public institutions, which make up the majority of Norwegian universities and state university colleges, do not charge tuition. This policy applies to all students regardless of nationality. Private institutions charge tuition fees, but these tend to be lower than tuition fees in other countries, and international students pay the same rate as Norwegian students. However, this does not mean that studying in Norway will be cheap: the cost of living in Norway, estimated at 11,640 NOK (about 1,300 USD) per month, is high compared to other European countries.    


3. Iceland


Public universities in Iceland do not charge tuition fees, and this applies to all students regardless of nationality. However, the cost of living is relatively high, estimated at 189,875 ISK (about 1,500 USD) per month for an individual living in Reykjavík. Additionally, it may be difficult to find courses offered entirely in English at the bachelor’s degree level: although many universities offer programs in English, these tend to be master’s and PhD programs. If you don’t speak Icelandic, it is recommended that you contact the university in question to make sure there will be plenty of course offerings for you to choose from.


4. Austria


Austria offers free college tuition for students from EU/EEA member countries for two semesters, after which students must pay 363.36 euros per semester. Other international students generally pay 726.72 euros per semester. All students must pay the student union membership fee "ÖH-Beitrag" and the student accident insurance fee, which is 19.20 euros per semester. Note that these tuition policies only apply to public Universities and Universities of the Arts—Universities of Applied Sciences and private institutions are entitled to charge tuition fees. The cost of living in Austria is estimated at 950 euros per month.


5. France


Because the French government subsidizes higher education, tuition rates at public institutions are very low. European students pay 170 euros per year for a bachelor’s degree and 243 euros per year for a master’s degree while non-Europeans pay 2,770 euros per year for a bachelor’s degree and 3,770 euros per year for a master’s degree. Some non-EU students, including residents of Quebec and international students enrolled in a doctoral program, are eligible to pay fees identical to those paid by French and EU students (the tuition fee for a doctoral degree is 380 euros per year). The cost of living in France is estimated at 600 to 800 euros per month to cover food, transport, and housing expenses.


6. Poland


In Poland, students from EU/EEA member countries studying full-time at state Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) do not pay tuition fees. Other international students pay on average 2,000 euros per year. One reason why Poland is becoming a popular destination among international students is that the cost of living is relatively low, estimated at 350-550 euros per month, a fraction of the price you might pay in other European countries. Poland is home to 118 HEIs and offers more than 800 programs in English.


7. Greece


In Greece, public institutions of higher education offer free college tuition to first cycle (bachelor’s degree) students from EU/EEA member countries. Non-EU students pay an average tuition fee of 1,500 euros per year, which includes the course textbooks. In addition, the cost of living is relatively low, estimated at 450 to 700 euros per month. There is one downside: unlike other countries on this list, Greece requires its applicants to be proficient in the Greek language to enroll in its universities. Students who do not hold a language certificate will not be able to enroll.  


8. Hungary


Among the top tourist destinations in Europe, Hungary is becoming a popular study destination among foreign students. Although Hungary doesn’t offer free college tuition, tuition fees tend to be much more affordable than those in other parts of Europe and the United States. Depending on the institution and program, tuition fees can range from 600 euros to 4,000 euros per semester at the bachelor’s degree level. In addition, the cost of living in Hungary is very low, estimated at 300 USD per month. With its focus on internationalization, universities in Hungary offer a wide variety of programs in English, as well as in French, German, and Russian.


9. Slovenia


Located in Central Europe, Slovenia offers free college tuition to citizens of EU member states, as well as citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, and the Republics of Macedonia and Serbia. Other students pay between 2,000 to 5,000 euros per year at the bachelor’s degree level. Although many of the programs in English are related to business and tourism, they also include fields of science such as physics, computer science, and mathematics. The cost of living in Slovenia is estimated at 600 euros per month.


10. Czech Republic


In the Czech Republic, higher education at public and state institutions is free for all students as long as they study in the Czech language. To study in another language, fees range from 0 to 22,350 USD per year although the exact amount will depend on your institution and program. The good thing about studying in the Czech Republic is that the cost of living is relatively low, ranging from 350 to 750 USD per month. As an added bonus, the country is located in the heart of Europe, allowing easy travel to nearby countries and places.


Here at Edmit, we hope that this article serves as a useful starting point for your search. If you want to continue learning about tuition fees at public European colleges and universities, you can find a helpful comparison here. Keep in mind that there is a lot more to consider than cost alone when deciding to get your degree abroad. You should be prepared to encounter language and cultural barriers, as well as different approaches to teaching. In addition, you’ll want to consider the reputation of the institution and program. World university rankings by Times Higher Education or Center for World University Rankings can be helpful for comparing different institutions of higher education around the world.


For more information on making financially smart decisions about college, check out our blog at https://www.edmit.me/blog.

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