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College abroad - advice?


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Hi y'all,

My oldest daughter is a high school sophomore this year. She's been thinking for a good while to go to university elsewhere. Like in Germany. Or Switzerland. She is a stellar student and will have rockin' test scores when that time comes. The kid doesn't have a specific major in mind, but it kind of thinking biology or environmental sciences or ecology - leading to maybe a Park Ranger type job. 

Assuming language skills are in place (she's working on it), what else do we need to be thinking about? How do you even start to evaluate programs or universities abroad? Do any of y'all have kids who have gone abroad for their entire undergrad? Let's assume that by the time the kid graduates and is ready to launch, coronavirus will be a bad memory and no longer a concern.

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One thing to remember is that different countries have different visions of college that look a lot different than American college! Our German friends were aghast to see Americans living in dorms, for example. They expect their children to all go to a college near their home and live at home. ETA: This was an astrophysicist at a top-university. He's well-educated.

I can't imagine a German university recognizing an American homeschooling diploma. And, at least in 1999, I would have needed to go to community college for two yearsbefore I could have gone to a German university, as they considered the American diploma so much less than an Abitur. Maybe this has changed?

Some kids in our neighborhood have gone to Scotland for college, though.

Emily

Edited by EmilyGF
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Ah, that's a good point! I hadn't considered that most Germans live at home during college. 

This kid will have an actual accredited high school diploma from a Classical school, a good handful of AP classes, a couple of dual credit commmunity college classes and likely some really nice ACT/SAT scores. I feel fairly confident (though I could be wrong!) that she would be okay getting in. So far as I know, no other graduates from this school have gone abroad for college, though, so I don't really know.

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There aren't really any dorms, but lots of students rent rooms or apartments.  A higher level of independence is expected from university aged students.  Last I heard the classes were also more on the lines of 'here's a list of resources and books' and 'figure out what you need to understand the topic' rather than 'read these pages and answer these questions'.  There's a lot less hand-holding.  If you flunk out, the thought is you should just go find an apprenticeship. Unlike here, there are many, many paths to a career that do not include university.  You're also pretty much locked in to what you're studying right from the get-go.  No fumbling about trying to figure out your major.  You study X.  If you change your mind, it's back to the beginning.  My cousin there lost a year of school this way (switched from Physics to Medicine).  Our exchange student is studying Medicine now and isn't sure it's for her, but three years in, there's no choice but to finish or start again with something else.

A US diploma itself is not enough to be accepted at a German university.  They require a certain number (and certain subjects and scores) of AP exams.  I'm not sure how they'd look at community college classes - I do think some number/type of college credits can be subbed for AP, but there are definitely specific boxes to check.  I think you also need to pass the test of German as a foreign language at a certain level.  My kids' Saturday School gave those tests so kids would already have the scores in case they wanted to go to school there.

The good news is that once you get it, tuition is pretty much free. (which also means that starting again is more about time lost than huge debt, like here).  You just have to pay for housing and food (both of which are DIY).

Edited by Matryoshka
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I would start with planning just a semester abroad.  The schools weve talked to have good scholarships for those and there are staff just for working out classes and credits for graduation to coordinate with the abroad school.

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DD seriously considered attending a university in Germany, Switzerland, or Austria for her undergraduate degree.  For most of the schools she considered, few students lived at home with their parents.  Mostly, they lived in student apartments; US-style campus dorms did not exist.  Students were expected to be much more independent than in the US--it is up to the student to go to class, do the work, and pass major exams.  Quizzes throughout the semester and graded homework assignments were much less commonplace.  Campus services for career advising, disabilities, counseling, health, and other things that are commonplace in the US are rare as are campus activities such as sporting events. Admissions are more straightforward; you either meet the requirements or you do not--things like SAT scores, extracurricular activities, and community service hours are not relevant.  Large admissions offices, marketing, and campus tours are non-existent.  (We visited several schools and DD's high school asked for a letter acknowledging a campus visit--the Austrian and Swiss schools did not know what that even meant--they just handed us a business card when we tracked down a registrar's office).  DD would not have been able to apply until she had her high school diploma in hand.  

DD ultimately decided on a US university.  One of the reasons was that at the schools she was considering students did not take classes outside of their degree area.  She knew she wanted to do something in liberal arts, but wanted to explore a bit more broadly:  literature, languages, history, religion.  

Now, she is doing a masters degree in Austria.  She had to prove a certain level of German proficiency to enroll in her degree area.  She was not able to apply for the program until she had her diploma from her undergraduate program in hand, but no tests such as the GRE were required.  

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I was researching this for someone else, so have this link handy on qualifying for German universities. It is the link that most universities will point you to. Enter your country and situation. AP courses tend to be required in the prospective field of study (either science or humanities). But some universities also offer a foundation year for those who do not meet the academic qualifications (i.e. those with a basic American high school diploma).

https://www2.daad.de/deutschland/nach-deutschland/voraussetzungen/en/57293-database-on-admission-requirements/?id=418&ebene=5

My youngest dd has been researching studying in Belgium, so I know a bit about that too. She will have her British A-levels, so that is mostly what we have been inquiring about, but here is a sample university page mentioning US high school diploma and minimum 4 APs. So if she wants to study in Dutch or French, Belgium could be an option.

https://www.ugent.be/prospect/en/administration/application/requirement/bachelor.htm

I will also mention that if she is decides to stay closer to home for her undergrad and go overseas for graduate school, then Germany has free Masters degrees taught in English. I know of two American students from two different families who did their Masters in Germany and loved it.

Good luck!

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A friend of one of my kids goes to college in the Netherlands. This student was born in Europe to European, not Dutch parents, who have lived in the US for more than 15 years. I don't if they are US citizens or not. I don't know if this helped the student go to college in the Netherlands, but definitely had more than 4 AP classes.

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One thing I would just mention in general, is that you should carefully evaluate the local requirements for paperwork. The government where I am does not officially recognize homeschooling -- they don't forbid it, but they don't acknowledge it either.  For universities that fall under the Ministry of Education purview, international students are required to obtain an equivalency certificate for their high school work, which generally is not awarded for homeschool/online school programs (because they don't recognize them). There was a US homeschool student who contacted one of the local co-ops; she had already done a couple of years of univ but wanted to do a year abroad here at one of the big universities -- and we had to recommend to her that she reconsider, as it was unlikely her high school credentials would be accepted.

This may not be an issue in most countries, I am just mentioning it in an abundance of caution.

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On 7/21/2020 at 1:48 PM, Wilma said:

The kid doesn't have a specific major in mind, but it kind of thinking biology or environmental sciences or ecology - leading to maybe a Park Ranger type job.

I know nothing about going to college abroad, but I do know that park ranger jobs are very competitive, and that having experience and connections is a huge step in the right direction. You get experience and connections by volunteering and/or working seasonally while in school. That's certainly not to say that no one ever becomes a park ranger without that, but it's considered a valuable plus. Just another factor for her to think about and investigate as she gets closer to making a decision.

It seems to be fairly important or at least helpful for many environmental science jobs as well. My youngest dd participated in a semester long educational initiative that focused on coastal issues in high school, and she heard this a lot from both scientists and advocates. They really want to see that you have a long term interest and commitment. Now, the experience aspect could probably be accomplished abroad in a way that park ranger experience cannot, but having those connections is something to keep in mind. I have zero knowledge of whether connections in other countries would be helpful; I would think it would help for recommendations at the least. 

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2 hours ago, Kate in Arabia said:

One thing I would just mention in general, is that you should carefully evaluate the local requirements for paperwork. The government where I am does not officially recognize homeschooling -- they don't forbid it, but they don't acknowledge it either.  For universities that fall under the Ministry of Education purview, international students are required to obtain an equivalency certificate for their high school work, which generally is not awarded for homeschool/online school programs (because they don't recognize them). There was a US homeschool student who contacted one of the local co-ops; she had already done a couple of years of univ but wanted to do a year abroad here at one of the big universities -- and we had to recommend to her that she reconsider, as it was unlikely her high school credentials would be accepted.

This may not be an issue in most countries, I am just mentioning it in an abundance of caution.

I hadn't thought to ask if this particular high schooler was homeschooling high school - many on here do send their kids to b&m schools for high school.

If she is, Germany in particular will absolutely not accept a homeschooled diploma.  Homeschooling is illegal in Germany, and having a regular b&m diploma is an absolute requirement to attend university there - the Germans are sticklers for the 'right' paperwork...  Grad school might be an option; I'm less clear on that; I would hope that an undergrad degree would be sufficient...  Study abroad for a semester or year based from a US university also wouldn't be a problem, just matriculating to a German university directly from high school.

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10 minutes ago, Matryoshka said:

I hadn't thought to ask if this particular high schooler was homeschooling high school - many on here do send their kids to b&m schools for high school.

If she is, Germany in particular will absolutely not accept a homeschooled diploma.  Homeschooling is illegal in Germany, and having a regular b&m diploma is an absolute requirement to attend university there - the Germans are sticklers for the 'right' paperwork...  Grad school might be an option; I'm less clear on that; I would hope that an undergrad degree would be sufficient...  Study abroad for a semester or year based from a US university also wouldn't be a problem, just matriculating to a German university directly from high school.

I worked at a research lab in Germany and they invited me to come back for a PhD - after I finished a masters. I was graduating from a top-10 US physics program, but they did not consider it equivalent to their undergrad degree.

ETA: A PhD there would have only taken 3 years, compared to 5-6 years for a US PhD. So the time would have been about the same even with having to get a masters first.

Edited by EmilyGF
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