Updated: Jun 21, 2022
If you're here, you probably already know that when I was a high school senior, with an increasing desire for adventure and a fear of student debt, I decided to move to Prague and get my degree at Anglo American University.
To start at the beginning. In 2015, just as the thought of college began to enter my mind, so did the stress of how I would manage to pay for my education. The obvious answer seemed to be loans. It was what every other middle-class student seemed to resort to so I figured I'd just end up as another student debt statistic. I planned on applying for financial aid and scholarships, but I was no Ivy League candidate and wasn't sure how far that would get me. So, I settled on a life of debt.
But, as you could guess, I wasn't the only student dreading this fate. June of 2015, I had just finished my sophomore year of high school. My mom and I were in the car listening to NPR Weekend Edition when we heard Scott Simon say, "American students looking to escape the staggering costs of a university education are heading abroad." My mom and I look at each other and she turns up the volume. We listen to Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson interview Americans who chose to take their education abroad to Germany. The 3-minute story ended and I immediately turned to my mom and said, "I would totally do that." And so it began.
With our only information about this route coming from a 3-minute NPR story, we began excitedly looking further into German Universities. Free tuition and a large international student community were alluring and seemed to make so much sense. There were drawbacks, of course, being so far from family and an uncertain job market in Germany for immigrants. But, free education from a top European university seemed entirely worth having to migrate back to the US after graduating.
But it wasn't long before we hit our first snag. The research was proving to be more difficult than expected. After a few months, I had found a hand full of universities I was interested in. These both offered degrees fully in English and had programs I was interested in. But the websites were difficult to navigate and it felt like the information I needed wasn't there. I felt like there must be some secret website that all the German students knew about which listed all the information about schools and helped give some sort of more personalized advice about which university to attend. But all I could find were dated websites written all in German.
Junior year had arrived. Even after visiting some American universities that left me less-than-excited and months of research turning out a disappointing lack of information for Americans seeking to study in Germany, I was still certain that going to college abroad was right for me. I had found two universities that especially interested me, the University of Freiburg and Rhine-Waal University.
With certainty this was the right path for me, my family and I packed up for a family vacation to Germany. I visited the universities in which I was interested and fell in love with Freiburg (to this day I still love the city). I learned many of the world's best-known philosophers had studied here including Martin Heidegger, Edith Stein, Max Weber. I was smitten but also worried.
Freiburg had become the only university I was interested in. And it was a good school, like really good, like Heidegger good. I didn't want to risk applying to only one school then being denied and getting stuck in my hometown post senior year while trying to figure out my next move in life. So we went back to the drawing board.
Expanding the Search
A bit threatened by my friends' increasing lists of potential schools, my mom and I hit the internet again with more research. After our trip to Germany, I spent 10 days visiting friends in England. I loved my time there so we started our search there but quickly realized that UK tuition was about equivalent to in-state tuition at my state's flagship school, UCONN. Without the motivator of massive financial savings, my mom was far less motivated to send me to school on another continent.
So school in England was scrapped and I was still left with just one school that interested me. Not wanting to settle for school in the US with maybe one semester abroad, I decided to start looking at schools across the rest of Europe, starting with France- and boy was that a mistake.
I quickly found the American University of Paris. Super excited about the thought of living in Paris, I dove right in and quickly found the tuition. It was $40,000. More than UCONN, the UK, and definitely Freiburg. This find gave me the impression that this was typical European tuition. So, I started to give up.
But, lucky for me, my mom didn't. She continued researching further and found that across Europe tuition rates are FAR more affordable than in the US. Not everywhere was free like Germany, but a $2,000 or even $6,000 yearly tuition was far more manageable than $40,000.
Senior year approached, and we were met with a similar challenge to the beginning of our search. A lack of information. As well as a new fear, what if these schools weren't legit? What if it was just an elaborate scheme to steal thousands of dollars from my family and I would arrive in Europe to find out the university didn't even exist? We couldn't afford another trip to Europe, so we had to get it right.
Beyond the States
Just as we began to give up once more, my mom came across a website, Beyond the States. It was a new small business started by social worker and university student coach, Jennifer Viemont, who also sought an alternative to student debt for her kids. She had become an expert at European universities which taught in English and offered degrees recognized in the US. Not only through internet research but by going to universities across Europe to get first-hand experience at each school.
This felt like a godsend. But of course, with every online purchase, what if it's a scam? My mom researched Beyond the States through and through. It was a new business and there weren't many people that had used the service yet, but we figured it was worth a shot.
And we were right, this was a godsend. We started talking to Jennifer and sifting through the member database. Knowing that every school listed was US-accredited, internationally recognized, taught fully in English, and legit, was so reassuring. Sifting through all these new options, was so exciting, but quickly overwhelming. There were SO many options, and I was no longer sure exactly what I wanted.
Feeling a bit lost in all the options, my mom suggested we get the "Best Fit List" from Jennifer. Knowing that the price of the consulting would be made up for in the cheap tuition of whichever university I ended up choosing, we thought it was worth the investment.
With this list, my options multiplied! Anglo American University jumped to the top of my choices, even above Freiburg. AAU was an affordable option located in Prague, Czech Republic. Jennifer had visited AAU and assured us that she loved both Prague and the university.
With a new exciting list of universities, I started the process of applying. I found out most European universities don't require SAT scores, though they do tend to focus more on academic performance over extracurriculars. I had to create a CV rather than a resume (honestly loved that though, I hated trying to narrow down four years of high school to one page), and I had to write letters of motivation over a college essay (though it's not much different, this relieved so much stress for me. I felt like there was so much pressure to write the perfect college essay and my ADHD and perfectionism have me feel like if I can't do something perfect, I don't want to do it at all.)
There was one challenge though, my top universities required my diploma for the application. This meant I couldn't apply until June, and then I had only two months to get my student visa, which usually takes three. Except for Anglo American University. They allowed me to apply at any time, they would give a conditional acceptance as long as my high school diploma was sent in as soon as I graduated. With AAU being my top choice this was perfect.
So, I applied and was accepted before I ever had the chance to apply to any other universities. With an acceptance to my top university, I didn't feel the need to spend more time and money on any other applications. So I immediately began my visa process and booked my one-way flight to Prague!
Well, it's been three years since I first arrived in Prague and I've never regretted it for a minute. I've met friends for life at AAU and had the opportunity to spend a semester in Malaysia. I am working on my thesis and I'm about to graduate with a degree in Humanities, Society and Culture in February.
Getting to where I am now wasn't easy or stress-free, as I'm sure you can tell now. But, it was the best decision of my life and I hope my story can help you avoid some of the mistakes I made.
Edited by Sophia Pedigo
P.S. check out the "resources" tab for more info on Beyond the States & my referral code :)
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