Study hard and graduate with good grades – and a big debt.
Then spend the next decade or longer paying off your college debt.
Whilst taking on a mortgage at the same time – yet more debt.
It’s not hard to see that this is a hamster wheel of debt you’re being lured onto for the next 30 years or so.
How To Graduate Without Debt
I don’t want to get into a discussion right now about whether or not you should go to university. That’s a whole other issue in itself.
What I want to focus here is how you can study and graduate without ending up with a big heap of debt at the end.
Don’t Start Your Career With A Burden of Debt
US college graduates must have it worst of all in terms of debt. They usually have to bear the full costs of going to college.
American students pay high fees, in addition to meeting their living expenses. There are scholarship programs and stipends available for some but they’re the exception.
The situation isn’t quite so bad in the UK – but we’re not far behind the US with the way things are going. Universities in England have already started imposing fees on students directly.
We’ve had a system of student loans now for some years. But following changes to the education system, university students in UK now face annual tuition fees of up to GBP 6000 pounds per year.
When I graduated in the UK some years ago now, things were much easier. There were no fees to students and no student loans. It sounds like something out of Alice in Wonderland now, but UK students actually used to receive grants from the government that weren’t repayable.
It’s true many people still graduated with debts – but these were bank overdrafts and the amounts were generally minor compared to the debts graduates end up with today.
That now has all changed. Not only that, but graduates in the UK as in the US and other English-speaking countries are also under the cultural pressure to take on a mortgage to buy their own house.
All this means people leave university and start their working lives with a huge heap of debt hanging over them for which they then have to work just to pay off.
Is There a Way To Break Out of the Graduate Debt System?
Yep, there sure is.
There are a number of alternatives to studying in the US or UK. If you’re a UK citizen you can go over to other countries in the EU and study there for little or no fees. For example you can go to Germany.
University Education in Germany is Free
Germany has a long tradition of providing free higher education – both for native and overseas students.
This is because higher education is regarded as a public service in Germany which should be available free to anyone who qualifies for entry.
Although German universities do charge registration fees, the level of charges for higher education in Germany is still low. The actual policy on this varies from region to region, since higher education in Germany is controlled by the different federal states. But the fees charged are still way below those of the UK, let alone the US.
To study in Germany you’ll need to have an acceptable proficiency in German but this isn’t so difficult to achieve. Basically you need to get your German to roughly UK A-level or near A-level standard.
You can then attend a special preparatory course in Germany arranged by the universities to bring your German further up to the required level before commencing your full studies.
Higher education in Germany is also more or less free to overseas students from outside the EU. Again though, some federal states in Germany are starting to charge fees, so you need to inform yourself about this first.
So far it tends to be the more left-wing states or cities that levy no or minimal fees. But the fees that are levied tend to be very low.
Housing in Germany can be relatively pricey. The one big exception to this is Berlin, which has plenty of lower-cost housing and a vast student population. Berlin in fact is one of the best places in Germany to go and study.
The eastern German cities such as Leipzig and Dresden also have much cheaper housing than the western German cities. They’re also even cheaper than Berlin.
You Can Also Study at Low Cost in France, Belgium and the Netherlands
I don’t know the full situation but I believe France has a roughly similar approach to Germany – open access to higher education with relatively low fees. But for France you also need to be able to meet the language requirement, since most of the courses are taught in French.
Belgium and the Netherlands are also worthwhile possibilities. They both have the advantage that many of the courses there are taught in English.
I lived for a while in Belgium. It’s a fairly easy country to settle in and feel at home. The native language is Dutch in the northern half of Belgium and French in the south, but practically everyone there also speaks good English. Rents are also much lower than in the UK and the standard of accommodation better – although Brussels tends to be expensive.
Maastricht University in the Netherlands is one university in particular that is actively seeking to recruit undergraduate applicants from the UK. Fees to study at Maastricht are very low and housing is also much more affordable and of better quality in the Netherlands than in the UK.
The Netherlands of course is Dutch-speaking, but as in Belgium, most people also speak excellent English and people are very friendly.
The Netherlands has fairly high housing costs, but housing in Belgium tends to be a lot cheaper and it’s also easier to find than in Holland. Belgium’s capital Brussels is pricier, but even there it’s possible to find affordable student accommodation.
Scottish Universities Don’t Levy Tuition Fees
Within the UK, Scotland is so far the exception in not demanding fees for university students. I’m not sure about the situation regarding English students going to study north of the border. There may be some resident requirement involved here.
Generally speaking under EU regulations covering freedom of movement, if you’re from England or any other country in the EU I don’t think they can prevent you from registering to study at a Scottish university under different conditions to Scottish students. But there may be a minimum residence requirement.
I don’t know much about the university system in other European countries, for example Spain, Portugal or Italy. If you have a knowledge of any of these languages, it might be worth checking out the situation in these places.
If you’re interested in possibilities for university study in Germany, your first port of call for information should definitely be the DAAD – the Deutsche Akademischer Austausch Dienst or German Academic Exchange Service.
DAAD are at www.daad.de and they’re the official point of contact for anyone seeking information about studying in Germany. The site is in English as well as German and other languages.
So there’s some ideas on alternatives you can look into if you want to go to university – but don’t want to end up spending years paying off graduate debt.