Tuition fees for public national universities in the United States have jumped 175% since 2002. The average cost of college in the U.S. sits at $35,551 per year for in-state public college, and over $80,000 a year for private college. Admittedly, scholarships and financial aid can reduce the sticker price to a more reasonable net total, but American students are still graduating college with an average student loan debt of $34,100.
Many are questioning whether that's such a great deal, especially after discovering that they can enjoy free or affordable college education overseas. In a surprising number of countries, tuition-free higher education is the standard. Here's where to find them.
Save on fees when studying overseas
Even when tuition fees are nominal, studying overseas involves regular money transfers to cover accommodation, living costs, and other essentials. The fees can add up if you're using a traditional bank, and the rates are rarely competitive. Save on the cost of your overseas college education by transferring money with CurrencyFair at fixed fees and bank-beating exchange rates.
Not only is Norway regularly ranked as one of the world's happiest countries, but it also stood out as the last remaining Nordic country to offer free tuition to overseas students. Until now. From late 2023, Norway plans to join Denmark and Sweden in charging tuition fees to students from outside the EU/EEA. These could be as high as $13,000 too, which could deter as many as 80% of prospective students.
Tuition fee: Free now. Plans to charge NOK 130,000 from autumn 2023.
Average cost of living: High. Typically, you'll need upwards of $17,000 a year to get by.
Visa required: the study permit costs around $590 and allows you to work part-time.
Top ranked institutions: University of Oslo, University of Bergen, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim.
Graduate in Germany
The “country of thinkers” boasts more than 400 higher education institutions, many of which offer free tuition to overseas students in English. The exception is in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg, home of the prestigious university of Heidelberg. Germany is a popular choice for foreign students because of its relatively low cost of living and cosmopolitan cities bursting with cultural attractions.
Tuition fee: Free for public universities
Average cost of living: Surprisingly low. Students can live on less than €1,000 a month, covering rent, transport, and food.
Visa required: Non-EU citizens require a student visa, for which you'll need a letter of acceptance, health insurance, and proof of funds (around €11,000) to support yourself.
Top ranked institutions: University of Munich, Heidelberg University, Humboldt University of Berlin.
Foreign students in France
A perennial favourite among foreign students, France still manages to offer more than 600 study programs in English for comparatively low fees. Higher education is heavily subsidised by the government, although this does not apply to the Grandes Ecoles (equivalent to Ivy League) whose fees are higher and entry requirements rigorous.
Tuition fee: fixed at €2,770 a year for public universities.
Average cost of living: Paris might stretch the budget, but you can get by in popular student cities such as Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Lyon for around €1,000 a month.
Visa required: VLS-TS student visa to cover a stay longer than 90 days within the Schengen area. This visa allows students to work up to 20 hours per week.
Top ranked institutions: Sorbonne, University of Paris, University of Montpellier.
Home to the oldest university in the world at Bologna, Italy has some strong form where education and academia are concerned. Students of art, architecture and fashion will find Florence, Rome or Milan hard to beat. There are more than 500 English language courses to choose from in Italy.
Tuition fee: public universities charge €1,500 to 3,000 a year, but scholarships, and tuition fee waivers are available.
Average cost of living: budget up to €1,000 a month for living expenses, including accommodation, with Rome and Milan among the more expensive options.
Visa required: Non-EU students require a Type D visa for stays longer than 90 days. You'll need a letter of acceptance and proof of funds to cover around €500 of monthly expenses.
Top ranked institutions: University of Padua, University of Bologna, University of Rome
Overseas students can choose from more than 120 courses in English at 160+ public colleges in Taiwan. There are also lots of scholarships on offer as the government looks to attract greater numbers of students from abroad.
Tuition fee: Around $1,650 to $2,500 a year.
Average cost of living: Student life in hi-tech Taiwan is remarkably affordable if you're living in dorms, at around $750 to 950 a month.
Visa required: apply for a resident visa with your certificate of enrolment for stays over six months.
Top ranked institutions: National Taiwan University, National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu
Masters in Malaysia?
If you want a degree from a United States, United Kingdom or Australia university, but don't want to stump up the cost of living to match, look to Malaysia. You could get your degree through the American Degree Program, or study at the University of Southampton in Johor or Monash University in Selangor without covering the same cost of living. Since Malaysia is such a melting pot of cultures, English is spoken widely.
Tuition fee: Between $1,000 to $4,000 per academic year for Bachelor's programs.
Average cost of living: Just $500 to $850 a month should cover living expenses.
Visa required: Apply for a student visa with your letter of acceptance, health declaration form, personal bond and transcripts.
Top ranked institutions: Universiti Malaya, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
Study in Mexico
Mexico has more than 30 universities among the top global rankings, with English language instruction widely available. Among them is Mexico City's UNAM, one of the largest universities in the world, which dates from 1551 (making it older than Harvard).
Tuition fee: public universities are very affordable, but international students will typically pay around $5,000 a year for tuition.
Average cost of living: extremely competitive. You can live comfortably on just $500 a month.
Visa required: you need proof of income to apply for a student temporary residence visa, which does not allow you to do (paid) work as a student.
Top ranked institutions: Universidad Nacional de Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM), Tecnologico de Monterrey, Instituto Politecnico Nacional (IPN).
Academia in Argentina
The U.S. dollar continues to go a long way in Argentina, which means that the already low tuition fees and cost of living are even more attractive to overseas students. More than 50,000 foreign students each year choose to pursue higher education in Argentina, which has 39 public universities and 42 private colleges.
Tuition fee: free at any state-funded university, or around $5,000 a year at a private university.
Average cost of living: potentially less than $500 a month, even in the capital.
Visa required: apply with letter of acceptance and proof of sufficient funds at your nearest Argentine consulate.
Top ranked institutions: Universidad de Buenos Aires, National University of La Plata, National University of Cordoba
What's the catch with studying abroad?
Before going all-in on overseas education, it's important to remember that there's a lot more to studying abroad than tuition fees. The cost of flights, for example, can be considerable, particularly if your family are expecting you to make the pilgrimage home at Thanksgiving or the holiday season. Likewise, some countries — most notably the Nordics — just aren't set up for frugal student living, while the cheapest countries to live and work in don't always tally with the best ones for studying.
There's also the caveat that the college experience overseas is a world away from the one in the United States. Students expecting high-profile sports, frat or sorority life, or a collective college “experience” might find overseas college life quite alienating and businesslike.
Note too, that there are already some colleges in the U.S. that make a point of not charging tuition, such as Barclay College in Kansas, Berea College in Kentucky, or the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. At the risk of shattering the myth of college entirely, it's now possible to accumulate all your college credits without leaving home. Many of the top colleges in the United States, from Harvard to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), now offer fully accredited, free online courses that you can pursue while you work or take care of family members, for example.
If you do study abroad, however, you don't have to pay the full rate for your currency conversion. Transfer your money with CurrencyFair and you get a fixed fee and the opportunity to set your preferred exchange rate through our peer-to-peer marketplace.
This information is correct as of January 2023 This information is not to be relied on in making a decision with regard to an investment. We strongly recommend that you obtain independent financial advice before making any form of investment or significant financial transaction. This article is purely for general information purposes. Photo by Pang Yuhao on Unsplash