Alex Ahlstrom
I am in love with travel, culture and finance around the world. After working in international real estate finance around Asia and America, I want to share some of my experiences.

Financial Differences Between Studying Abroad from a School in the States Versus from a School in Germany

Today, I would like to focus on the different financial study abroad terms set by a school in the United States versus by a school in Germany. 

I was lucky enough to be afforded time to study abroad from the University of Redlands, in Southern California, and the Berlin School of Economics and Law.

The Application Process

During my undergrad at the University of Redlands, I applied to study at the Beijing Foreign Studies. Every student was almost automatically granted a semester abroad. To apply, a student needed to let the study abroad office know where they wanted to go. Everyone that I knew was able to get their target destination. However, of the 500 students per class year, only 6 were permitted to study abroad for a year instead of a semester. And, to get a year-long study abroad spot, students needed to enter a competitive essay contest at Redlands against other students. Perhaps 10% of those that want to study abroad for a year are granted permission by the university. 

The University of Redlands

At the Berlin School of Economics and Law, everyone is allowed to study abroad. Each student chooses from an extensive set of schools to make a list of 5 schools that I would be interested in studying in. I chose Paris, Tel Aviv, Prague, Buenos Aires and Ljubljana, Slovenia. After a few weeks, the Study Abroad Office notified me by email of my outcome, that I was going to Slovenia. Under current German law, all students in German universities are granted the same opportunities. So, I, as an American, was allowed the opportunity to study abroad, just the same as German or EU students at the school in Berlin. There were many instances of undergraduate students studying abroad for a full year in Ljubljana, and for some majors, like international business, study abroad is mandatory.

The Berlin School of Economics and Law

The Costs of Studying Abroad

The University of Redlands is one of the most expensive schools around. Currently, tuition at Redlands is USD $49,000 per year and the price for a room with a roommate is USD $10,000 per year. Granted, 90% of students receive some form of financial aid, but the most expensive undergraduate tuition in the world is less than USD $10,000 more than the tuition in Redlands. Students studying abroad must pay the same tuition and room rate that they pay at the University of Redlands, USD $59,000 per year  minus scholarships and grants. This is regardless of if the student is living in a hut or a villa in London. So, my school in Beijing cost the same as my school in Southern California.

Beijing Foreign Studies University

The University of Ljubljana tuition was completely free. And, to support intercultural exchange with the EU, the European Union even pays money directly to students studying abroad, even to foreigners, like Americans. So, if you study abroad through the Berlin School of Economics and Law, your net tuition fee can actually be negative. The University of Ljubljana, through its student boni program, provides students with twenty discount meals per month at more than 100+ restaurants around town that vary in price from free to EUR 4.37 for meals that would regularly cost up to more than ten euro. Students are given the option to live in dorms or find private housing, but they do not pay more than the market rate. 

The University of Ljubljana

Terms of Student Loans to Study Abroad 

Upon graduation, the average debt of American students is USD $37,000, not including debt from living expenses. Recently, the total student loan debt in America has surpassed auto loan debt and credit card debt to rank second behind mortgage debt. Students studying abroad from the University of Redlands can take out student loans, with payback periods that are typically 15 years, to study abroad. Currently, government subsidized student loans for undergraduates have an interest rate of 5%. Government loans for parents and graduate students have an interest rate of 7.6%. To put that in perspective, the average American car loan interest rate is 4.21%. But, with a car loan, it is possible to have financial difficulty and discharge the loan, whereas American student loans can never be discharged, not even in the event of bankruptcy.

Alex Ahlstrom learning Mandarin at the Beijing Foreign Studies University

Upon graduation, the average debt of German students is USD $6,680, from living expenses, not tuition. A full 93% of undergraduate enrollment in Germany is tuition free. And, there are no fees on more than half of the master’s programs taught in English in Germany. But, Germany’s goal is to have half of the international students stay in Germany for five years and contribute taxes to pay for previous tuition, because Germany needs to recruit foreigners for its aging population. And, Germany seems to be succeeding, because, currently, more than 40% of graduates plan to stay in Germany for more than ten years. So, there are no student loans from Germany, and there is also no financial obligation to stay in Germany if the graduate doesn’t want to. 

In terms of financing, I would 11/10 recommend studying abroad through the Berlin School of Economics and Law or at the University of Ljubljana. Both schools do their best to accommodate students by offering free tuition, and the EU makes a difference by even giving money to students, even non-EU students, to support them during their study abroad period.


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