Surging U.S. tuition costs have more American parents sending their children to college in Europe as they look to save money on higher education.

What once was a niche opportunity for wealthy families looking to add some flair to their kids’ resumes is now becoming increasingly common as tuition and fees climb in the U.S., stretching budgets that are already getting hit by inflation and rising housing costs.

In France, the number of American students surged 50% in the 2021-22 school year compared to the previous year; there was a 16% gain in the Netherlands, while the U.K. saw a 28% surge in applicants this year compared to 2020. Google searches for “College in Europe” hit a three-year high in August and have remained elevated as college application season ramps up.

“People really started looking at this during the pandemic and enquiries have increased a lot since,” said Kristin Hamaker, growth management director at Colorado-based foreign college consultancy Beyond the States, who has seen a 25% increase in clients this year. “It’s sounding a lot less far-fetched than before. Parents say: ‘We want more for our money, more for our children.’”

Living abroad comes with its own expenses and hassles, but parents have many reasons for sending their kids to school overseas. Some mention the less stressful application process, access to different cultures and the ability to travel. But money is perhaps the biggest factor. 

The average cost for college tuition has more doubled in the past two decades, hitting $35,551 in 2022, according to the  Education Data Initiative. Top schools, including in the Ivy League, charge far more. While President Joe Biden’s loan forgiveness program will offer graduates some reprieve, crippling student debt is fueling a backlash against the prices of higher education.

Tuition for international students in Europe, meanwhile, is free at most German universities, costs €2,770 ($2,778) a year in France and as much as €15,000 in the Netherlands. In the U.K., an undergraduate will pay about £35,000 ($40,516) a year to study English at Oxford, while the University of St Andrews runs more than £26,000. But students in Europe typically get their degrees in three years, not four.

The Best Route
Amné Aurélie moved to Paris from New York in August to study theatre at the Sorbonne. Because she’s a dual French-American citizen, she only has to pay €170 a year in tuition fees and €650 a month for board, a steal compared to prices in the U.S. The 17-year-old aspiring comedy screenwriter said the applications process for European schools was much simpler than the U.S. She was asked to send one resume, transcript and cover letter to all universities, while her friends in the U.S. were asked to write several essays for each U.S. college application, on top of the other documents.

“Studying in the U.S. has gotten so hard,” she said. “The costs are ridiculous and people often don’t get in even if they have stellar records.”

Besides the less stressful application process, Americans’ chances abroad are also a lot better. While top U.S. schools like Harvard and Stanford have acceptance rates in the low single digits, about 14% of students get into Oxford and 41% get into the University of Saint Andrews, two of the most popular options for Americans.

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