Movies, television, and music constantly create a coherent idea of what college is like for American students. We all know the insanity of “American Pie”, the gamesmanship of “The Social Network” or the competition and community building of “Pitch Perfect.”
However, there is nothing more wrong than assuming that every college experience around the world looks just like that. Having had the opportunity to study in Germany, France, the UK and the US, I would like to share with you guys some major differences between European and American universities.
Dorm life is probably the biggest hallmark of U.S. universities, whereas in Europe the dorm concept is largely non-existent. Contrarily to the U.S., universities throughout the European continent serve only as educational centers for their students, not as residential centers. Thus, most students live off campus in rented apartments, with a well-established public transportation system making it easy for students to commute to classes.
This also results in European students being more integrated into the communities surrounding their universities instead of focusing only on the campus itself as a social hub. One exception – the UK, where students are provided with residence halls.
The U.S. is infamous for its high tuition costs which consequently result in high student debts upon graduation. According to The College Board, the average yearly tuition fees for a private four-year college in the US are $32,410. Public four-year colleges are less expensive, averaging $9,410 a year for in-state students and $23,890 a year for out-of-state students.
With the UK being the only exception, studying at a European university is almost completely free for nationals and EU students. This gives students the opportunity to fully concentrate on their studies instead of worrying about huge debts their educational career creates.
3. Social scene
The drinking culture on campus in Europe definitely differs from the American experience. With the U.S. having one of the highest legal drinking ages among Western countries at age 21, American students come to campus without having had a controlled, legal way to start drinking alcohol. Its exaggerated consequences are pictured in movies like “American Pie” and “Project X”. Alternatively, European nations allow teens by law to start drinking alcohol at age 18. (In Germany, beer is allowed at age 16.) This fosters quite a different drinking culture, which often takes place in pubs and bars.
Whereas the function of European universities is focused on research and education, American colleges offer a great variety of events and activities to create a college community feeling for its students. Colleges have mascots and anthems, sports teams and host different social events. College in the U.S. means much more than only education and becomes a place students identify with for the rest of their lives.
The differences between American and European university life also exist on an educational level. In Europe, a liberal arts educational basis is reserved for up until high school, whereas university gives the student the opportunity to focus on a specific field of study. In contrast to this, students in the U.S. are required to complete a certain core curriculum that includes literature, language, math, science, and history before continuing with their major studies.
Such a system results in fairly unspecialized bachelor degrees as it allows less focus on the major field of study the student wants to pursue a career in.
Attendance in American classes is a must, as students are graded usually on several smaller additional assignments and in-class quizzes throughout the semester that require more frequent attendance. In Europe, students often take only a couple of exams per class as their primary mode of grading, which results in students skipping classes and independent research and preparation for assignments.
In Europe, you also won’t find students attending class in pajamas or in sweat pants. You also won’t hear a student call a professor by their first name. However, it’s those differences that make studying abroad so much more interesting and worth exploring. Don’t you want to find out what college life looks like in different countries and explore another culture while pursuing your degree? Go for it and take all the differences in!