International Universities: Potential Cost Savings

The cost of college is always an issue. Even families with comfortable incomes and some savings worry about how they will afford a university education in today’s market where the typical four-year degree can cost $25K / year at a top state school or $60K / year at some private colleges.

International universities can offer potential cost saving alternatives. A couple years ago the Washington Post ran an article titled “7 countries where Americans can study at universities, in English, for free (or almost free.)” You can read it here.

While the idea of studying in France, Germany, Sweden, or Brazil may seem appealing, not many families are ready to send their college freshman abroad to a country where he or she is not fluent in the language. (Even if the tuition savings is significant.)

But college degrees from schools in Canada and England present financial savings in countries with similar cultures and languages to what students would experience at home. I’ve presented some of these options in greater depth on recent editions of “The College Prep Podcast.”

Episode #110 – Universities in England

Listen here.

Listen in to find out more about:

  • how English Universities graduate students in 3 years—not 4,
  • why transparent entry requirements make admissions simple,
  • the type of students who will (and won’t) benefit from the English university system
  • how English Universities can boast 80% completion rates (hint: they have improved student support services!),
  • how to apply to these schools,
  • why you might save more money studying abroad, and
  • 5 schools you might want to consider.

Episode #147 Canadian Universities with Guest Whitney Laughlin

Listen here.

Listen in to find out more about:

  • Differences and similarities between the Canadian and American university systems
  • 8+ reasons benefits to choosing a Canadian university over an American one
  • 4 reasons why you might NOT want to consider a Canadian university
  • how to get scholarships in Canada
  • and more!

International universities can give students a distinctive college experience while saving families thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars per year.

7 Reasons to Attend a Community College


In an era of highly competitive university admissions, rising student debt concerns, and questions on the financial return on a college education, more students are considering community colleges.

I recently met a Harvard grad that started out at a community college and cites that experience as a major reason she was able to get into and succeed at an Ivy League school. So don’t think community colleges will limit your options; they may help expand them.

Community colleges can offer academic, financial, and social benefits and prepare students to improve their job prospects or complete their degrees at well-known and prestigious universities.

Here are some reasons to consider community colleges:

1. Lower Tuition

Community college classes cost less than the corresponding course at a state university or private college. In many cases, the community college class costs 30-50% of what the same class would cost elsewhere and the fees associated with attending a community college are lower. Most students can complete two years of courses at their local community college for less than the cost of one year’s tuition at a four-year college.

2. Personalized Instruction

Community colleges offer smaller classes, often with fewer than 40 students, and instructors who are committed to teaching. This type of academic environment provides more personalized instruction and may help students successfully navigate the transition from high school academics to college-level work.

3. Chance to Improve Credentials

Community colleges offer students multiple opportunities to improve their education and enhance their academic credentials. Taking classes at a community college may allow a student who had lower grades or test score in high school improve his or her academic credential prior to transferring to another institution.

Some students choose community colleges because they can complete a certificate program or Associate’s degree which will help them get a job or earn a promotion in their current field.

Other students attend community colleges as part of a long-term plan to earn a Bachelor’s degree from a four-year university. Some state universities make and effort to recruit top transfer students from state community colleges. UVA and UCLA actively accept students who began at community colleges.

4. Credits Transfer

Many states have articulation agreements between their community colleges and four-year institutions. These transfer agreements allow students to take approved community college courses that satisfy core requirements at the university level. After successfully completing their first two years at the community college level, students qualify to enter a state university to complete their degree. Agreements vary by state, so students should ask about the policies in their state.

However, not all community college classes are guaranteed to transfer. Don’t assume that any English, math, or history class will satisfy the graduation requirements at four-year schools. Also, most credit transfer agreements are between state universities and the community colleges in that particular state; if you transfer to a private college or out of state university, your community college credits are not guaranteed to transfer.

5. Extensive Support Services

Students will find community colleges offer a wide array of services aimed at increasing student success. These services may include: English as a second language programs; study skills classes; remedial help in math, reading, and writing; counseling services; academic advising; peer tutoring; and application counseling.

Students who struggled in high school may find more help by starting at a community college rather than a university. Students who were successful in high school, but never really learned how to study can benefit from the personalized support services at community colleges.

6. Opportunity to Explore Academic Programs

Because tuition is less expensive, classes are more personalized, and support services are readily available, community colleges may be an ideal place for the undecided student to explore a variety of academic programs. Not sure about engineering, biology, business management, or economics? Students can take a semester or year to explore potential majors before committing to a program or school.

7. Opportunity to Live at Home

Many community college students live at home, so the student who chooses to do so won’t be out of place among his or her peers. Many students choose live at home in order to save money, but others do so for social reasons. Some students, particularly those who graduated from high school at a young age, benefit from the opportunity to mature at home while taking classes.

Community colleges are no longer viewed as a school of last resort for those who couldn’t gain admission to a university. Many students have seen the advantage in taking classes, earning degrees, and saving money by attending a community college. Whether looking for a financial alternative, better learning environment, opportunity to explore different subjects, or close to home school, students who elect to attend community colleges will find many benefits.


How to Get Reluctant Teens to Participate in the College Search


My 17-year-old son is a boy of few words. He likes to keep to himself. He is very independent and conscientious. I would suspect that he already has thoughts and opinions about the college process but he is not willing to discuss them with me. He is a strong student and a hard worker but he is not interested in gathering any information about college through discussion, websites or guides (although I know he has had a productive conversation with his school college counselor). What should I do?

Many parents find themselves in similar situations. Some teens are quiet by nature, while others may be reluctant to share because they find the college admission process stressful or feel uncomfortable expressing indecision. There are a number of things parents can do to open up discussions with their children.

Sprinkle casual questions into daily conversation.

Sometimes sitting down for “the college talk” stifles students. Parents may have more luck by adding occasional questions into everyday conversation. “What did you think of that brochure that came in the mail from XYZ College?” “You are doing so well in history, do you think that is a subject you would want to continue to study in college?” Reticent teens may need additional prompting with questions like, “Why is that?” or “What makes you feel that way?”

There are many opportunities for casual conversation, but there are a few topics of discussion parents should avoid. Avoid asking questions about other students; too often, teens view these as critical comparisons. No one wants to compare his or her college options with those of the current valedictorian or star athlete. Also, avoid questions that suggest judgment, like, “You don’t want to go hear the presentation from State U, do you?” Teens are more likely to speak up if they know their opinions will be heard and valued.

Enlist the help of your school guidance counselor.

In this situation, you are fortunate your son has a productive working relationship with his school guidance counselor. Sometimes teens find it easier to talk to someone other than their parents. Don’t take this as an insult; look at it as an opportunity.

Schedule an appointment to meet with the counselor without your son. Explain your situation and ask for his or her insight. Some teens worry about disappointing their parents or don’t want to admit they are nervous about this next step. The counselor may be able to offer insight into your son’s thoughts and opinions and provide some suggestions of schools you may want to visit as a family.

Plan some college visits.

Researching colleges can seem like added homework; actually, visiting a campus can help even a reluctant student engage in the college search process. Families don’t need to wait until a student’s junior year to visit schools.

Colleges are eager to meet interested students, and most have information about campus visits on the admissions office website. The typical visit lasts about two hours and includes an information session led by someone from the admissions office, as well as a student-led tour of the campus. Take notes during or after your visit to list what you liked and didn’t like about the school. Ask your son for his feedback, and be ready to listen.

Establish regular times for family conversation.

Sometimes teens clam up when they feel pressure to make major decisions. Trying to sit down for a big family meeting may make it more difficult for your son to express himself. Rather than having one or two major discussions a month, establish regular times for family conversation. If your family never gets a chance to eat dinner together during the week because of conflicting schedules, don’t worry. Your family time might come in the car on the way to and from practice, over lunch on Sunday, or while watching sports on TV. Make time when everyone has unplugged from computers and phones and is able to chat about the events of the day or week. During these informal talks, you may learn a lot more about your son’s plans for his future, dreams for college, and ideas on the schools that are right for him. 

Guide the research process.

Researching colleges sounds a lot like doing another research paper for some teens. While some students eagerly dive into guidebooks, websites, and college fairs, others—like your son—show little interest. You may need to guide the research process. Learning about different schools or academic offerings doesn’t have to be a chore. If your son learns better by experiencing things, you may want to find some video tours of campuses and plan more in-person visits. Some students are overwhelmed with the volume of reading in guidebooks and online, but they will happily page through course catalogs or brochures they receive in the mail. As a parent, you may need to find the resources that are most relevant and best fit your son’s preferred method for information-gathering.


Most high school students are willing to discuss their college options, as long as they feel certain their wishes, ideas, and goals are being taken seriously. It’s a good thing that your son is open to the idea of college and has discussed the college admissions process with his school counselor. However, because parents do play a significant role in a student’s transition to college, it’s important that you help guide your son’s college explorations so that he considers all of the relevant factors and ends up making a solid college choice.


Why Go To College? (Or What College Is Not)

Tips to Succeed In College


As I go through the process of helping students prepare for college I’m often brought back to the essential question: why do we want our kids to get college degrees? If we can better understand the purpose then we can align all of our actions towards achieving that goal.

I will start with a couple things I think college is not. Of course, you’re welcome to disagree with me in which case your actions would be directed towards a slightly different goal than mine.

Don’t Go To College To Get A Job

We do not send students to college simply to get a job upon graduation. If the only purpose of higher education was to gain subsequent employment we would not need football games, sororities or fraternities, or any other social activities. College in this scenario would look a lot more like a trade school where students could take practical hands-on classes and begin internships or apprenticeships towards securing a future job.

If employment was the only goal for a college education most students could easily commute to their local junior college or state university. We would have no need for dormitories or residence halls and no need for any of the social components most schools offer.

Yes, some students are just looking for education to improve employment options. Trade schools, online classes, and local colleges can be the right answer. And, yes, we do hope that higher education will lead to more opportunities in employment, but most of us don’t think future employment is the only goal of a college education.

Don’t Go To College To Gain Social Status

A college education is not the route to acceptance in proper society or a recognized pedigree.

In the way that some people say that you need to go to college to get a job, others say you need to go to college in order to be accepted into the world. Often these are the people who justify the need to go to a bigger, better, or brand-name school because it will “open doors”. This is part of the myth of higher education in America.

I can assure you that a college diploma is not like the club card that will grant me access to the airport lounge. My undergraduate degree is from Rice University, an institution that perennially makes the top 20 list of national universities. I have that big name degree, but I have yet to find people fawning over themselves to extend me jobs, greater social positions, or extra fringe benefits.

We’ve seen a lot of backlash to this position in the past few years. You can find numerous articles listing successful people with degrees from non-prestigious schools or with no degree at all.

I believe it is important for students to seek out like-minded peers who will encourage them to achieve their best, but I don’t think you need to need a particular college name on your degree to earn status.

I’m not opposed to Ivy League or high ranking schools. I loved my time at Rice and feel I got a lot from the classes and the people I met. But that experience has not magically granted me a better place in society or opened doors. Doors have opened when I worked to open them.

Don’t Go To College To Play For Four Years

College is not a four-year country club experience. This is the complete opposite of the first concept that college is simply for a job. Under this focus people believe that college is a four-year social vacation as a transition from high school into the real world.

Few adults subscribed to this idea. Most understand that there has to be some practical balance between the fun parts of college life and the work that will prepare students for success in the future.

However, when I visit colleges and sit in on campus tours and information sessions, I see a lot of students who look like they are shopping for a good time. They pay more attention to fancy dorms, rock climbing walls, lazy rivers in the recreation center, and what’s being served for lunch. The fact that there is a Starbucks in the library should not be a major selling point for a university. But when students are just looking for the country club lifestyle it can be difficult to put the focus on what matters.

It’s been a few years (the example is dated) but this experience still stands out in my mind. I worked with a very bright young lady who was in the top 10% of her class at a private high school. We had spent a couple sessions discussing different colleges she might want to research and visit. She exclaimed at our next meeting that she had found the perfect school. After she told me the name of the school, a wonderful private liberal arts college, I asked her why this school was going to be “the one.” She told me that she was in love with this particular institution because they had outlet’s in the quad. (not classes, majors, research options, study abroad, or internships– the big issue was electrical outlets?!?) She could envision herself with her laptop computer plugged in as she sat from morning till night doing her schoolwork on the grass in the open air. All of these sessions, all of the information I provided, and the decision is swayed by outlets in the quad? !!!!!

Lifestyle perks are nice and colleges know that new dorms and fancy recreation centers impress prospective students. This is where you as a parent may need to step in and refocus the discussion on the actual merits of the institution if you are looking for more than a four-year country club experience.

What Factors Matter?

Why do we want our children to get college degrees? The answer is complicated and involves many factors. I want both of my own children to learn to think and express themselves, meet new people, develop academic skills they can apply to a variety of situations in the future, broaden their academic, cultural, and social perspectives, and take advantage of opportunities to work, research, and intern with people who can shape their careers. You can probably think of plenty of other things I’ve left off this list.

The problem is that all of these big picture reasons don’t show up in the quick online college search programs that limit your list by geography, major, size, etc. But having a better idea of what you are looking for in a college is important.

Even the very brightest high school students don’t always have clear priorities in what they want from a college. Their search process may be incomplete or completely off-track. As a parent you may assume you are looking at things the same way, but until you actually discuss and prioritize, you may find you and your student are looking for very different things.

Start By Finding Common Ground

I’ve started by giving some examples of what college is not. You might agree or disagree with me. So take some time and discuss your priorities.

  • What do you hope to get out of your college experience?
  • Why go to college?
  • What factors are most important?
  • What is less important or is something you can find at any school?

Not everyone will have the same answers, but if your family can identify these big picture goals, you will have a much easier time looking through the 4700+ degree granting institutions.