How a Free Bachelor's Degree May Cost You More Than a Paid One

As you’re getting ready to do your Bachelor’s abroad, you are probably already thinking about how much three or four years in a foreign country will cost you. One way to cut down your expenses is to look for a no-tuition Bachelor’s programme. But is this type of cutback always a good choice?

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Tuition fees are only a part of your study costs when you attend an international university. A good chunk of your money will go into accommodation and daily expenses (food, books, clothes, social activities).

Tuition fees in Europe

If you’re an EU national, then you will be able to study at any European university without paying a tuition fee, or a lower tuition fee. For example, European students are exempt from tuition fees in Nordic countries, among others. Some universities with zero tuition costs are:

However, if you are a non-EU national, then you will generally have to pay a tuition to study at European universities. Countries with affordable tuitions fees are France and Belgium, for example. On the other end, tuition fees at British universities are some of the most expensive — on average about 9,000 EUR/year.

The traps of no-tuition Bachelors

Free tuition Bachelors are not always a good bargain

They are usually found in countries where the living costs are not cheap (to say the least), because they have high standards of living. Some of the main causes why a free international Bachelor’s degree could cost you more than you expect are:

Pricy accommodation and living costs

While a free Bachelor’s degree in countries like Finland, Norway, Sweden, or Denmark sounds good, the daily expenses may cause some students to shake their heads in disbelief. 

The big ‘but’ is that living expenses, including accommodation, are rarely lower than 1,000 EUR/ month.

Add the 1,500 to 10,000 EUR/year tuition, if you are from outside the EU, and you might feel your finances draining.

Another issue with accommodation is that housing in good neighbourhoods — even in student dorms — is both highly priced and hard to find.

Low chances of getting a job

Although you know living costs might higher in a no-tuition country, you might still consider doing your Bachelor’s there because there is always the option of finding a job. Or is it?

In most countries you will be able to study and work. But in many cases, you are only going to be allowed to take part-time jobs which will not be enough to cover all your monthly expenses. 

If you can get a permit to work fulltime and find a job, there is a risk you won't be able to attend all your courses. And this will take some of your student experience away. However, in many countries a fulltime job requires that you know the local language, which can be a serious downside. Furthermore, employers are reluctant to hire people that only intend to stay three or four years there.

You should also consider that obtaining a work permit after your studies is usually very hard, particularly in countries like the U.S. and Australia. 

Uncredited study options

While we do not mean to say that no-tuition international Bachelors are not quality programmes, there are chances that some of them are not what you are looking for. You should always check if the free programme you are applying to is credited (recognised by the government). Another disadvantage might be that the Bachelor’s programme does not offer the courses that really interest you.

So, what you’ll win from free tuition, you’ll lose in terms of academic and professional prospects.

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Countries with balanced tuition and living costs

Don’t start feeling blue yet. There’s a way to avoid these traps. Our advice is to look for countries that have a balanced ratio between tuition fees and living costs. As an Italian proverb says, you should search for ‘Moderation in all things’. Some countries that have moderate tuitions fees and affordable living costs are:

  • Italy (what a surprise) — In cosmopolitan Italy the average tuition fee is 850 EUR/year, while living costs in student cities are about 800 EUR/month. 
  • Spain —  Sunny, welcoming Spain will cost you about 700 EUR/month in living expenses and another 1,000 EUR/year in tuition fees, if you’re from outside the EU.
  • Germany — A popular student destination, Germany charges no tuition fees at public universities, except for an administration fee of 100 – 200 EUR/year and the living costs will fit in an 800 EUR/month budget.
  • China — The world’s most populous country, China has accessible tuition fees for foreign students — starting at 2,200 EUR/year for English-taught degrees. The living costs are affordable as well, even in big cities, estimated at 500 - 800 EUR/month.

You can check out other expenses like:

Additionally, you can look for scholarship options — some of which cover both tuition fees and living expenses.

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In the end, what is important is that you are happy with the international Bachelor’s programme you decide to apply to, and that you find the country that is most suitable for you, both culture-wise and cost-wise. Have a look at plenty of international Master's degrees worldwide.

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