When it comes to college, there are some striking differences between American and European Universities. For individuals considering their options in regard to higher education, international study isn't something to rule out entirely, but it's important to grasp the larger issues in play. As well, understanding the commonalities of the college experience carries weight during the process of selecting the best educational opportunities.
In the article below, these will be outlined in order to provide a foundation for individual assessment, so that students may better determine which academic sphere best suits their needs.
Tuition, Cost, and Focus
The U.S. embraces a liberal arts educational basis at every level of study, with the exception of graduate and post-graduate programs. Students are required to complete a certain core curriculum that incorporates language, literature, science, math, and history, before continuing with their major studies. This, and the opportunity to study topics outside a single major, afford students greater latitude, and potentially offer a much richer and more varied educational experience. Institutions in Europe tend to be far more focused in their offerings. What you wish to study often determines where you study to a higher degree than it does in the U.S.
The subject of free or subsidized education is also at issue. While many colleges in Europe offer free or substantially reduced tuition cost, this has a price tag of its own. First, while it's true that many of the top institutions in the U.S. charge a high tuition, that money is reinvested in infrastructure and, at least in theory, teacher support. This provides students with a richer atmosphere, better materials, and educators who can offer them their undivided attention. Something as simple as professorial office hours is reflective of this. In many colleges in Europe, they simply don't exist. Students make appointments at the professor's convenience.
Students in America have the luxury of a large geographic area dominated by a single cultural map. While this particular culture does vary across space, a single language and a largely similar value set characterize the American educational experience. European universities, by contrast, are shaped by the cosmopolitan nature of the many cultural sensibilities contained in a far smaller geographic space. Multiple languages are often spoken, the very structure of which shifts the dynamic between professors and students. For example, several Continental language groups contain an automatic formal conjugation that applies to those who are older or hold a superior position to the speaker (i.e. the French "vous.")
Other cultural features that shape the expression of advanced education are considerations of space and infrastructure. Many U.S. institutions are expansive, and reflect the cultural connection between space and wealth. As well, U.S. schools often offer students lodging in dormitories, which is almost unknown in Europe. Many institutions in Europe are located in urban areas, almost all of which have well-established public transportation systems. Students will often lodge in apartment buildings near campus and commute to classes.
These few considerations alone are sufficient to shape the respective spheres of education. Even if they appear incidental, the realms of language and allocation of space are enormously influential to the conduct of everyday life, much less an educational experience. As well, it is often taken for granted that the educational experience informed by the liberal arts requirement translates cross-culturally. It does not. This can dramatically influence a student's choice between American and European universities, depending on their goals and desires.