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When Anne Gilbert was looking at options for her Master’s degree, she naturally first considered programs in the United States, her home country. However, she was also just starting to pay for her Bachelor’s degree, and the idea of taking on more debt was intimidating. As she was interested in international studies for her Master’s, she started to look at options abroad and was quickly surprised to learn that she could get a similar degree in Germany, for a fraction of the cost.
We caught up with Anne to learn more about how she decided to do her graduate studies in Germany, how much she paid for school, and what she would tell other graduate students considering an international degree program.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
And what do you currently do for work?
I live in Germany and manage a bottle shop, Die Hopfenkult – Bierothek Dresden, hosting tastings and building awareness of our shop through social media (which has been a great way to improve my German language skills). Before then I was at an architecture firm in Ireland for about two years.
How did you decide to do grad school, and why did you pick Germany?
I didn’t go to grad school right after college and spent about two years working to pay back the loans I took for undergrad. A lot of the jobs I was applying to work within my field required a graduate degree to even be considered.
Grad school felt like a necessary step but it is obviously kind of pricey in the US and I wasn’t really in a place to spend loads of money or take out another loan. So I started looking into my options and found loads of articles about the price for studying in certain countries, how feasible it is, and how there’s plenty of opportunities for people who are non-residents from these places.
I didn’t do a study abroad program for my undergrad, so I figured I’d try it! Germany happens to be one the most affordable options for both domestic and international students, so my decision was made for me.
Were there a lot of other international students at your school?
The school had a lot of international students in both the Bachelor’s and Master’s programs, a fair number of them were Americans or EU residents. I think the low price was a draw, and many of the classes were held in English, which is a huge draw for people with limited foreign language skills. That also wasn’t a differentiator for this school, about half the graduate programs I looked into in Germany were in English because it is such a universal language.
Germany is really trying to be an educational hub. The country has this initiative where you come and study there and then you have a streamlined process for your work visa application. It is a great way to retain a young, educated workforce.
Another reason there were a number of international students was that in the EU the prices for school can vary so much. Nothing costs as much as college can in the US, but schools in the UK and Ireland are much higher than the rest of Europe.
How much student debt did you take on for your international graduate degree?
I only have loans from my undergrad degree, which I earned in 2013. I have had periods of deferment since graduating, so I haven’t made payments every single month in the last seven years, but when I’m working I put as much towards them as I can.
Do students in Germany typically have student debt?
Since the cost of education is so much lower, it’s definitely not something most people have like we see in the US. Like, anytime it’s come up in conversation that I have student loans, people have been surprised and don’t really understand why. It’s not really something that would come up in their own lives unless they decided to study outside of Germany.
I think for the two years it took to get my Master’s, including tuition and everything, it cost me just over 1000 Euro each year. When I was in Ireland it was a bit more normal to have student debt because a Master’s there would cost maybe like 10,000 Euro or something, still less than it would in the US. And their Master’s programs are only a year long.
Do you think the quality of education was in line with what you would have gotten in the US?
I don’t know. The coursework for a similar program in the US may be a bit more rigorous and the program itself in Germany wasn’t a top priority with the university, it wasn’t what this school was particularly known for. I think it could have done with more attention and funding.
There probably was a certain dip in quality that I took going to the university I did, but I graduated two years later without taking on more debt. So there are some trade offs. It comes to, do you prioritize not taking on more debt while continuing your education?
Do you think it would have been as easy to move to a foreign country if you hadn’t gone to an international program?
I think it would have been quite complicated if I tried to do it just on my own. I would’ve had to go through an entirely different process and wouldn’t have the same immediate resources.
In Brandenburg, I had a whole student resource center full of people who could answer basic questions like, how to open a bank in Germany. I think studying there gave me an easy in and by the time I was done with my program and had spent some time working in Ireland, the idea of going back to Germany seemed quite easy because I’d done it already!
Is there any advice that you’d give to students who are considering an international option for grad school?
Honestly, getting a graduate degree abroad wasn’t as complicated as I was worried about it being. It all seemed quite abstract and confusing when I first started considering my options. I thought it was going to be really hard getting all the documents sorted and finding my way, but it’s actually really easy getting a student visa.
I managed to get like my Master’s for about 1000 Euro a year! The fact that I could walk away with a graduate degree for so little without financial aid is still remarkable to me.
Honestly, it just, it’s not as complicated or hard as it seems to apply, and I wouldn’t trade my international experience for anything.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subjects are not necessarily those of Earnest.