Europe is the birthplace of modern universities and a continent which gives half of all universities in World Rankings Top 10. Here, you can find top education, enjoy the benefits of the European Union, and have a lot of fun because the cities are exciting, full of history and culture, and have vibrant nightlife.
Studying in Europe can be a fantastic idea for a variety of reasons:
- it is home to some of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world,
- there is great diversity in terms of teaching style, campus life, and urban and natural landscapes, so there is a choice for every taste,
- you’ll have a rich cultural experience, from the multitude of languages to delicious cuisines and exciting local customs.
Most international students choose Western Europe for their studies, but it doesn’t mean the rest of Europe doesn’t offer good quality education. What differs, however, is the number of English-taught programmes (there are more in the West) and the available information about the higher education system in these countries.
Among the Western countries, one of the most popular is the UK, with 680,000 international students as of 2021/2022. Yet, you should remember that the UK is no longer part of the EU, so if you’re going there from a European country, you will be treated as an international student.
Why study abroad in Europe
Europe has 44 countries, a great variety of landscapes and climates, and many unique cultures and traditions, which all coexist under the umbrella of a shared European cultural identity. For an international student, this means a lot of choices in terms of study destinations: it’s impossible not to find a country that fits your identity, likes, and preferences.
In Europe, you can find some of the oldest universities in the world that are still in operation today and are highly prestigious. In fact, the concept of the university as we know it today took shape in Europe along with the opening of these first institutions, among which are:
- University of Bologna in Italy, founded in 1088
- University of Oxford in the UK, founded in 1096
- University of Cambridge in the UK, founded in 1209
- Sapienza University of Rome in Italy, founded in 1303
- University of Pisa in Italy, founded in 1343
- Jagiellonian University in Poland, founded in 1364
- Heidelberg University in Germany, founded in 1386
All of them are high-ranking universities today, some even featuring in Top 10. In fact, in QS World Universities Ranking 2023, the Top 10 universities include 5 institutions from Europe (4 from the UK) and one from Switzerland. In QS Top50, you can find 12 European universities and in Top 100, 35.
Extra benefits of studying in Europe
The Bologna system is active in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), established in 1999, and it represented a reform of higher education in Europe. The three main characteristics of the system are the following:
- a higher education system divided into three cycles: bachelor's, master's and doctorate
- qualifications earned abroad and study periods completed at other universities are recognised across all countries that adopted the Bologna system
- a system of quality assurance which manages higher education in all participating countries
All countries in Europe, except for Monaco, are part of the Bologna system, plus Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cyprus, Georgia, and Kazakhstan.
Bologna also adopted the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), previously used only for Erasmus students. The system means that each academic year, a student must collect a total of 60 credits from the lectures, seminars, and assignments he/she attends. To graduate, you must have 180 credits, which you can transfer from one university to another.
In addition, if the European country you choose to study in is also part of the European Union or the EEA (European Economic Area), they are probably part of the Schengen area too, which means you will be able to travel freely among the member states. Free movement within the Schengen area means you can “travel, work and live in an EU country without special formalities.” Scandinavian countries in the north, with their Viking history, snowy winters and beautiful auroras, are nothing like the warm and exotic southern countries or the rich cultural experience of a city like Paris or Rome.
Where to study abroad in Europe
Because there is so much diversity in Europe, at first, it may feel overwhelming to make a choice. But if we organise these options by classifying them based on a few important factors for studying abroad, we can put things into perspective and simplify that choice. Let’s have a look at the following criteria:
Subject of study
Most of the time, the best universities in Europe fare well in all subjects. However, certain fields of study fit better with some countries than others. Moreover, you might find some subjects missing altogether in certain European countries. Based on this, let’s look at some destinations and specific fields of study which thrive there.
- The UK for interdisciplinary programmes
If you’re interested in new subjects of study, interdisciplinary programmes (like Media and Politics or Computing and Creative Industry), and innovative approaches, you have the highest chance of finding a satisfying course in the UK.
What’s more, here you can find some programmes that are not available or not as developed in other parts of Europe, like Creative writing, Performance, Video Games Studies, Brewing and Distilling, Equine Science, or unique interdisciplinary programmes like the one in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.
- Germany for tech
German universities excel in Engineering & Technology due to the country's strong industrial and technological foundation, alongside substantial collaborations between universities and industry. This results in cutting-edge study programs for tech lovers.
Additionally, universities in Germany are highly regarded in fields like Philosophy, Literature, and History, with influential figures such as Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger having made significant contributions to these fields.
- Italy for art and history
You can’t think of Art and History and not think of Italy. The country has a rich cultural heritage and some of the world's most celebrated art and architectural masterpieces, as well as a complex history that spans millennia. Studying Art, History, Culture and Archeology in Italy allows you to immerse yourself in this vibrant cultural landscape and gain a unique perspective on the world.
Moreover, completing your studies at one of the prestigious Italian universities or academies will surely open doors to opportunities in the art world, museum curation, restoration, and other related fields.
Europe is a diverse continent, and its climate varies greatly depending on the region.
Northern Europe, including Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland, has predominantly a maritime climate with cool summers and cold winters. The region is prone to rainfall throughout the year, with snowfall common during the winter months. Also, being so close to the North Pole, during summer, there will be a lot of daylight, while winter has very little daylight.
Western Europe, including the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Portugal, has a temperate climate, with mild winters and warm summers. There is considerable rainfall throughout the year, and the region is also prone to occasional heat waves and thunderstorms.
Southern Europe includes Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey and has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters. The South can experience droughts and wildfires during the summer months.
Eastern Europe, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Bulgaria, has a continental climate with hot summers and cold winters. The region is prone to snowfall in winter and heat waves during the summer months.
Central Europe includes Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, and Slovakia and has a transitional climate between maritime and continental, which means warm summers and cold winters. There is rainfall throughout the year and snowfall in winter.
Culture and people
Europe is a continent with a rich history that has been shaped over thousands of years. Although today it is home to 44 distinct countries, many of these belong to regions with a shared past and cultural identity. Thinking about regions is the easiest way to understand culture and people across Europe, even though each country is different in its own way.
Northern Europe's culture focuses on social equality, sustainability, and innovation. People are more reserved and introverted, but once you get to know them, they are known to be amazing friends. Almost everyone loves nature and spending time outdoors. They also love design and technological innovations, which helps them create comfortable living conditions despite the climate challenges.
Western Europe has a culture with deep roots in Christianity and the Enlightenment. Today, people are more individualistic and really value their personal freedom and autonomy. Art and Science are highly appreciated, and you’ll find many institutions dedicated to these causes. These countries are very appreciated by expats and foreign students, so you’ll find large international communities and a lot of international foods and restaurants.
Southern Europe is characterised by a culture that values family, community, and tradition more. People are sociable and outgoing, appreciating the feeling of community and placing more value on social harmony than individual achievement. The nightlife is very exciting, with well-known vibrant music and dance traditions as well as mouth-watering local dishes.
Eastern Europe is a melting pot of traditions and cultural influences from both the West and the East. People are known for their hospitality and warmth towards guests, and arts and architecture carry traces of the tumultuous past and the diverse cultural influences.
Central Europe is perhaps the region which, as the name suggests, shares common traits with all other regions. Music, literature, arts, and philosophy are greatly loved in the area, and there are many great names that have influenced these fields throughout the years. Family and community are also important, and people are usually friendly and welcoming but can be reserved and formal at the same time. There is also a strong national identity, and people take great pride in their cultural heritage, including their hearty cuisine with filling dishes like schnitzel, goulash, bread, and pastries.
Language requirements for international students in Europe can be of two kinds: English language proficiency for programmes taught in English or local language proficiency.
If you’re going to the UK or Ireland, you’ll need to demonstrate your proficiency in English, but you will also have to do it if you pick an English-taught programme. Typically you will prove your skills with a standardised test like IELTS, PTE Academic, TOEFL or Duolingo. However, if you previously studied in English, that will likely count as proof of proficiency as well.
The countries where you have the highest chances of finding English-taught programmes, apart from the UK and Ireland, are Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands. What’s more, there is a high level of English proficiency among the entire population, which makes it easy for international students to study and communicate with locals. Two other countries with a good range of English programmes are Germany and Spain. However, this is not to say you won’t find programmes in English in the rest of the European countries, but they will not be as common.
If you don’t necessarily want to study in English, then Germany, France, and Spain are great options because courses in these widely spoken languages are easily accessible and often, the universities will offer some classes to perfect your skills as well.
Cost of study
Regarding the cost of study, the best deal for international students is probably in Germany because their public universities offer free education for all international students. This deal applies to Bachelor’s and PhDs, while you can study a Master’s for free only if you studied for your Bachelor’s in Germany. The cost of living is also quite affordable; you can live in Germany for less than 1000 EUR per month.
You can also study for free in Scandinavian countries if you are a citizen of the EU/EEA area. However, students from outside the EU usually have to pay tuition fees, although there are exceptions, such as courses taught in Finnish or Swedish if you choose a university in Finland. You should also keep in mind that the cost of living in Northern countries is quite high.
Countries like the Netherlands, Spain, France, and Italy have medium-priced tuition fees, while the cost of living is relatively affordable but varies, of course, depending on the city you choose. For example, the monthly cost of living in Paris varies between 1,200 and 1,800 EUR, while in Lyon or Toulouse, it drops to 800 – 1,000 EUR.
However, the overall cheapest countries to study in Europe are in Eastern Europe, where both living costs and tuition fees are highly affordable. For example, the average tuition fee in Hungary is 1,200–5,000 EUR/year for most degrees and 2 000 EUR/year in Romania, where you can make do with a monthly cost of living of around 600 EUR. There are more reasons why studying abroad in Eastern Europe is a great idea, but affordability is definitely a top one.
At the other end of the scale is the UK, probably the most expensive study choice in Europe, but at the same time, it features the most reputable and highly-ranking universities in Europe and has the largest variety of scholarships and financial support opportunities – 1700 of which are on our ScholarshipPortal alone.
Finally, consider career prospects because depending on how developed a certain industry is in a particular country, there will be more or fewer job opportunities.
To give you a starting point in your own research, consider that Germany is an excellent place for graduates who want to work in Tech and Engineering because of how well-developed and advanced this industry is there.
Scandinavia offers high salaries and great employment stability, being particularly developed in areas like Sustainability, Life Sciences, and Fintech.
In the Netherlands, there are many small innovative businesses (in 2019, there were 4 000 registered Startups) where you can make your mark and feel like you can truly change the world for the better.
In the UK, service industries dominate the economy, which means a plentitude of jobs in hospitality, retail, business administration and finance, and professional services.
Italy is amazing if you want to work in anything to do with cultural heritage, and France is the place to be if you want to work in Fashion, while Spain is amazing for Tourism graduates.
Europe offers a wide range of career prospects for graduates in all areas, and the tips provided above are only meant to provide a guiding direction, not to restrict your choice in any way because all European countries offer jobs in all fields and industries.