The liberal arts system: A foreign perspective

When the new academic year of 2015/16 started, I arrived among more than 60 other international students at Wheaton College. What differentiated me from most of the others is that I am staying here for only one year. I am doing an exchange study abroad program whereas most of the other international students had packed up their things in their home country and moved here to live and study for four years. They preferred an American higher education over the ones in their own country.

In Germany, I have access to a very good free academic education. Most of my fellow European friends could enjoy similar advantages through studying in Europe. Yet, some are obviously willing to spend more than $60,000 per year for an American college degree. Why does an American college degree appeal to a large number of European students? I asked some of the European students about the reasons behind their decision to come to the United States in general and to Wheaton College in particular.

None of the European students, whom I have spoken to, would consider the American higher education system as ‘better’ than the one that exists in their home country. Some of the students hesitated and tried to use other terms besides ‘better’ to describe the American higher education system. One of the reasons that made them come here was that they do not need to determine or declare their major right away but that they have time to grow and develop their individual interests. There is more variety in the American higher education system, whereas you have to decide on one educational track at a very young age in Europe. I have experienced that as well, but before coming here, I have never questioned it.

All of the interviewed students stated that there is no such thing as a liberal arts college in their countries. Liberal arts colleges seem to offer them a prospect of having all the possibilities in the world, not the perfect academic education. According to one student’s response, Wheaton is a place that makes one thrive in life.  Experiencing multiculturalism is also a main aspect these students consider when applying to colleges and eventually coming to Wheaton. All students agreed that they could have received a good education in their home countries, as well, but that Wheaton College gives them the opportunity to have some contact with many different cultures in one small environment. Wheaton allows them to become personally educated in terms of being more independent and tolerant.

Having been here now for six months, I have started to understand and enjoy the advantages of the American higher education system, and I think I will look for ways in my future educational career to have as much flexibility and freedom in my choices as possible. Yet, I still view it as a questionable system in which one is required to pay a high amount of tuition fees in order to have chance for a better future.