European Universities generally have longer institutional history, much different admission requirements and campus life, but most importantly different funding. In the United States, an endowment, students and sometimes state funding supports universities. In Europe, the national government funds universities.
Who Funds Colleges and Universities?
Students enrolling in American universities have access to thousands of private and public institutions from the Atlantic to the Pacific. While public universities like the University of Wisconsin-Madison and UC-Berkeley receive state and federal aid, students need to pay tuition and fees for public education. Private colleges like Harvard, Yale and Stanford charge higher tuition rates to account for the absence of public funding.
By contrast, European universities are largely public and require low tuition payments from students. The reason why public universities are held in higher esteem than private institutions is their commitment to higher education as an inalienable right. While some universities are funded through income taxes, schools in France and Germany have adopted student fees in the last five years to account for budget shortfalls.
The relative youth of the United States as a nation means that its universities are relatively new. Harvard University opened its doors in 1636, but most public universities west of the Appalachians opened following the War of 1812. Some systems, like the University of Wisconsin system, started out as land grant colleges designed to help farmers understand the vagaries of their trade.
Europe's role as a leader in higher education began with the opening of the University of Bologna in 1036. The tradition of higher education in Europe is nearly a millennium old but universities retain plenty of their historic charm. Older buildings are used as museums, lecture halls and offices at universities from London to Rome. One reason why universities can keep these buildings around is public funding designated to historic preservation.
High school students throughout the United States dread the process of applying to colleges and universities. This process includes gathering recommendation letters, creating resumes and writing personal essays to prepare for life after graduation. The primary qualifications for a freshman at an American university are decent SAT or ACT scores, a high school diploma and a list of extracurricular activities.
European students are put through greater filters than American students before reaching the university level. The British A-level tests, for example, require students interested in local universities to take extensive testing on four subjects. These tests separate committed students from young professionals who may not work well in the university system. The areas of focus from the A-levels help students narrow down their choices at university, a stark difference from the soul searching required to pick a major in American schools.
American universities are designed to welcome students and encourage on-campus activities throughout the year. The centerpiece of the American university campus is the student union, which serves as cafeteria, grocery store, entertainment venue and information center. Most schools have residence halls and apartments used to keep students close to their classes without spending a fortune on rent.
The typical European university is designed exclusively for study. Most European universities are devoid of the extensive student housing found throughout the United States. European campuses consist of lecture halls, laboratories and libraries due to the spatial constraints of major cities. Most schools will help local and international students find accommodations before their classes begin.
Nicholas Katers has been a freelance writer since 2006. He teaches American history at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wis. His past works include articles for "CCN Magazine," "The History Teacher" and "The Internationalist" magazine. Katers holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in American history from University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, respectively.