Thursday, September 06, 2007


Okay, so that final comment in the last post got me thinking that I want to explain (what little I truly know) about the university education system here. Have I done this before? I think I have, but now I know a little more, and I want to share new information... well, based on what I've been told. I'm ASSUMING it's true. It makes me want to get down on my knees and thank the good Lord for the education system we have in the United States. Here are some things I had the pleasure of taking for granted when I applied for higher education.

1. Schools courted me. I didn't really have to go looking for a worthy university. There were thousands to choose from, and hundreds were sending me junk mail to remind me of their existence.
* This is not something I've heard of in Bulgaria. There are a handful of universities, and you go looking for them.
2. If you want to go to university, you can. The only question is it might be harder to get into a specific school.
* It's hard to get into a university in Bulgaria. For just about anyone. Apparently, you either have to be wealthy or "the best of the best." Period.
3. If you're willing to take out loans and work hard for scholarships, college is financially feasible.
* Finances stop many people from attending university in Bulgaria. And the rumor is that the financially secure don't worry about testing their way in. They can pay someone off, and their admission is taken care of. I talked with a guy once who admitted to buying his diploma.
4. Standardized tests (SAT, ACT, etc.) covering a range of subjects are used by just about every university to determine student selection. This is combined with high school grades.
* Each university has its own test, and you test into a specialty. If you want to apply to a university, you have to take their test. This is combined with high school grades.
5. I could change my major at anytime. One moment, I'm a BioChem major. The next, I'm doing Liberal Studies if I want... even if my grammar sucks and no one thinks I can write worth a damn.
* Once you state your preference of study, you're locked in at least until the next year - where you can change as long as you have good grades and there's space. So sorry if you decide that you don't want to be a Sociologist after all. And, if your grades suck, well... pay us some money to overlook you, or you'll be out of luck.
6. Discrimination was something I didn't worry about. Sure, I hated that I didn't get as many scholarships because of my being a WASP and not a minority. Reverse discrimination! However, my everyday life as a WASP more than makes up for missing out on some free money.
* (sigh)

I have a friend who finds herself in an interesting predicament: She did well on a university entrance test, and she was selected in the first round of candidates. The irony of it all is that she didn't mark her preferred specialty as her first choice, and she can't change it now. "What do you mean you don't want that specialty? You aced the test and you placed in the first round? What more do you want?" Yeah, well, I decided I didn't want to be a Communications major; I wanted to be a Spanish major. And now my Spanish bites! Anyway, in my case, I changed my opinion on a dime. In her case, she's no longer excited that she was accepted despite all the odds.


gospodinBezkrai said...

Hi Apryl!
I just entered your blog for 1st time and saw this very interesting post! I think your image is more scary than it looks to the bulgarian person!

I will go point by point:
1. Bg is a very small country and if you live here you already know about all universities. Certainly you know all the ones it is worth applying for!
They are mostly in Sofia.

2. This isnt quite true. Well, until this year when they considerably raised the semester fee. :( We were priding in a free education, then quasi-free, but i guess that was the end of it.
But generally the main reason people wouldn't be able to support their children in university is not education price but the price of life in another city, outside home (rents, food, etc), especially since everything in Sofia costs more than in small towns! The price of life objectively is not high (e.g. monthly rent when i was a student in Sofia three years ago was just 60 leva - sharing a room with two other guys of course), but the truth is people in Bg can be really quite poor, especially in small towns and villages! I've had roommates from small towns who really were counting every penny of their daily expenditure.

3. Yes, loan system here is not developed. Try getting a house on a loan (mortgage) as is the normal practice in the West! There are two reasons - a) the economical instability continuing until just 10 years ago have made people and banks distrust each other b) its cultural - we are more traditional people of saving rather than living on loan! there is an expression - saving бели пари за черни дни. all this credit stuff for us feels a bit capitalist hocus-pocus, how can you spend money you dont have!? i would never take a credit myself because this puts my future in some obligations for earning money.

and as you know earning money can be quite hard here. :)
This affects also second part of this point. Supporting yourself by part-time work is almost impossible. The wages of unqualified jobs are just so low you need to work full day!

About buying diplomas, at home people easily recognise you, after all it takes certain types of guys to do this. But it unfortunately lowers greatly the market value of bulgarian diploma (also the huge number of crappy fake universities), even though in my opinion the education in the good universities is far superior than some western traditions. I am doing now my PhD in the UK, I am teaching some undergraduates, and can confirm that outside of Oxbridge British university education is of lower standard.

4. This is in fact a good thing! You have several different opportunities to do well! Entrance exams here can be quite hard and it was definitely a source of reassurance for me when I was a candidate!

5. Yes, I am afraid here universities are taken more seriously as profiling and "moulding" one into a trade, rather than as a playground to try different things as I've heard it is in the US. Maybe it is not a good thing because at 18 it is too early to decide your life's career. And it does instil some rigidity in the new generation.
Still, I was amazed how much my outlook changed only after the 1st year on my course - i was already in some way a "professional" in something that 10 months before was a quite beyond my imagination!

In any case you can always drop it and take entrance exam in another subject next year. Some colleagues did that. (importantly you didnt go to the army because you were officially student for that year)

6. Racism is a HUGE problem in Bulgaria. But in my opinion in University it is the least effected! Lecturers are after all mostly intelligent people and quite benevolent.

Getting a job, or problematic high school is far bigger problem for minority members.

lol, sorry my comment got longer than your original post! :)
it is interesting to see how outside people see things here! thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Lyrpa said...

Awesome. Thank you so much for reading and giving an insider's perspective. I appreciate the corrections and expanded information as I'm obviously not an expert myself. Please continue reading and commenting.

Another Bulgarian in the UK said...


Do not trust everything "gospodinbezkrai" has said. It is his personal opinion, after all. Bulgarian universities are utter rubbish, the tutors there are still from the old (socialist) school, thick, lazy, useless at making you think and to top it all, corrupt. You could pass every single exam at any university in Bulgaria by just paying the right price for it. Everyone young Bulgarian who can afford it, goes to study abroad.

On the subject of British universities, I have studied at four of them, all red-brick universities, and all of them offered education and methods of teaching which were light years ahead of the Bulgarian higher education, even though they might not have the resources of Ivy League universities. The notion that only Oxbridge is good and the rest are not is rubbish. Oxbridge, for example, are well behind Imperial College in the field of science and engineering. And so on.

"Gospodinbezkrai" seems to suffer from a typically Bulgarian megalomania - I guess, he does not teach undergraduates because he is necessarily that smart, he does it for money (in the UK, PhD students are used to doing that in order to make some money). Mostly, they do not really lecture, they are there to assist the proper tutors during tutorials.

There are lots of Bulgarians who have come to the UK and never stop slagging off the country and its inhabitants even though they are given all the opportunities by the Brits to do well. And they are not grateful for it, what a shame...

gospodinBezkrai said...

lol, obviously personal opinions there can be many and varied.

still, i will make my statement a bit more precise -

yes, you can buy many exams in many universities - so i have heard. this is the type of folklore knowledge spread by the 'bad boys' showing off when they buy exams. most exams in my speciality in University of Sofiia you couldnt buy - although we didnt suffer from a lack of candidates for that in the course. In fact I havent heard such events from friends in other specialities either.

That is why I distinguish between good universities and fake ones.

Also, both my parents used to be professors in a provincial university (now passed away/retired) and I wish you good luck trying to bribe them! They tell humorous stories of several attempts. Not many more followed.

I agree that Bulgarian university education is in very bad condition, but it still can produce superb graduates. The fact that UK universities are willing to get us as PhD students and give us grants at double cost of their home students (until we joined EU this year) is telling enough.

To be exact, in Bulgaria, if you want to study you can obtain excellent education (in the technical sciences and some social sciences, obviously not business, etc.) If you want to get a diploma and spend pleasantly 4 years of life on your parents purse, you can do that as well. It's your employer's problem later to weed one type from the other. I think, for a private company it is quite easy to do that. State administration, presumably, doesnt care.

It was not my purpose to discuss quality of British universities or society. But one might wish to check what is the number of socialist "thick, lazy, useless and corrupt" east-european professors employed by the Maths and the Physics departments in UK, Germany, Israel or USA.

Just today I was reading on BBC that only 29% of British PhD students in the Sciences are from UK, with more than 50% non-EU. Yet, unemployment among UK graduates in the Sciences is higher than in other areas.

Sorry for injuring anybody's British patriotism.

gospodinBezkrai said...

forgot the smiley at the end of prev post!


But what is really sad, is that once the last lazy, thick, socialist professors retire Bulgarian universities will crash completely! Because none of us is staying to continue their tradition. :(