Most of the time, we have to apply to specific degrees as well but our schedules are a lot more flexible. We're given requirements related to that degree program but a lot of them aren't time sensitive (unless you need certain prerequisites). In addition to that, you have the general education requirements- everyone has to take at least 2 English classes, 1 math, 1 science, 2 social science and 1 foreign language. Sometimes you can find a school that will allow you to be undeclared but I've always been in a specific program, even when I wanted to be undeclared because I hated my major and couldn't decide what to change it to (FIT wouldn't allow it).
I think the more specialized schools here take a similar approach to yours- I had to apply to my major before I actually applied to the school itself. That was tons of fun....between the 2 essays, multiple furniture sketches and grueling portfolio review....urgh. Then, at the end of each semester we were given our "blocks" for the following semester- our specialized class schedule that couldn't be changed- after which we decided what else we wanted to take and whether or not it would fit into our schedule.
I graduated from SUNY New Paltz and their approach was much different. We were given a list of courses that we absolutely needed to graduate and then we sat down with an advisor to plan out how we wanted them scheduled. The initial plan covered all 4 years (or however long you needed to finish your # of credits) and you followed it as best you could. Sometimes classes would fill up quickly so you'd need to push something back and replace it with another class. It was nice to be so involved in our scheduling but it had the potential to be a giant pain in the ass.
Over here, tuition really depends on whether you go to a public or private school. When I was in high school I wanted so badly to go to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. My parents pleaded with me to look elsewhere after we found out that tuition alone was $32,000 a year so I applied to FIT (which, although it's strictly an art school is actually part of the SUNY system- short for State University of New York aka a public school). Tuition there was $6,000 a year. When I transferred to New Paltz I could take a lot of my credits with me (except for the really specialized courses like "Design, Color and Lighting Principles and Theory"...those ended up being electives lol).
I typically ended up with between 8,000-10,000 in financial aid per year because I made sure to apply for enough to cover most of my living expenses. After we jump through all the paperwork hoops, the funds get disbursed to the college and then whatever money is left after tuition, fees and room and board (if applicable) gets released to us. We have grants too, but they are a LOT harder to come by. I think at most I may have received a total of 2,000 in grants over the course of 6 years. We're also offered work study, where we are basically just employed by the college for the semester, but it pays peanuts compared to other jobs. I was approved one semester but decided not to do it because I had another job that paid more (and because of that, was not offered work study for the following semesters). After we reach our limits I think we just don't qualify for financial aid anymore. It could just be that we can't receive any more federal loans, which usually have a lower interest rate and allow you more repayment options than loans from private lenders. I only have one private loan- from CitiBank. And they suck. I can't wait to pay that one off!!!
Lucky for you that your degree is covered! That's so awesome
(And ok....4 people per class??? I am SO jealous. I was in a lecture once where the teacher was still asking us our names during the very last week)