going off to uni for less?

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George Square, University of Edinburgh

Photo by flickr user yellow book ltd

The New York Times recently published an article entitled “Going Off to College for Less (Passport Required)” on the recent trend of Americans attending university abroad. This article focused on American undergraduates studying in the UK, specifically at St. Andrews and the University of Edinburgh. While I agree with some of the points brought up in this article, it oversimplifies the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing a degree abroad.

According to NYT writer Tamar Lewin, tuition at a university in the UK is cheaper than a top private university in the States.This may be true, but you also have to consider the fluctuating exchange rate, visas, cost of living and travel, financial aid, scholarships, job opportunities, and many other financial factors.

If you plan to return to the States after you complete your education, keep in mind it may be much more difficult to get a job. You probably won’t have the same advantage of alumni networks. This doesn’t mean you can’t find a good internship or job after you graduate, but you may have to work harder.

The article basically said that attending a university abroad, like St. Andrews, is an attractive alternative for Americans who can’t get into ivy leagues. While this may be true for some, there are many students who choose to study in the UK over the States because of the specialized programs of studies and international experience. This article also implied that Americans are able to get into prestigious British universities because they pay international fees, which are usually twice as much as UK/EU fees. This may be a valid claim, but it doesn’t mean that the Americans who are accepted aren’t qualified to get in.

As mentioned above, one of the reasons why Americans decide to pursue their undergraduate in the UK is because of the “specialized courses of studies”, which allow students to focus on their specific fields of interest and by-pass subjects unrelated to their interests. This system works well for undergraduates who have a strong grasp of what they want to study, but may not work for those who have no idea what they’re interested in studying.

Many Americans in the article discussed the value of international experience. However, being abroad does not necessarily mean you will have a more “international” experience. I have met Americans abroad who spend most of  their time with other Americans at global coffee-shop and restaurant chains.

Personally, I think my experience at the University of Washington in Seattle was just as diverse and international as my experience has been at the University of Edinburgh. University is international as you make it out to be.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge proponent of travel and study abroad, having lived on three different continents in the past five years. I just think people should be more critical about why they are choosing to pursue their degree abroad.

Cost, prestige, specialization, and international experience are all valid reasons, but your decision should go beyond this, especially if you are applying to graduate school. Your focus should be on the specific school,  program, and faculty, rather than the country.

In the next entry, I will discuss why and how I chose to study at the University of Edinburgh.

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