When my friends and family heard I was applying abroad to the United Kingdom for university, I was peppered with questions like:
“Why?” Because it’s awesome.
“Isn’t it expensive?” Surprisingly, no, and I’ll cover expense later on in this article.
“Is there Greek life?” Nope.
“Are there any sports?” Yup, and lots of active sports associations too!
And…the kicker: “Are you out of your mind?” Actually, no.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that, while not with unlimited means, had enough in the bank to allow me to pursue my passions, one of which quickly became travel. The sense of wanderlust was an active presence in my college decision process, and I often found myself asking admissions officers “What kind of study abroad programs do you offer?” I knew my four years at university would be a prime time for me to experience what the world has to offer, and I knew it was integral for me to find a school that offered opportunities to do so.
I set two parameters for myself. I knew that a) I wanted to go far away from home, and b) I wanted to study abroad. My sophomore year of high school found me obsessively taping pictures of Georgetown University to my bedroom wall after I fell in love with all of the opportunities offered to me for international travel through them: from their satellite campus in Doha, Qatar, to their competitive Walsh School of Foreign Service that allowed multiple semesters of study abroad in multiple countries. Then, realizing junior year that Washington D.C. was not far enough from home, I set my sights on UC San Diego in California, where I decided that their Asian Studies programs that allowed students to study in locales all over Asia was the perfect fit for me. However, California proved to be expensive for non-residents, and my parents decided $45k a year was too much to shell out for school.
So where to? Where could a wanderlust-crazed student go far away for school AND still get a world class education? My answer: the United Kingdom.
My parents thought I was kidding. They OK’d my application, believing it was another phase like Georgetown or UCSD, and I’d get over it soon enough and look towards schools closer to home when the time came. But my desire to go abroad, fully stoked by the idea of spending the next four years in the UK, the ultimate study abroad experience, never fizzled out.
To convince them, I did my research, and uncovered a system that was delightfully compatible with US high school qualifications and financially reasonable enough to make feasible. The UK’s top notch universities, like Oxford, Cambridge, the University of St. Andrews, and University College London, to name a few, rival American bastions such as Harvard and Princeton both in academic rigor and admissions standards, but at a fraction of the cost. Harvard’s tuition for the 2015-2016 term is projected to run $45,278. In contrast, Oxford’s tuition is slightly more than half that, totaling at around $25,000 (roughly, depending on the strength of the pound). Although American students cannot qualify for federal financial aid (such as the Pell Grants) to attend UK institutions, government and private loans are still possible, and for many who come from middle class backgrounds and do not qualify for much (or any) aid from the FASFA, this can be a reasonable alternative to paying pricey US private university tuitions.
Not to mention the job prospects. According to Forbes, foreign degrees are increasingly accepted at US-based graduate schools and employers, who view international degrees as equally competitive (if not more so) in the modern global marketplace. There is no doubt that a job application from a graduate of the University of St. Andrews (the alma mater of royal couple Prince William and Kate Middleton) and, say, an application from a grad of Georgetown University, will be considered equally by an employer.
The lure to live in the UK is a hard one to resist. With inexpensive and quick connections to Europe via rail and air, it’s easy to pop into Paris or Prague for a long weekend, or to spend spring break sitting on a beach in Sicily. While there are drawbacks, such as the lack of Friday night lights and Greek row, there are numerous advantages as well. Because of the EU’s free movement laws, student bodies tend to be more internationally composed than American universities, with some student bodies reaching almost 50% international (see UCL, LSE, the University of St. Andrews, and more). While American football is not popular, rugby and football (soccer) are. The BUCS championships, the British equivalent of NCAA championships, are a big part of student life, and for Harry Potter fans, most universities offer Quidditch teams. Greek row is replaced with various social and charity clubs, and most of which are less exclusive and equally open to giving back to their local communities.
“Are there differences?” Yes.
“Is it for everybody?” No, but it can be for you.
If you’re looking for an unconventional university experience and an affordable option that will not only afford you academic excellence but also workplace competitiveness, there is no doubt that the United Kingdom can offer you exactly what you are looking for.