Applying to ‘college’ (university) in the USA used to be rare amongst British students – perhaps the preserve of students with sports scholarships or parents with deep pockets. However, the recent rise of tuition fees in the UK, combined with the financial aid packages available at some US colleges, mean that the difference in cost between studying in the UK and USA is becoming much smaller. In some cases, crossing the pond will enable a student to emerge after four years with a good Bachelors degree, an international CV and little or no debt.
While tuition fees in the USA can be even higher than the UK – £9,000 per year is about average – tuition and living costs can be offset by grants provided by many colleges, some of which are available to British students. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Dartmouth and Amherst are the most generous to international students. In practice, families with incomes of less than £40,000 per annum will often get all costs paid by these colleges, including tuition, food, accommodation, books and a travel allowance for two trips home a year. Families with higher incomes also receive means-tested grants, and even a salary of £110,000 will attract aid. In addition, about 60 other US colleges also provide at least some financial aid to international applicants. As the aid is usually in the form of grants, not loans, the money does not have to be paid back in most cases.
But there are many other good reasons to study in the USA besides finance. By far the most important factor to UK students is the broad ‘liberal arts’ curriculum that is followed in most US colleges. Unlike in the UK, there is no need to commit to one or two subjects to study when you apply. In the USA, apart from a small core curriculum, you can study whatever you like for the first 18 months. This is ideal for those students who are keen to explore new interests before choosing which subjects to study in more depth.
American universities also seek to educate the ‘whole person’. As such, extracurricular activities are considered an integral part of a student’s experience, rather than ancillary to the main business of education, as they are often viewed in the UK. A large US college will have around 400 recognised student clubs, including sports teams, performing arts groups, international groups, religious groups, community service groups, and newspaper and magazine publications. The emphasis on holistic education is reflected in the application process, where extracurricular achievement is valued just as much as academic ability and you will be asked to explain how you intend to contribute to college life.
Finally, an important reason to study in the USA is that you will acquire a more global outlook. Students from all over the world study in the USA and your multicultural experience will be valued by future employers. Global companies look to hire graduates who can communicate in a variety of contexts and with different people. What better way to demonstrate an understanding that the world really is getting smaller than by studying abroad? You will also build up a global network of contacts, useful in anything you go on to do later in your career.
Natalie is the founder of NatalieLancer.com and MyUniApplication.com. She can guide you with all aspects of both US and UK university applications and give you expert guidance on your application essays and personal statement. She also offers interview preparation and SAT/ACT preparation classes.
Natalie’s Top tips for applying to US colleges:
- Research the US colleges thoroughly and create a shortlist.
- Allow plenty of time to draft and redraft your application essays and show it to your family, your teachers, and, if possible, a specialist.
- Practise taking the standardised tests (SATs or ACTs), an important part of your application.
- Calculate the net cost of your education, taking account of tuition fees, living costs and financial aid.
- Investigate if there are any scholarships for which you can apply, for example, in music or sport.
- Talk to a professional adviser such as Natalie Lancer, for guidance in putting together a successful application.
Article by Natalie Lancer, founder of NatalieLancer.com and MyUniApplication.com and Stuart Gordon, Educational Consultant