Crossing the Pond: Should Your Students Apply to Colleges in the U.K.?

Senior Assistant Editor, Wintergreen Orchard House

Feb   2012



Like many Americans of the female persuasion, I was obsessed with last year's royal wedding. The ring, the dress, the kisses on the balcony, the adorably ornery flower girl. I got up in the middle of the night with the rest of the world to witness Will and Kate's real life fairytale play out and--despite having had a pretty decent wedding of my own once upon a time--spent the morning letting out a few dozen tearful sighs of envy.

Who among us can resist the lure of the United Kingdom? It conjures up images of bucolic villages shrouded in moss and fog, crumbling castles doggedly reaching skyward, and cozy, time-weathered pubs where fish and chips are served up in the greasy remnants of yesterday's newspaper. But it's also home to some of the world's most highly regarded colleges and universities, boasting first-class academics and visually arresting campuses that give both the Ivy League and Hogwarts a run for their money.

Fiercely adventurous and independent students with strong academic records might be well advised to add one or two schools in the U.K. to the list of colleges to which they are applying. But before you put them on the first flight to Heathrow, here are a few pros and cons to consider:

The updside

  • The ultimate study abroad. Going to college in the U.K. gives American students an invaluable international experience. They'll have the opportunity to immerse themselves in a foreign culture and truly strike out on their own, which can translate into the self-reliance and initiative that are so attractive in job interviews. Plus, being in an English-speaking country means they won't have to grapple with a language barrier, but they'll have the whole of Europe at their doorstep for the occasional jaunt to Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Zurich . . . the opportunities are countless.
  • The surprising affordability. Even though the pound has been kicking the dollar's little green rear for some time now, some colleges and universities in the U.K. can end up being less expensive than private schools in the States. At the University of St. Andrews, tuition for international students for the 2011-2012 academic year is $21,065 (£13,500), compared to Princeton's $37,000. Many schools in the United Kingdom also accept American financial aid, and there are thousands of institutional scholarships available for international students.
  • The time savings. In England, Northern Ireland, and Wales, most bachelor's degrees take just three years to complete. American students could use that saved year to either take a gap year before they begin their studies or to start their careers a little early after graduating.

The downside

  • The paperwork and red tape. Unfortunately, it's not possible to just jump on a plane and spend a few years in another country. A Tier 4 Student Visa will likely be needed, and admission to a U.K. institution and proof of funds to support oneself are required before it will be granted. The British Council offers helpful information on Visa and immigration requirements for students.
  • There's no place like home. No matter how independent and culturally curious your students may be, spending months on end an ocean away from home will inevitably take its toll. Before deciding to spend their entire collegiate careers overseas, they should be mentally and emotionally prepared to leave behind their family, friends, and American creature comforts for extended periods of time.

The names of the United Kingdom's best schools are as immediately recognizable as Harvard and Yale. Indeed, Oxford, Cambridge, and St. Andrews (where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge first met--and where 15% of the current undergraduate student body hails from North America) comprise the three oldest universities in the English-speaking world still in existence. And there are many others, such as the University of London, the University of Wales, and the University of Edinburgh, where American students can get a world-class education that's sure to be a valuable stamp on their résumés.

If you have students who are applying to competitive and prestigious schools here in the States, consider recommending that they throw one of these fine universities into the mix. Who knows? If they're shot down by one of their top choices, they could end up having the international adventure of a lifetime!


Are your students already itching to cross the pond? Check out Porter Sargent's Schools Abroad of Interest to Americans, a comprehensive and authoritative guide to more than 750 elementary and secondary schools, in 159 countries, that accept English-speaking students.

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About Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah

Stephanie is a Writer and Senior Editor at Wintergreen Orchard House, where she manages the collection of data from schools in the Northeast and Midwest regions. Stephanie holds a B.A. in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a master's in journalism from the University of North Texas. At various times she has been: an uncertain undergrad, a financial aid recipient, a transfer applicant, and a grad student with an assistantship and a full ride. Stephanie is an avid writer, traveler, cook, and dog owner. She looks forward to sharing her experiences with college-bound students and the counselors guiding them along the way!  

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