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American Students Heading to the UK for Lower College Tuition

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British college students have been staging demonstrations in London to protest their government’s plans to triple tuition fees, but earning a degree in the United Kingdom is an appealing idea to some Americans.

Despite price increases and travel expenses, the price of earning an education at some of Europe’s finest schools is considerably less than the cost at equivalent American universities.

“Cheap” Colleges in the United Kingdom Appeal to Americans

A Boston Globe pictorial shows images of thousands of students and other protestors violently mobbing the streets of London this past December. The British Parliament met to vote on a proposal to significantly raise tuition fees as part of an ongoing austerity program, a measure which passed narrowly. Protestors even attacked the car of Prince Charles and his wife Camilla while they were inside.

Regardless, college tuition has increased at a much faster rate in the United States and some American students are deciding to attend English-speaking colleges “across the pond.” It sounds almost unbelievable—as English students protest in mobs— but by U.S. standards, most universities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are a “cheap” alternative.

CNBC reports that universities abroad—especially those in countries where English is the first language—are capitalizing on the cost of higher education in the United States.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the cost for an overseas undergraduate at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland would be about $19,000 for the 2009-2010 academic year. A year at the prestigious University of Oxford would cost an American undergraduate student just over $20,000.

Every college in the top 20 of the U.S. News and World Report’s most recent Best U.S. Colleges ranking involves at least $30,000 per year for tuition and fees. Most are actually closer to $40,000 per year—or higher.

More Americans Applying to Overseas Colleges

According to UCAS, the organization responsible for managing applications to higher education courses in the United Kingdom, over 3,000 U.S. undergraduate-level students applied to United Kingdom colleges in 2009. Although only 1,330 were accepted, numbers are rising.

The population of U.S. undergraduates at United Kingdom schools has increased 30 percent in the past five years to 3,560 in the 2008-09 academic year reports the Washington Post. The numbers are the most recent figures available from Britain’s Higher Education Statistics Agency.

University of St. Andrews Popular with American College Students

Twelve percent of students at the University of St. Andrews are from the United States, making the school the number one destination for American students in the United Kingdom. CNBC reports that St. Andrews has received applications from 44 states, Washington D.C. and the Virgin Islands.

One American student attending St. Andrews is 19-year-old sophomore Adelaide Waldrop, who was wait-listed at all four American universities she had most wanted to attend. “It’s just so magical walking around St. Andrews, with all of the history,” she told the Washington Post. “After visiting, I kind of just forgot about my other schools.” St. Andrews was founded in 1413, making it two centuries older than Harvard.

Waldrop is paying $19,670 in tuition this year at St. Andrews. Tuition at Swarthmore College, where she was wait-listed, is $39,260.

The London School of Economics and Political Science has 1,067 U.S. students enrolled and more than 20,000 alumni living in the United States, reports the Washington Post.

Robert Rogers,a final-year economics undergraduate student, transferred to the London School of Economics from Georgetown University. The Wall Street Journal explained that his annual tuition fees plummeted to around $20,000 a year from around $41,000.

“It didn’t even occur to me to apply abroad when I was in high school," he said. “I certainly didn’t hear of any of my classmates applying to study abroad.”

Rejected by the Ivy League? Head Overseas

British officials say that the majority of American college students in the United Kingdom are from the New York-Washington corridor and California. United Kingdom universities routinely send recruiters to U.S. high schools.

“We are considerably less than the very good privates that you have in the United States,” said Stephen Magee, vice principal of St. Andrews. “And in that sense, we think we’re a very good value. If you just fail to get in at Harvard, we’re happy to have you at St. Andrews because it means you’re bloody good.”


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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