Study abroad? Why American students head north

NEW YORK Wed Feb 15, 2012 3:59pm EST

Students play a game of pickup baseball on campus at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Alberta August 26, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: EDUCATION)

Students play a game of pickup baseball on campus at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Alberta August 26, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: EDUCATION)

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Carson Ross had a financial dilemma on her hands.

When the New Yorker weighed her college options back in 2009, she could have picked destinations like Tufts in Boston or Washington University in St. Louis, and racked up what she estimated would be over $40,000 a year in tuition and fees.

Or she could take a more dramatic step, and head north to Canada for her education. And that's exactly what she did.

"It's less than half of what I'd be paying at most top American schools," says Ross, now 21, who picked Montreal's McGill University and is majoring in international development studies. "It's definitely a load off my mind, that I'm not going to be bankrupting my parents or owing my soul to the banks for the rest of my life."

More students these days are thinking like Ross. Almost 10,000 American students are heading to Canada for higher education every year for the past five years, according to the Canadian Embassy in Washington, up from just 2,300 15 years ago.

That's the case even though the exchange rate is now close to par. A decade ago, the Canadian dollar had sunk to barely more than 60 cents U.S., making cross-border education a screaming bargain. These days when private four-year colleges in the United States cost an average of $28,500 a year in tuition and fees, according to the College Board -- and many much more than that -- it still can make sense for U.S. students to look across the border.

Says Katherine Cohen, CEO of Manhattan-based educational consultants IvyWise: "It can be easier to get in, and you also get great value. International students at McGill pay $17,000 a year for a BA, which is nothing compared to the top U.S. schools, where you might pay three times that amount."

Of course, such a decision about one's educational future isn't to be taken lightly. It is, after all, a foreign country, so moving abroad comes with caveats. There will be travel expenses involved, but not markedly different than what you would expect if you were attending an out-of-state American college. A study visa won't be hard to procure, and with that in hand you'll be able to work on-campus (and off-campus too, as along as you apply for a special permit).

Make sure your choice will still allow you to benefit from U.S. aid programs, advises Mark Kantrowitz, author of "Secrets to Winning a Scholarship" and publisher of FinAid.org. Research federal school codes at this link (link.reuters.com/mad66s); as long as your destination is on the list, there should be no barriers to receiving scholarships or loans, he says.

One bonus: It's a little easier to secure a spot than at elite American colleges. Admissions tend to be more numbers-based, says Cohen, weighting grades and SAT scores higher than entrance essays (and with no specifically Canadian tests that you need to take in addition).

As for smoothing the process to get into graduate schools, American institutions are very familiar with the prominent Canadian undergrad schools, so they won't be put off by a foreign degree. Katherine Stimson, for instance, did her undergraduate degree at Toronto's York University in 2004, which is priced at around $12,000 a year and her graduate degree at the University of Miami in 2011. "It came down to costs," she says. "I went to York, worked on campus and did summer coursework, and graduated debt-free a year early."

Here's how the three most popular destinations for American students stack up:

Institution: McGill University

Location: Montreal, Quebec

Prominent programs: Engineering, Commerce, International Development

Overview: Came in 17th in the QS World University Rankings, the top Canadian institution. Average temperatures in January and February are below 20 degrees, so come prepared. The predominantly French city can be a plus for those who like the European feel, or a minus for non-speakers who find it a challenging environment.

Institution: University of British Columbia

Location: Vancouver, B.C.

Prominent programs: Psychology, Commerce, International Relations

Overview: Ranks as the 51st-best university in the world, third in Canada. The former Winter Olympics locale features a high quality of life -- it's among the most liveable cities in the world, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit -- but comes with a relatively high cost of living. Price-wise it offers a mid-point between more affordable McGill, and the pricier University of Toronto.

Institution: University of Toronto

Location: Toronto, Ontario

Prominent programs: Management, Law, Engineering

Overview: Ranks 23rd among the best universities in the world. Boasts a broad menu of degrees, big-city amenities, and is home to 8,000 international students. As Steve Martin once joked of Toronto in a "30 Rock" episode, "It's like New York, but without all the stuff." And what about that dreaded Canadian weather? "Well, you know, it's cold," says IvyWise's Cohen. "You gotta be prepared. If you're coming from Miami, it might be a big shock to the system."

(Editing by Jilian Mincer, Beth Pinsker Gladstone and Andrea Evans)

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Comments (1)
jelo wrote:
In my opinion it is important to note that US students are not only coming to Canada for undergraduate education as the article seems to suggest in some sections. Graduate student enrolment of US students shows a similarly growing trend over the last decade. Based on the quality of the Canadian education system, it should not come as a surprise that US Grad Schools recognize the Canadian degrees. In fact, many US students who completed an undergraduate degree in Canada might not consider to go back at all, but continue their graduate education in Canada and Canadian Grad Schools are very successful in attracting US College graduates into their graduate programs. The reasons for this trend are the excellent quality of the graduate degrees, competitive tuition (which at many Canadian Graduate Schools is more competitive than UG tuition), outstanding research facilities and so on. At UBC for example, students from the US make up 22.6% of all international graduate students (2011 data), more than any other country.

Feb 16, 2012 3:36pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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