Five Reasons for Brits to Study in the United States


A bachelor of arts or science may enhance the college grad’s CV. (MFP)

Since university fees in England have sky-rocketed, there’s been an increase in the number of British students applying to U.S. colleges. In some cases parents feel that if they’re going to shell out nine grand a year (pounds sterling) they might as well go the whole way and pay the U.S. fees. For others, perhaps not able to come up with the unanticipated fee increase, they look across the pond in the hope of earning a merit or need-based scholarship, much more common here than in the U.K.

So why should Brits even think of studying in the States?

1. Financial aid
Although international students don’t qualify for U.S. government financial aid, there are many funding options available. American colleges have always been fee-paying, and have always had to come up with ways to boost their coffers. The older colleges in particular, have huge endowment funds and can therefore give out scholarships (bursaries) to many students. Harvard has around $30 billion (yes, billion) stashed away, while Yale reportedly has almost $20 billion. The University of Texas (a public university) has approximately $17 billion, as does Princeton. Get the picture? Although British universities have recently cottoned onto the idea of bleeding dry tapping alumni for money, it’ll be years before most can meet the financial needs of their applicants.

2. Athletic scholarships
If your student is a gifted athlete, there’s very often money available, although it’s a competitive field. The college sports scene here is huge; many sports are televised and bring in big revenues. Athletes that attract the crowds therefore, are literally like gold. A warning though, most athletic scholarships are for one year and are usually, but not always, renewed. I know of one British student however, who’s still on his team this year, but his scholarship wasn’t renewed.

3. No burnt bridges
Americans are often aghast to hear that from age 16 to 18 (back when only two or three A levels were required), I only studied English, French and History. Even worse, I studied only one subject for my entire three years at university. Here, undergraduate degrees take four years, and you don’t have to declare a major (main subject) till the third year. In fact, at most colleges, you are required to take classes in a wide range of subjects in order to graduate. The downside is that if you know your intended major, it’s a pain to have to take a lab science or a foreign language when either not interested or just plain rubbish at it. (As a parent it’s even more painful to be paying for such hated classes.) Many international students, however, appreciate the chance to continue a broader array of studies.

4. Experience something new
Although they barely have to learn a new language, British students in the States still experience quite the culture change. The college scene here is much more “intense” than at British colleges, with students fiercely proud of their college and all 300 of its sports teams. There are also a million and one clubs to join so kids can live their passion, be it Quidditch, karate or quilting. Yes, they’ll have some culture shock, but most colleges now have an International Students Officer (or team) to support overseas students and hey, their accent makes them very popular!

5. A CV boost
British students graduating from a U.S. college will not only have an undergraduate bachelor’s degree but will earn major employment brownie points for gumption, get-up-and-go and all-round personal drive. Can’t go wrong there.

Are you considering sending your son or daughter to a U.S. school? 


Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a British author who has lived in the USA since 1990. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom and The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students. She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV discussing US/UK matters.
View all posts by Toni Hargis.
  • gn

    You don’t mention the biggest downside of US colleges: purchase and (in many states) consumption of alchohol are illegal if you’re under 21 :( Thanks, Ronald Reagan!

    However, having seen undergraduate education in respected institutions both in Britain (as a student) and the US (as a graduate student and teaching assistant), I think I would have done better with the much broader and more systematic education afforded by American colleges. Given that the massive financial incentives to study in the UK/EU that I enjoyed are now gone (or at least significantly weakened) I’d recommend people to explore this option.

    • Alexandra Hanson

      It is illegal in all states actually. Some states have an exception if you are with your parents on property owned by them. There may be a few other loopholes, but for the most part if you are in public or at a private party drinking you can be arrested. That being said, many US students drink anyway and few are arrested unless there are people under 18 in attendence or if they operator a motor vehicle/bycicle or cause a disturbance.

      • gn

        In New Jersey, private underage alcohol consumption is legal, even if the parents aren’t present. By contrast, here in California I would technically be committing a crime if I poured my 20-year-old daughter a half-glass of red wine to go with dinner.

        I guess the moral is: apply to Princeton :)

        • sophomore

          As if campuses are dry in the US colleges? Drinking age 21 is rarely enforced on most college campuses. You will find plenty alcohol as a freshman in any college campuses in the dorms, frats, etc.

          • gn

            Sure. But it’s not like the UK, where undergraduates can openly go to public pubs and bars.

          • expatmum

            And, as the parent of a college kid (with friends in many colleges now) the disciplinary procedures differ wildly. One friend is on record for having accompanied an intoxicated friend home – they didn’t even breathalyze him but assumed he was as drunk as his friend (he doesn’t even drink). Now it’s on his record for future employers to see. (He could appeal but he doesn’t want his parents to know, which they would.) Another college gives their students a couple of passes (because they know the 21 law sucks) and will never discipline if you’re helping a drunk friend.

          • Mike M

            Well, that depends on what you mean by “openly.”

    • goldushapple

      Downside? And you blame Ronald Reagan? Pleeeaseee. Underage American teenagers, if they want it enough, will get alcohol one way or another. Now you want the law to allow them to purchase and drink legally at 18? Goodness no.

      • gn

        A drinking age of 18 works fine in almost every other developed country in the world.

        And yes: the Reagan administration blackmailed the states into raising the drinking age by threatening to cut federal road funding.

  • justbecause

    3. sucks. The first two years of college are a repeat of general courses I had done in high school (would CLEP now that I know about it). Out of 120 credit hours of undergrad coursework, only 30 of them were focused on my major. That’s 10 classes of 40, or 2 semesters of 8. I would have loved to focus on it for 3 years.

    • Mike M

      Those rules depend a lot on the specific school that you go to. Some schools have a lot of courses that everyone must take while others give you almost complete freedom.

    • goldushapple

      It seems like you didn’t choose your classes wisely. There are many classes that can be considered “repeats” but I guess it depends on the university’s catalog. Mine was diverse enough that my fresh-soph electives were actually new classes. Then again I took AP courses so I already completed some college credit.

  • Sir Weymouth Cheddaring

    Also Many, many, many Americans find the British Accents extremely sexy.

    • Anon Y. Mous

      And luckily for some, many of my fellow Yanks can’t tell a posh accent from a non-posh one.

      • expatmum

        Have to say tho’, unlike in the UK, where accents maketh the man (or woman), Americans don’t really care. So there’s no “luckily for some” to bother about; they take you as you are rather than where you sound like you’re from.

  • JR48

    If you’re considering a US college/university, and you want to avoid the obvious ‘party schools’, don’t care about big sports programs and want to decrease the cost, check out some of the smaller private institutions.

    My daughter isn’t a party animal, very academically oriented and wants to save her big bucks for grad school, so she is planning on going to an in state, small private nerd college. It’s also in a lower rent area so the cost of housing will be dramatically lower than a more urban setting.

    There are more than one way to skin the proverbial cat, and you have to get past the obvious big ticket famous universities to do it. But if something big is your focus, also know that the list price isn’t necessarily the list price. If you’ve got the ambition and the gumption, a lot of places will work with you regarding tuition. In other words, don’t take the retail list price for tuition as the final word for cost.

  • Eliza

    I think it’s a distinct ADVANTAGE to ‘have’ to take a variety of courses unrelated to your selected major. The classes I remember as being most useful later on in my adult life were electives like Electricity, Drafting (by hand before computers) and Elements of Packaging (how to design actual boxes for a products—it was fascinating!).
    My son started college set on pursuing his passion of being a chemistry teacher…until he took an elective course in journalism and all that changed. He switched his major to journalism and never looked back at chemistry or teaching. If he had spent 4 years studying nothing but Chemistry-related classes he would have graduated but he would never have found his true calling.

    • expatmum

      I get all this, but I find it a little controlling, not to mention patriarchal that US colleges can’t let 18-20 year olds decide this for themselves. While many students might continue to take the broad array that is on offer, it really should be their choice. It’s not like the classes are in depth. Most of them are one semester long and really nothing more than a “taster” which again is fine, as long as everyone remembers that.

      • gn

        British universities don’t let students “decide for themselves” either. You choose a course of study, and apply for admission on that basis, but after that there is little or no choice in your classes/lectures, certainly for the first couple of years. US colleges typically have more choice in which classes you take.

        • expatmum

          However, if you elect to study law, as I did, I knew going in that I would be studying exactly that for three years. I knew there wouldn’t be an English, History or Biology option, nor did I want one. I studied what I wanted to study. I also had many, many options within the legal sphere during that degree course.

          • gn

            Fair enough: the UK system is better if you already know at 17 exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life. I know I didn’t feel that way at the time, so I’d have preferred the US system.

      • goldushapple

        I think it’s about the philosophy and history of academia in the States. A lot of it has to with the belief of the “liberal arts/well rounded” education. Hence – electives and core curriculum at certain universities and colleges. Usually grad school (law, medical doctor, masters in [insert whatever field]) is seen as the place for specialization if not trade school. Though, it varies by university.

  • Ryan

    I, for one, know that in a more evolved education system (see: not taking irrelevant courses) I’d have had a degree, instead of living the alternative. Of course, I didn’t have parents shelling out £9k a year either so perhaps that may be the missing factor.

  • Richard Harris

    Postgrad yes. Undergrad, with the legal drinking age at 21? Never.