British Students Tired of UK’s Rigid System Flock to US Colleges
A more flexible admissions process and a greater variety of courses are an appealing option as costs rise in the UK.
Alice Kantor December 14, 2022 | 4:00am
More British students are going to college in the US.
There were 10,292 UK students attending American universities in the 2021-22 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education. That’s up 28% from the previous year, when admissions were hit by the pandemic, and 12% higher than a decade ago.
Sending kids to Ivy League colleges for prestige and a leg up in the job market is nothing new for affluent British families with international connections, but now middle-class families with no link to the US and more restrained budgets are also eyeing schools across the pond, consultants say.
The reasons are varied. As costs have crept up in the UK, going to college in the US has started to look better and better to British students. The American admissions process is more flexible, allowing unlimited applications and emphasizing extracurricular activities as opposed to focusing strictly on grades. And while students in England have to declare a major when they enroll, there’s more time to make a decision in the US.
“Students love the idea of experiencing the American model of education and also of avoiding the UK’s painful admissions process,” said Oya Christie-Miller, founder of UK-based college consultancy Christie Miller Consulting. “The US has such a high profile right now.”
The US College Experience
To be sure, there are downsides to American colleges. It generally costs more to study in the US, and rising tuition and student-loan debt are causing some Americans to question the value of a four-year degree. But that isn’t deterring British students who see more opportunity overseas.
Daniel Culverwell from Cranleigh, a village southwest of London, graduated last month from ConcordUniversity in West Virginia, where he studied health sciences and sports medicine.
The 24-year-old paid about $10,000 a year for tuition, room and board thanks to a soccer scholarship, compared to about £9,000 ($11,000) for just tuition in the UK. It would have been difficult for him to combine his professional soccer ambitions with academics in the UK, where sports play less of a role in university life and scholarships are rare.
It was also an opportunity for Culverwell to meet new people and discover the US.
“Home will always be [the UK] for me, but moving to the US was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.
Academic and sports scholarships have contributed to British students’ interest in US colleges, allowing them to study abroad for a reasonable price. American universities are also actively recruiting overseas.
“UK high schools now have dedicated US advising teams, and US colleges are super present at UK fairs and in schools,” said Charles Bonas, co-founder of UK-based consultancy Bonas MacFarlane Education.
The efforts have paid off. US college consultants report double-digit increases in interest from British students over the past five years. New York-based consultancy Command Education has seen a five-fold increase in inquiries in that timeframe.
Christie-Miller noted a 50% increase and college counseling firm Ivy Coach reported a 20% uptick in the past five years.
Even with the recent surge in interest, Brits make up a small portion of the overall international-student population in the US, which is dominated by China and India, according to data from the Institute of International Education.
British Students In The Minority
For wealthy British families, there’s also a growing sense that the traditional route to Oxford orCambridge via top public schools has become less certain as elite universities work to attract students from more diverse ethnic and financial backgrounds.
“Before, if you were from Harrow, St. Paul’s, or Eton, you had a pretty good chance of getting intoOxford or Cambridge,” said Christie-Miller. “Now your chances are slimmer, so pupils hedge that by applying to US universities.”
Nila Sanyal, a London-based market research executive, sent both of her children to the University ofCalifornia, Berkeley, at an overall cost of about $350,000 each.
The 53-year-old was glad that she could help her children avoid the rigid UK admissions process, which she felt hurt their chances of being accepted to a top British university. She also appreciates the rich campus life at Berkeley, as well as the opportunity for them to study a wider range of subjects and choose a major later in their studies.
“Some friends of mine told me they want to gift their children apartments,” she said. “For us it’s college. We wanted to give our kids a good education, no matter the cost.”
For Robbie Michael, a 26-year-old from Surrey, UK, it was the wide curriculum and the variety of opinions encouraged in the classroom that appealed most to him.
Michael graduated last year from Alabama’s Troy University, where he studied political science andhistory on an academic scholarship that defrayed much of his costs.
“In the UK, there was no real dialogue in school,” he said. “I found the US system to be much morewell rounded and open minded.”
Originally published in Bloomberg on December 14, 2022.