I sort of stumbled upon this whole adventure by accident. Most adventures start that way, in my experience. Basically, I’ve always wanted to go to Scotland. Not really sure why, but there it is.
Scotland is one of my grandest dreams, so, naturally, at every college I visited I checked: Can I study abroad in Scotland? Can I study abroad near Scotland? Can I study abroad at all? If not, this isn’t the school for me.
I knew I wanted to have what admissions officers love to call an “international experience” as part of my education, so I was always looking into and comparing study abroad options at various universities.
And then one day I ran into an old friend, Jessica, who is a few years older than me, and she told me that she had enrolled at the University of Glasgow. Glasgow! Her college career wasn’t going to include an international experience. It was going to be
an international experience. I was impressed, and more than a little jealous.
I’m not sure why it took so long from that conversation for it to dawn on me: Why was I so impressed? All she had done was applied. I could do that. And why was I jealous? She hadn’t been handed a special opportunity. She had gone out and taken it. I could do that too—couldn’t I?
Don’t be absurd
, I told myself. Scotland? You? College? Ridiculous! It’s all very well to daydream about, but it’ll never work. It isn’t practical. You don’t even know the facts.
I didn’t know the facts, it was true. But I found them out, and they surprised me. Here are a few of the factors that anyone looking at going to school overseas should consider:
Okay duh, right? But seriously, it’s something to think about. How far is too far? How close is too close? You need to decide how much distance is an issue. With cell phones and Skype, we can stay in constant communication from virtually anywhere in the world, but that doesn’t mean you won’t feel the physical space of being far away from home.
I, for one, always knew I wanted to go out of state—I’ll almost certainly end up in Chicago, Boston, or New York if I stay in the United States. So here was my thinking: Chicago is a long way from South Texas. But Scotland
? That’s an ocean away! True—but then again they’re both only one or two planes away, depending on where you live.
And realistically, how much more often will I come home from New York than from Glasgow? Probably not a whole lot. Yes, international flights are more expensive, but keep reading. You may find out that you save in other ways.
At this point, you're likely thinking, "Right, Coggin, got it. There’s this cool place I’m considering. But I don’t even where to start!"
Start online, my friend. It’s easier than you think.
I’m sure applications work differently all over the world. This will be something you’ll have to Google and read up on. But I’ll walk you through my experience—this is extra relevant if you’re thinking about applying anywhere in the UK.
After reading up on some different degree plans (and looking at lots of pictures of campuses) I ended up applying to six schools overseas: four in Scotland (Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, St. Andrews, and Aberdeen), one in England (University of York), and one in Ireland (Trinity College of Dublin).
I found out that the UK uses a system much like our CommonApplication in America: The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service
. UCAS lets you apply to up to five UK schools, essentially with a single application (again, like CommonApp). Then I added Dublin, because I liked it a lot.
I found that these applications were, if anything, easier and simpler than those for US universities. Fewer essays. Fewer trying-to-be-creative questions about your dreams and aspirations. Essentially they look at your numbers, and then if they want more information they ask for it. Not too bad. Plus they do rolling admissions, so I’ve already heard back from three of them.
Not surprisingly, college works differently in different parts of the world. The UK schools, for example, don’t make you take a lot of classes outside your specific area of interest, so their undergraduate degree programs are only three years long.
I’ve also read that things tend to be a little more stratified, for lack of a better word. More hierarchical, I guess. There are the professors, and then there are the grad students, and then there are the undergrads, and there’s not a lot of mixing and mingling and bonding between the levels.
On the other hand, you get to be really close with the people in your group. This is just what I’ve read, I’m not sure how true it is—but it’s a far cry from the American admissions officers who sing the praises of the relationships between students and professors and the cross-pollinating collaboration that bubbles up from their institution. Two different worlds.
My advice it to try and find someone who has done what you’re looking to do, and talk to them. Ask about their experience. That’s going to be a major deciding factor in my eventual decision.
4. You guessed it…
Cost. Everyone’s first question when you mention international application. Their eyebrows creep up as if to say, “Won’t that be expensive?”
Well, maybe. But, perhaps not so much. Try not to make too many assumptions. At the schools I’m looking at, tuition averages a half to a third as much as the private schools here in the US. School here is expensive! Crazy expensive! It never crossed my mind that the rest of the world might not be like this.
Look into the prices, and you may be surprised. I certainly was. I know a guy who went to Aberdeen—books, board, tuition, travel, the works—for less than $30,000 a year. I flat out didn’t believe him at first. Now, after looking at the numbers, I totally see how you could do it. Of course $30,000 is nothing to sneeze at—but remember also that you’re paying for three years instead of four.
Ultimately, you have to decide for yourself if you would like to be an international student. There’s a lot to consider, and I’ve only scratched the surface here. But I would encourage you not to abandon the idea too quickly. Give it a chance. Who knows where you’ll end up? No matter where you decide, amazing adventures await.