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US universities are expensive and competitive. So, why would you want to study there?

There are many reasons why students might not choose the US - it's expensive, it's hard to get into the top universities and so on. But despite all those things, it might be worth still considering the US for these reasons

    Anna Esaki-Smith's avatar

    Anna Esaki-Smith

    Author and co-founder of Education Rethink
    May 10 2024
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    When contemplating studying in the US, it might be a good idea to first think about the reasons why you shouldn’t.

    To begin with, it takes four years to complete a bachelor’s degree in the US, compared with three years in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That extra year spent studying not only translates to higher expenses, but comes with a significant opportunity cost as it means forgoing the chance to get a job and earn a year’s salary.

    Second, tuition fees in the US are high, in some cases outrageously so. Columbia University, one of the priciest schools in the country, charges yearly tuition of $68,400 and when you factor in housing and food, that’s a total cost of nearly $90,000.  

    Third, it’s pretty hard to get in. In the last admissions cycle, Yale University accepted just 3.7 per cent of applicants, its lowest rate ever. Columbia University accepted 3.85 per cent of applicants, narrowing slightly from last year’s rate of 3.9 per cent.

    These statistics make the 19 per cent acceptance rate of the University of Cambridge seem positively encouraging!

    So, the value proposition of studying in the US doesn’t look so great. Right?


    Sure, you might need to get past the surface details and dig a bit. But the value of US higher education is there in spades. Here are some reasons why it’s always worth considering the US as a study-abroad destination.

    You don’t need to know what you want to do

    One of the reasons why the US degree takes four years is because the first year usually covers a range of subjects. So, if you are undecided about your major, instead of being forced into a decision that you’re not ready to make, you can apply as “undecided”, or even switch your major during your time on campus. In other words, there’s more freedom to explore.

    In fact, a number of universities – from the University of Washington to Brown University – allow students to essentially create their own major. This is a way to make your university education uniquely your own.

    There are about 4,000 degree-granting colleges and universities in the US, compared with some 200 in the UK. As a result, there’s a greater variety of options, from the Ivy League to small liberal arts collegeshistorically black colleges and universities and large public universities.

    There are ways to mitigate the cost

    Yes, studying in the US is going to be expensive, no matter how you slice it. However, there are several options to make that experience more accessible to international students, including merit-based scholarships, institutional financial aid and private scholarships.

    It’s just a case of researching what your chosen university offers, or looking at organisations or longstanding scholarship programmes that you can apply to. 

    Studying liberal arts and the humanities is big in the US

    Liberal arts colleges are a unique feature of the higher education landscape in the US so if you’re looking to study within the arts and humanities discipline it might be worth considering these specialist institutions. 

    Thinking creatively, being innovative, working collaboratively on a team – these skills and abilities are transferable from industry to industry, even when a generation of tech becomes quickly outdated. And there’s no better way to acquire those skills than by studying the liberal arts and humanities at a liberal arts college. 

    There are plenty of universities that will accept you

    There will always be avid interest in the Ivy League and other highly ranked schools. But there’s an ongoing shift away from brand. Economic and technological changes have transformed the workforce, placing greater emphasis on skills and competencies over institutional prestige.

    As mentioned before, there are 4,000 universities and colleges in the US, so cast your net wide and look at all universities to find one that suits you best. 

    Go for it and be excited about your future

    So, yes, there are plenty of reasons to go to university in the US.  But no matter where you decide to study, your goal should be to make informed decisions about the future. Whether you choose to pursue a traditional undergraduate degree in the US or in another country, or vocational training or alternative pathways, approach your education with confidence and purpose.  

    Anna Esaki-Smith is the author of a book for high-schoolers about US college admissions, Make College Your Superpower: It’s Not Where You Go, It’s What You Know



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