US or UK Universities: Which is Getting You More Bang For Your Buck?

Applying to colleges in the US for UK teens is much more common today than it once was, not least because of ballooning applications and diminishing admission numbers at the top UK universities. The same of course holds true for the US, but although admission numbers for the top US colleges are as frighteningly low, there are more good choices beyond the top 10.

US Colleges – some key considerations

Anyone wishing to apply to the US must take note of a few things before considering going ahead. First, the application process is much more intense than the UCAS application and brushing up on your essay writing skills is important, as you will have to write many. Second, admission officers at US colleges aim to create an ‘ideal’ freshman class, which should resemble society at large as in gender identification, socio-economic background, and ethnicity. To get to this ‘ideal class’ admission officers need to know much more about you than your grades and SAT scores alone. Your resumé, your references and your personal story are very important parts of the jigsaw they are putting together. Lastly, the costs for a 4-year bachelor course in the US are on a very different scale when compared to the 3-year bachelor’s degree in the UK.

The tuition costs of US colleges compared to the UK

The average tuition fees for private US colleges, range from $55,000 to $60,000 yearly. The average costs of attendance, meaning tuition plus living costs and books etc, will bring this to a total annual cost of $75,000 to 80,000, and thus the all-in college costs for a 4-year bachelor’s degree will be a whopping $300,000 to $320,000. This is approximately £221,402 to £236,162 at current FX rates (GBP/USD 1.3550). Compare this to doing a 3-year degree in the UK (for UK students, as overseas students pay higher fees), and total fees would be £27,750 for tuition (3*£9,250) and £29,160 (3* £9,720) in average student living costs according to calculations by A BA degree at a UK university will therefore carry a minimum COA (cost of attendance) of £56,910. This is £164,492 less than the lower range sum for a very similar degree in the US.

So Where Do You Get The Best Bang For Your Buck

Regardless of how you finance a degree (loans, financial aid, parents), you will have to look at the ‘yield’ of a degree. The best and impartial way to measure the yield is to look at average starting salaries of graduates. In the UK, Oxbridge (the homegrown Ivy League) graduates will earn significantly more than graduates from other UK universities. But how do the Oxbridge graduate salaries hold up in comparison with graduate salaries from the US Ivy League colleges? According to Emolument, the average US Ivy League graduate can expect to earn about 30% more than their UK counterparts. That head start in earnings over a life time can be quite significant and would compensate for the higher US tuition fees. But is this true? A comparison of the average UK and US starting salaries show a different picture when the average starting salaries are calculated as a yield on investment. The information is based on the UK’s Office of National Statistics and the US Department of Education.

UKCost of AttendanceAverage grad (BA) starting salary paUSCost of AttendanceAverage grad (BA) starting salary pa
(42.1% yield)
Non-Ivy League/priv$300,000$54,900
(18.3% yield)
(61.1% yield)
(24.8% yield)

US colleges demand a much higher priced entry ticket than their UK counterparts, not least because US Colleges are much better at marketing themselves and attracting more applications. And the more prospective students ‘fall’ for the marketing and apply to a given college, the lower the relative acceptance rate and the more ‘elite’ that institution becomes, even though many US colleges rank below their UK counterparts.

The above degree ‘yield’ calculation ONLY looks at costs and average returns and does not quantify the prestige, the network and the fun one may derive from an Ivy League/American education. The right leverage of a network from a top US education institution, may mean that you can outperform the average by a mile. But, as far as bang for your buck goes, the UK might just have the upper hand, not least because you start earning that (average starting) salary a year earlier than your US counterparts.

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