America on the contrary, with its big, important colleges, irresistible brand names and recognisable campuses (all those films…) is seductive. It is different, far away, and cool.
But ‘Big Brands’ can also blind us and make us forget at times what it is we need and what makes us ‘work’. So, appearances aside, it is important to unpack the seductive brand and look at what you want out of university, what sort of career you could envisage (or what not) and what future networks you will need/want. Big questions, but some with surprisingly easy answers.
American colleges are notably better at marketing than their European counterparts. And it works. First, they reach out to as many future applicants as they possibly can, creating a flurry of applications. Their student intake, however, is always about the same, making acceptance rates drop to precipitous levels. Having acceptance rates in the single digits is a much-coveted status for colleges’ admission teams and is a show of their success. But marketing does not make an institution great per se. One still needs to look under the proverbial bonnet, no matter how well-known the brand is.
And many prospective students heed the siren call of the elite US colleges. About 5% of enrolled students at US colleges are foreigners (just under 1,000,000). Non-US citizen/resident applicants have increased by 47.3% since 2010. China and India account for more than half of all foreign applicants. From the UK about 10,000 students each year apply to the US, which is but a small fraction (1.42%) of the 700,000 UK students applying to UK universities.
So why opt for US colleges?
The main draw for students applying to the top US schools is the fact that you don’t, like in the UK, need to decide what you want to study beforehand. You can apply as ‘undecided’ or - even when you know what subject(s) you would like to study - there is room for change once you have started. This is quite liberating and takes away the anxiety of choosing a subject which turns out to be the wrong one for you and then being stuck with it. The fact that most undergraduate courses are 4 years instead of 3 and that there are more direct teaching hours (UK universities have sometimes only 8-10 hours tuition a week) is another advantage. Lastly, if you are an athlete, your US college will treat you like a star, more so than in the down-to-earth UK, as sports are a big deal.