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Looking Internationally Expands College Options

By Elizabeth Cashel    

A growing trend, both within the United States and abroad, is for college applicants to think across borders and build multinational lists. And why not? In today’s interconnected world, individuals are encouraged to be citizens of the globe. Having direct experience with other cultures, environments, and organizational models broadens perspectives and expands opportunities to connect with future careers and communities. Consequently, U.S.-based students consider going abroad for college, international students seek to study in the States, and U.S. expatriates explore all of the above. The challenge for all these candidates is to understand the key differences between the various educational systems and application processes in the world.

Through our work at The Bertram Group, we serve all of these constituents, in addition to international students applying to U.S. boarding schools. When students are considering international colleges, we focus on universities that offer instruction in English, which commonly includes schools in Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Australia. However, there is a growing number of universities in other countries that offer English-based programs, and some universities partner with U.S. universities in various capacities. Thus, students can enjoy English-based options for schooling on every continent. Really, the world is your oyster when it comes to finding a top-notch education.

Wherever you start from, consider these factors when exploring your options:

The admissions process for U.S. colleges is holistic. International candidates to U.S. universities are sometimes taken by surprise at the need to develop a well-rounded portfolio that includes essays and extracurricular activities, alongside strong academic transcripts. 

Meanwhile, international universities place a stronger emphasis on test scores. Even as many U.S. universities have gone test-optional in recent years, international universities tend to prioritize test scores in their admissions process. U.S. students who want to explore international options should take AP tests in areas of interest throughout their high school career, alongside the SAT or ACT.

U.S. colleges and universities are primarily founded in the liberal arts. In the United States, it is common for students to begin their college studies without a declared major and choose an area of focus as part of their journey. This works well in the four-year college model that requires students to start their education by fulfilling core requirements in a variety of subjects. Even more specialized schools, such as colleges of engineering, want their students to have a well-rounded foundation of study.

By comparison, international institutions are more focused in their coursework. At most international universities, students apply directly into a program of study and are not required to take a variety of liberal arts courses unrelated to their area of study. As such, the application process/essay is centered on ensuring the student has the necessary background to succeed in their chosen field. Given the focused approach, some education systems complete a bachelor’s degree in three years. As such, these international universities expect students to come in already having demonstrated a high level of background knowledge and rely on testing to assist them in understanding a student’s preparation. 

U.S. colleges tend to be a more residential-based experience than international colleges. In the United States, living on campus--with access to built-in socializing and student life resources—is often a valued part of the overall college experience. At some international universities, however, campus housing is not always guaranteed and/or on campus. This coincides with a differing approach, where students are expected to be more independent as they navigate daily life.

International universities are often less expensive.  As the cost of college increases in the US, many U.S. families are considering educational opportunities abroad. Besides the above-mentioned benefits, international universities offer students the ability to attain a degree from highly competitive and internationally respected universities at a significant savings—with many offering a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in four years.  

Attending college in a different country from where you grew up expands horizons, increases opportunities to attend highly competitive institutions, and may be financially attractive. Colleges in the United States and abroad welcome students from different cultures because doing so enriches student life and intellectual discourse. Conducting an international college search, however, adds another layer to an increasingly complex process. Wherever you are looking, we at The Bertram Group have the expertise to help you identify and prepare a strong application to colleges around the globe.   

Elizabeth Cashel  has over twenty years of experience working with universities and secondary schools throughout the U.S. and internationally. Contact for more information.