Study abroad? Why American students head north

Thu Feb 16, 2012 2:51pm EST
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By Chris Taylor

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Carson Ross had a financial dilemma on her hands.

When the New Yorker weighed her college options back in 2009, she could have picked destinations like Tufts in Boston or Washington University in St. Louis, and racked up what she estimated would be over $40,000 a year in tuition and fees.

Or she could take a more dramatic step, and head north to Canada for her education. And that's exactly what she did.

"It's less than half of what I'd be paying at most top American schools," says Ross, now 21, who picked Montreal's McGill University and is majoring in international development studies. "It's definitely a load off my mind, that I'm not going to be bankrupting my parents or owing my soul to the banks for the rest of my life."

More students these days are thinking like Ross. Almost 10,000 American students are heading to Canada for higher education every year for the past five years, according to the Canadian Embassy in Washington, up from just 2,300 15 years ago.

That's the case even though the exchange rate is now close to par. A decade ago, the Canadian dollar had sunk to barely more than 60 cents U.S., making cross-border education a screaming bargain. These days when private four-year colleges in the United States cost an average of $28,500 a year in tuition and fees, according to the College Board -- and many much more than that -- it still can make sense for U.S. students to look across the border.

Says Katherine Cohen, CEO of Manhattan-based educational consultants IvyWise: "It can be easier to get in, and you also get great value. International students at McGill pay $17,000 a year for a BA, which is nothing compared to the top U.S. schools, where you might pay three times that amount."

Of course, such a decision about one's educational future isn't to be taken lightly. It is, after all, a foreign country, so moving abroad comes with caveats. There will be travel expenses involved, but not markedly different than what you would expect if you were attending an out-of-state American college. A study visa won't be hard to procure, and with that in hand you'll be able to work on-campus (and off-campus too, as along as you apply for a special permit).   Continued...

Students play a game of pickup baseball on campus at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Alberta August 26, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: EDUCATION)