Why I’m choosing to leave America for college


I remember sitting at my kitchen table staring at brochures filled with happy pictures of students circled in quads and smiling with books as I researched colleges at the start of my senior year. Everyone I knew was applying to the same schools around the country whether it be in-state or within the Midwest. I explored these schools, looked at pictures and even took tours of some, but something always felt off. I couldn’t see myself at any of these places.

I don’t know if it was my love for travel, or my hate for Trump, but I had this feeling that I needed to get out of the U.S. I needed something different, something new.

I want to encourage students to look beyond the realm of what is familiar to them. According to Ms. Console, a Lane counselor, about 87 percent of Lane seniors stay within the Midwest, including Illinois, based off the class of 2017 data.

College can be extremely intimidating and maybe the idea of moving away from home and your family is too much for some people, not to mention moving across the world and living in a different country. That’s OK — everyone is different.

Yet I also believe that there are some students who may feel that itch to do something different, to experience the world and be uprooted from their social and cultural normalities.

To these students, I say don’t ignore that itch just because you want to fit in with what the rest of your class is doing and join a classic frat or sorority to party for the next four years. Don’t abandon the idea because you think it will cost too much, or be too hard on your family. Your future is your decision and if you want to do something different after you graduate, it will happen if you put in the research, time and energy.  

There are more students reaping the benefits of studying abroad than you may think. Morgan Lyons, Div. 858, will be attending the Florence Academy of Art in Florence, Italy next year. At first, Lyons said she wasn’t sure if she wanted to do it because it was so far away, but the benefits of living in Italy as an art student led her to change her mind.

“I think aside from the school being incredible, being around a new language is really cool and being around people that you’re not usually around — different cultures — gives you a healthy perspective,” Lyons said. “To be able to meet new kinds of people and be somewhere you’re not totally comfortable with takes you out of your comfort zone.”

Along with the experience, independence and opportunities for intellectual growth, international universities also have an advantage in the money department.

When a lot of students hear the word “college,” they immediately think about how much it’s going to cost. Some might say the cost of tuition, board and books is already too much, not even considering the cost of an international plane ticket. But some universities abroad are actually cheaper than U.S. universities.

“Compared to the other [U.S.] schools I got into, it was a lot cheaper, and I think that’s just because pricing for colleges in the States has gone up so much,” Lyons said.

Many countries in Europe even offer free university for citizens, such as Norway, Finland and Denmark. There is a lot of data to suggest that Americans are paying a lot more for college, on average, than other countries. According to the Student Loan Report’s demographics on average annual tuition around the world, the U.K. and the U.S. come out as the most expensive by a long stretch.

The tuition for me to go to school in Montréal is still cheaper than the in-state tuition at the University of Illinois. Now that’s something to think about.

If you’re considering applying abroad, there are a lot of things you need to consider in your college search and applications that are completely different from the U.S. application process, such as the different qualifications needed, or the pricing options based off of citizenship. Most UK schools’ admissions are based off of A-level scores, which are the equivalent of AP tests.

If you know another language or have citizenship in another country, you have an advantage with tuition costs. You no longer have to look for universities that teach in English, or countries that have the cheapest tuitions. As a citizen, you have rights to the country’s price for college, and not the U.S. international tuition, which is usually higher.   

Applying internationally was a very maturing process for me. While my family and counselor were very supportive and helpful, I found myself doing most of the research on my own.

Hours of my weekends were spent deciphering schools’ websites, researching costs and even waking up at four in the morning multiple times to account for the six hour time difference from Chicago to London as I made calls about sending ACT scores abroad and figuring out my student VISA.

Despite all this work, every minute felt exciting to me. Every school I researched or called helped me envision my life in a place culturally different from my own. The hard work was worth it because it all affected where I could see myself the next year.

There are now more resources than ever for students interested in studying abroad. According to Console, there’s a new organization for counselors worldwide: International College Options. Console is on the committee of the organization, which was started due to the lack of guidance for counselors, students and parents when it came to international universities.

Console said the organization will be hosting an international college fair this year. There was one in Chicago last year, but the fair has grown and gained more traction with now a huge percentage of international schools represented at the fair, according to Console.

“It’s a huge need not just in our school, but obviously in the country as well,” Console said. “We have the regional reps and the country reps, but fairs are now expanding internationally as well.”

With all these new opportunities for students to explore international schools, my question is: what are you waiting for?

As I look towards the fall, when I will be attending McGill University in Montréal, I cannot wait for what lies ahead. Learning French, getting to know the Quebecois and being approved for my student VISA are just a few of the things I can look forward to as I begin my new adventure abroad. When I graduate university in four years, I will have the experience of moving to and understanding a whole new place, which I feel will be greatly beneficial in my career and my dreams to move to London one day.

In the past five years, only nine students from Lane have attended international schools, according to Console. To me, that number is too small. I am not saying every student needs to end up in a different country for university, but I am encouraging the class of 2019 to look beyond the bounds of the familiar as they begin their college search.

To this class I say: Think about where you could be next year. Maybe you see yourself eating a pastry as you walk the streets of Copenhagen, hiking a mountain on break in Canada, studying history next to the Colosseum or riding a double decker bus to class in London. The possibilities are endless. You only need to look outside the country and make it happen.