U.S. students crossing the pond for college

(Michael S. Williamson)
By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 20, 2010

When Adelaide Waldrop learned that she had been consigned to the wait list at each of the four universities she wanted most to attend, it was as if all the excitement had drained from her collegiate quest.

Then she remembered her wild-card school: the University of St. Andrews, the medieval cobblestone campus in Scotland.

Now Waldrop, of Silver Spring, is a St. Andrews sophomore, one of a growing number of American students who enroll at top-ranked British universities, which offer the prestige of elite U.S. schools at a fraction of the cost.

The population of U.S. undergraduates at United Kingdom schools has spiked 30 percent in five years, to 3,560 in the 2008-09 academic year, the most recent figure available from Britain's Higher Education Statistics Agency. It's a trend driven by price, prestige and - in the case of St. Andrews - a prince.

St. Andrews, founded in 1413, is two centuries older than Harvard. It is the birthplace of golf - and of the romance between Prince William and his fiancee, Kate Middleton.

"It's just so magical walking around St. Andrews, with all of the history," said Waldrop, 19, a graduate of the Communication Arts Program at Montgomery Blair High School. "After visiting, I kind of just forgot about my other schools."

Waldrop is paying $19,670 in tuition this year at St. Andrews. Tuition at Swarthmore College, where she was wait-listed, is $39,260.

"We are considerably less than the very good privates that you have in the United States," said Stephen Magee, vice principal of St. Andrews. "And in that sense, we think we're a very good value."

The small community of collegiate expatriates is populated heavily with students from the New York-Washington corridor and California, British higher education officials say.

U.K. universities have emerged as a worthy consolation prize for students rebuffed from Ivy League schools. Much of the interest focuses on Scotland, whose four-year collegiate model closely resembles the American undergraduate experience. (English universities, by contrast, graduate students in three years and stress specialization over general education.)

"If you just fail to get in at Harvard, we're happy to have you at St. Andrews," Magee said, "because it means you're bloody good."

U.K. universities routinely send recruiters to U.S. high schools. The era of online admissions enables a student in Arlington County to apply to schools in Williamsburg and Edinburgh with similar ease. Social networking has created a new platform for students overseas to share pictures and stories with friends back home.

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