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Study Abroad

Studying abroad in America for UK students

Thinking about doing your degree in America but unsure if you have enough money to fund university across the pond? Here are the key things to know.

american flag and graduate holding diploma

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Embarking on a course in a foreign country can be daunting for the bravest of students. But, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you may regret not taking. It might seem like an expensive adventure, but there are ways to cut the cost.

This guide will serve as an introduction to the different degrees available in the US and how much each one costs. We also cover what kind of financial support there is for international students in America, how the American higher education system works and what you need to do to apply.

We'll also provide links to our other guides which go into further detail about each of these topics.

Why study in America?

According to the Institute of International Education, there were over 10,000 students from the UK enrolled at American universities in 2021/22.

America is home to many of the world's most respected universities. Some of the big names are Harvard, NYU, Yale, Brown and Stanford. Foreign students go to these universities for the high quality of teaching, learning resources and extracurricular activities.

However, when choosing a university, think about what you're looking to get out of studying in America. There are many universities and colleges that aren't as well known internationally, but still offer a great education and student experience.

Most popular American universities


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Harvard... Yale... Stanford... Princeton. Which university is the best?

If it's academic credentials you're after (or maybe a prospective employer only hires from a select few unis?), you'll want to know which American universities rank best in the international rankings.

We've put together a list of the top 10 universities in America based on rankings from QS World University Rankings.

But remember, ranking systems are based on a variety of statistics. Just because a uni ranks number one, it doesn't necessarily mean it's right for your chosen career path. Aim for a university that's right for you and your course subject.

Popular university cities in the USA

We've made an alternative list of US locations you might want to consider if you're still unsure about which part of America you'd like to live in:

  • Austin, Texas
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Los Angeles, California
  • New York City, New York
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Seattle, Washington
  • San Francisco, California
  • Washington DC.

How much are American university fees?

dollar bill

We're not going to hide it from you. Tuition fees in America can be higher than in the UK. But, there are many scholarships and bursaries available for international students.

The cost of American university fees varies depending on the type of degree and institution you choose. Here are the average going rates for each one:

  • Public two-year college – around £3,080*
  • Public four-year college (in-state) – around £8,730*
  • Public four-year college (out-of-state) – around £22,535*
  • Private non-profit four-year college – around £31,440*.

* Figures were sourced from College Board, which publishes the figures in US Dollars. Conversions were accurate at the time of writing.

Our guide to American university fees explains everything you need to know. It includes more info about which of these courses is right for you and how much you'll need to put aside for uni materials and accommodation.

How do you fund studying in America?

Funding your US education is one of the most important things you'll need to consider. This could ultimately decide whether or not you make the leap.

But don't let the high(er) tuition fees fool you into thinking that studying in America is out of your reach. There are many options for international students. You just have to know where to look.

The best place to start is the university you're applying to. Many American universities offer scholarships to international students which will fall into one of the following categories:

  • Needs-based scholarships – contingent on your parents' income
  • Niche scholarships – awarded to targeted students according to a skill they possess, their background or their area of study
  • Merit-based scholarships – awarded to students with outstanding results in a particular area of study
  • Sports scholarships – awarded to students that excel at a particular sport.

According to Education Data Initiative in 2021, 83.8% of undergrads at American universities received financial aid in some form. You could be one of them. Have a look at our guide on funding degrees in the US to learn more about the organisations offering support to international students.

How does the American university system work?

usa flag

If you are looking to study in America, it's a good idea to know how the US education system works. It's quite different from what you'll be used to in the UK.

One of the biggest differences is that it takes four years to complete an undergraduate degree in America. Courses tend to be very general during the first two years. In the last two years, the specialism in your subject will come into play.

Degrees in America are also heavily coursework-focused. This means that your overall grade is based more on the work you hand in throughout the year than on the exams at the end of a term. This translates to a slightly heavier workload.

We've got a full guide on the main differences between universities in the UK and the US if you want to learn more.

How do you apply for university in America?

It's important to note that there is no central body (like UCAS) that facilitates American university applications. You will need to apply for each university separately on their website.

Visit each university's international student section to find out what documentation you'll need to provide.

There's no limit to the number of universities you can apply to. However, it's worth bearing in mind that it costs around $45 on average (around £36). So, you should only apply for the ones you're genuinely interested in.

Want to learn more about the application process for American universities? We've got a guide on how to apply to American universities.

Reasons to study at an American university


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Wondering why you should apply to universities in America? Here are the top reasons to study in America:

  1. American unis have world-leading tech and academia – While Oxford and Cambridge consistently do well in the world university rankings, some of the top universities in America give them a run for their money and often have fantastic research opportunities.
  2. Degrees in America are longer and cover a variety of subjects – American degrees (like many Scottish ones) are generally four years long. This gives you one extra year of student life. Plus, they give you the chance to study a range of subjects before majoring in one.
  3. American degrees can improve job prospects in the UK – Depending on your chosen industry, your overseas experience and connections could be valuable to UK employers. Studying abroad also shows that you're driven, willing to take risks and able to adapt to a new culture. That's a definite way to set yourself apart from other applicants.
  4. Campus life is different in American universities – As we mentioned above, American universities are very different from those in the UK, including campus life. There's quite a different drinking culture in the US as their legal drinking age is 21. You'll also likely have to share a room with another student. On top of that, there is a big focus on fraternities and sororities.
  5. American employers recruit straight from university – There are strong alumni networks within American colleges, helping you to meet potential employers during and after your degree. American unis are also big on career fairs, where top employers are looking for the best students and graduates.
  6. Experience American culture – Studying in America is an amazing chance to explore a new continent and culture. If you want to go out and see the world, this could be the ideal time for you to do so.

Ivy League universities in America

As mentioned in this guide, America is home to some of the most prestigious and selective schools in the world. There are eight Ivy League universities:

  • Brown University
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Harvard University
  • The University of Pennsylvania
  • Princeton University
  • Yale University.

Already applied to your dream uni? Take a look at our top video interview tips to help you secure a place for the next academic year.

Jess Aszkenasy

WRITTEN BY Jess Aszkenasy

Alongside editing for Save the Student, Jess Aszkenasy has shared great tips on saving money related to meal planning, finding deals online and more. Based on first-hand experience of being an international student, she shared guidance on studying abroad.
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