I had many reasons for deciding to only apply to grad schools in the UK, but I thought I should at least wait until I’d finished my first term at King’s to insure my reasons were valid. Having now done so, I feel justified in broadcasting my reasons to all ye would-be postgraduate students in the New World.
The British higher education system seems to pride itself on its brevity: Undergraduate courses take only three years. Masters courses take only one year. All the assessed assignments that I submit incur a penalty if they exceed the word limit by even one word. And so on.
This can be very attractive if you have been working for several years and want to go back for more education but don’t want to take too long of a “career break.” Of course, the downside is that I now find myself wishing I had more than one year to live in London!
This is a pretty significant factor. Even though British students have been protesting the increase in university tuition fees this year, they still pay much less than most US students.
Now, I should add a qualifier here: If you are going to a state university in the US where you are eligible for in-state tuition, you might pay about the same, or perhaps less for a graduate degree than you would in the UK. But for the most part, when comparing universities of roughly similar quality and reputation, tuition in the UK is much much lower than in the US.
Just to take an example of my own school, King’s College London: The overseas tuition rate for my Masters degree is roughly £16,000 or around $25,000 at current exchange rates. That is a not insignificant amount, to be sure! But let’s compare that with a similarly esteemed US university — Northwestern University in Chicago, which is ranked right below King’s on the latest QS World Universities Ranking (King’s is #26 and Northwestern #27). The graduate tuition this year at Northwestern is $43,380! Not only is that an egregious sum, but you’ll have to pay it twice, since your Masters degree in the US takes two years. And of course, Northwestern is far from the most expensive grad school in the US. Yeesh.
3. More International
This might not strike you offhand as an important factor to consider when comparing schools. First of all, however, there are cultural and intellectual advantages to an education situated in a global context. And in our globalising world, it’s professionally important to emerge with not only a degree, but a network of friends and contacts from all over the world.
And of course, UK universities deliver here as well…
The most international university in the US (i.e. where international students comprise the highest percentage of the overall student body) is…..The New School in New York, where 25% of students are internationals. 25%? That’s cute; they’re obviously trying. But that wouldn’t even put them in the Top 10 in the UK.
The most international student body in the UK (and probably in the world) is our neighbour, the London School of Economics where 66% of students come from outside the UK. Meanwhile, at King’s there are students from 140 countries in our student body.
4. No GRE
This will appeal to some more than others, but for most graduate programmes in the UK, you don’t need to take the GRE to apply, although some programmes do require discipline-specific standardised tests like the GMAT.
If you’re either the sort of person whose academic strengths aren’t captured by standardised tests; or if you think you’re a better writer than test-taker; or if you’re like me and were living in Uganda while applying for grad school and therefore would’ve had a difficult time arranging to take the GRE, the lack of such a requirement is very attractive. Of course the caveat here is that, since there’s no GRE score, much more of the admissions decision hangs on your writing samples and your undergraduate grades, so you need to be confident in those.
I’m not interested in making a political statement here, so I’ll just speak pragmatically: Health insurance can be a very tricky thing for grad students in the US. Unless you have gone straight from undergraduate to grad school, you may be too old to be on your parents’ health insurance, and you might find it difficult to hold down a full-time job with employer-provided health insurance while you’re still in grad school.
In the UK, this sticky wicket is circumvented by the existence of the NHS. Free healthcare for all, even foreigners!