Going to college abroad

Going to College Abroad

Sometimes we get questions from parents that just need a blog post. If one parent has this question, we bet a hundred others do, too! We were asked about students going to college abroad—in this case the focus was on the United Kingdom. While costs, practices, and systems vary widely depending on the country your child is interested in, we wanted to share as a model what we found out about going to college in the United Kingdom.

(Inserting disclaimer here: we are not experts in going to college abroad. We are merely sharing the results of our research as a starting place for families to dig further, AND as we write this, our world is struggling with COVID-19 so any plans in the near future will be impacted.)

First, a technicality to share…this State Department page talks about travel to the United Kingdom. Families need to review this information. Students may (or may not) require a visa in addition to their passport. This UK site has a link so you can “check if you need a UK visa.” Getting those visas can involve fees and long waiting periods, so be sure to understand how the process works and when to get it started.

Paying for a foreign university

Paying for college in another country has some slight differences and some surprising similarities. For example, students can receive federal student loans to pay for an education abroad, but they can’t receive federal Pell Grants. This short article from Capstone Wealth Partners focuses on Germany but touches on paying for college abroad in general and contains a link to the list of eligible foreign institutions. Families will fill out the FAFSA to qualify for the federal loan just like as if they were attending college in the US at any of the eligible schools on the list.


As this article points out, colleges in the UK are not as concerned with the “fluff” of an application—the extracurriculars, volunteering, essays. They want to see what your GPA is, what your test scores are, and what courses you took. If a math student did poorly in history, they aren’t that concerned. They are more focused on your preparation for success in your chosen major/field.

Students apply to an academic program, not to the university. “Unlike at U.S. colleges, which encourage students to explore their interests before declaring a major, students in the U.K. jump right into their program of study. In fact, students apply to academic programs, not to a university. Besides test scores, grades, and other evidence of proficiency, applicants submit just one short personal statement to help them stand out. And all applications are processed through a single clearinghouse, so statements can’t be customized.”

The education system

The degree types use slightly different names that we’re used to. Although bachelor’s degree appears to be the same (and typically takes 3 years in UK), a “foundation degree” is sometimes mentioned. A foundation degree appears to be the equivalent to our 2-year associate degree.

This piece takes a good look at how the UK’s education system is structured. Be aware that the words “college” and “university” are not interchangeable like they are in the US. University is the name for institutions providing a bachelor’s degree. College is part of the “further” education while university is part of the “higher” education.

If searching for universities, this page has many “top university for xyz programs” links like this one: Top Maths Universities in the UK. We are unclear how they determine “best,” but it might be helpful to see what universities are “known” for which program. Since students in the UK jump right into their specific field of study, you’ll want to know what schools offer which programs.

To get a closer look at a sample university, we dug deeper into the University of London. On their website, we found the available majors, how to apply, and estimated costs.

Of particular interest, we found this page about how US courses equate to UK qualifications for entrance. The UK uses O, S, A, & G letters. This page correlates for example a certain AP course and its score (3, 4, or 5) with the proper UK letter.

Is attending college in a foreign country a good idea for my child?

Going to a college abroad can be an exciting prospect, and it will definitely widen your child’s perspective of the world. Be sure to carefully consider the challenges inherent with leaving a culture your child is used to. How is transportation, dining, and lodging different? Customs and laws will be different. Travel and a potentially higher cost of living must be a factor. Do lots of research about the country and their habits before making the leap. Good luck to all that pursue college abroad!

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