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College in Canada? Why American Students are Heading North after High School

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Updated on Jan 10, 2011

You may have heard that more and more American students are heading to Canada after high school. News reports on this trend often trumpet the fact that Canadian universities offer a quality education for a fraction of the cost of a college degree in the United States. But is college in Canada really as viable and economical for American students as it seems?

According to the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C., an estimated 10,000 Americans are pursuing degrees in Canada, up from about 3,500 10 years ago. Canadian officials see this as a way to build a strong connection between the two countries and enhance the international profile of Canadian universities. Representatives from Canadian universities appear at college fairs in American cities from Atlanta to Seattle, and the embassy says they plan to add more stateside stops to their recruiting trips.

There are advantages for Americans, too. Many Canadian universities (north of the border the word "college" usually refers to schools focused on vocational coursework) have a reputation for strong academics, earning recognition from institutions like the college-ranking juggernaut U.S. News and World Report. And Americans who study in Canada can stay relatively close to home while getting the experience of living in another country. This is especially true in the French-speaking province of Quebec.

Many Americans pursuing degrees in Canada look to the north because of the significantly lower price tag. For example, a year at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, costs a foreign undergraduate student about $12,000 in American dollars. Compare that to yearly U.S. university fees that can run the average undergrad around $25,000 - just to start.

"Parents are always shocked at how much less expensive it is," says Yusuf Varachia, international recruitment coordinator at Simon Fraser. Students and parents have become accustomed to the idea of paying through the nose for a good college education.

But Kathleen Massey, registrar at McGill University in Montreal, notes that Canadian universities aren't necessarily less expensive than those in the U.S. McGill estimates that foreign students could pay up to $44,000 in American currency for a year of tuition, fees and other costs.

"When we're promoting McGill, what we're promoting is the quality of the educational experience, regardless of price," Massey says, adding that many of the Americans considering McGill have heard about the university from friends or family.

If you and your soon-to-be college student are considering Canada as an option for higher education, here are some pointers:

Find the Right Canadian University for You

While there are some differences between the U.S. and Canada, students and parents pointing their college searches north of the border have to consider schools based on the same criteria they'd use in the States - like whether your child would rather live in a big city or small town, or if she's interested in any particular subjects, clubs or sports.

Varachia suggests visiting a campus and talking with current students and faculty. If your child knows what he wants to study, academic departments' websites offer a wealth of information about faculty members' backgrounds and research. Approach researching Canadian colleges the same way you'd look at any college.

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