Education Quandary

'I want to go to university in the US. My parents say that it's too expensive, and that most American degrees aren't as good as ours. Is this wrong?'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Hilary's advice

Yes, it is wrong. Who in their right minds could say that a degree from Harvard or UCLA is worth less than a degree from the little-regarded University of ______? Fill in your own blank. On the other hand, a degree from some unheard-of college in the boondocks of Mississippi is not going to impress anyone as much as one from Imperial College, or the London School of Economics.

One reason your parents may think this is that US degrees have a generalist beginning, followed by later specialisation, often in several subjects. In England and Wales it's still common to focus on one subject, so if you think that's what a university degree should be, UK degrees will seem "better".

A more likely reason for their opposition is money. It costs an arm and a leg to get a good degree in the US - think between $12,000 (£7,000) and $30,000 (£17,000) to live and study at a top private university for a year. Your parents probably don't want to - or can't - pay for that, and are therefore keen to put you off the whole idea.

On the other hand, with top-up fees coming in, costs are going up in England, too. And more and more British students are studying in America, attracted to its universities by good teaching, lavishly equipped campuses, a lovely lifestyle, and the opportunities they feel this will open up for them.

If you are serious about this, do your homework - and start early. It's very time-consuming. Identify the sort of university you'd like to go to, find out the standards they require and look into what sort of financial support might be available. Check out any relevant discrepancies between British and American professional qualifications, and get yourself up to speed on the stricter visa requirements in place for entry to the US. A good starting point is the Fulbright Commission on www.fulbright.co.uk.

Once you've done this, present your parents with a detailed case for what you want to do - including how it might be paid for. If you are really committed, you will make a good case and they will have to listen.

Readers' advice

I have worked as a librarian and tutor at two English universities, at two large state universities in the US, and at Columbia. I have two UK degrees and a US one. My daughters went to London University, my son to Ohio State.

Not only is the range between different institutions in the US enormous, but huge differences also exist between courses and departments within the same institution. The same applies to costs. There is an abundance of financial help, but remember that you will have to pay for four years, not three, and that employment opportunities for foreign students are limited.

Years ago, British universities could largely justify their prejudices against a US education, but there has now been so much dumbing-down over here that this is little more than uninformed snobbery. Unless I could afford Princeton or Stanford, however, my personal preference would be for a university education in Canada. At the doctoral level, I prefer the UK if you are self-motivated, but North America is better if you need spoon-feeding - or access to expensive equipment.
L Hallewell, Colchester

My husband is American. I am English. He wants our daughter to go to university in the US. I want her to go here. We both have good arguments to back our preference, but underlying them is the feeling we share that university is a powerful cultural experience that shapes the direction of your whole life. You must be sure that this is what you really want before going further.
Moira Debrese, London

Next week's quandary

How can you make a teacher accept that a child is exceptionally bright and needs more challenging work? My eight-year-old is bored stiff in her primary class, but all her teacher will say is that she is doing "appropriate" work for her level.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 17 May, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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