College Cousins: St. Andrews and U. of Edinburgh

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Even if you’re not particularly inclined to check the history of each school, you will want to seek, and be impressed by, these early dates. The University of Edinburgh goes back to 1583, impressive enough, but the University of St. Andrews marks its official start date in 1413 – the year this teaching institution was granted a papal bull to become a full-fledged university. Now, that’s history! And, when you think about it, it’s 500 years (give or take) for both of these institutions to figure out how to do things the right way. They are both impressive and steeped in history, yet both keep up with the current times in every respect.

The University of St. Andrews is older, but the University of Edinburgh is the bigger of the two. Its undergraduate population of 24,000 is three times the size of its St. Andrews counterpart. Both welcome international students. Thirty percent of Edinburgh’s entire student body comes from abroad and nearly a quarter of that number are Americans. St. Andrews is also hospitable to internationals; about 15% of its students are from North America. That’s not likely to change, either, as St. Andrews can boast (again) of earning top honors in the U.K. for student satisfaction. Of course, it’s possible that part of that satisfaction is derived from having bragging rights about attending the same university as the celebrated Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Academics at both schools are top notch. The University of Edinburgh, located in Scotland’s capital city, is consistently ranked as one of the world’s top universities, and its rich academic offerings are certainly key to its success. A first glance at the list of degrees offered might make you think that the university merely offers all of the usual – Hispanic Studies, Business and so forth – but take a close look at the number beside the field of study. For example, notice that there’s a “25” beside Hispanic Studies, and an “18” beside Business. That means there are 25 degrees offered in the field of Hispanic Studies and 18 in the field of Business – great examples of the breadth and depth of available study.

St. Andrews offers not only dynamic fields of study but also flexibility in the degrees themselves: Honours, General or Integrated Masters. It also offers a joint degree program with the College of William and Mary. At the smaller St. Andrews, the number of study options is also smaller, but what is offered is just as rich in content. Perhaps we could say they are on par with the best. Yes, we had to say it. Because St. Andrews is also famed for being the original home of golf, and to this day is a golfing mecca for enthusiasts all over the world.

Admission to both universities is very competitive, especially since they attract students from around the globe. Websites for both schools include detailed information about requirements. St. Andrews gives specific requirements for U.S. students, and Edinburgh has a similar page that details its requirements and competitive score levels. Applications must be submitted through UCAS (in a manner of speaking, the U.K.’s version of the Common App) although St. Andrews accepts applications through its Direct Enrollment program for students applying only to St. Andrews and no other school in the U.K. Edinburgh, however, only allows direct entry for a few study areas and only for second-year students (essentially a transfer option).

If you’re tempted to look “across the pond,“ think carefully about what this experience would bring. You would certainly gain a quality education and a rich cultural experience, but this isn’t a step to be taken lightly. The adjustments to be faced go further than simply transitioning from high school to college. This is a step that requires crossing an ocean, moving from one country to another. The rewards would be many, but you would need to be prepared to adapt to numerous differences, big and small. One is that, if you earn your degree at one of these, your undergraduate degree is likely to be called a Master’s degree, so you can have fun with that. A second is the fun you’ll have learning Brit-speak and Scot-speak – delightful variations of our shared language. You might even pick up a bit of a brogue during your time there.

In a way, the two are distant cousins to each other. For one thing, their settings couldn’t be more different – one sitting in the middle of a bustling city and the other in a quiet seaside town. One is considerably larger, bold and brash, and the other, smaller, reflects the more refined style of its locale. Their shared Scottish roots and the quality of education they offer, however, qualify them as the best of cousins.

As Americans, many of us are entranced by the history offered by these universities, and no wonder, but when thinking about this important a decision, you will want to look past the historical charm in deciding if one of these could be right for you. You certainly won’t need to worry about quality. These two venerable institutions have earned their accolades. Both are working hard to continue being among the leaders of 21st century education and deserve their place among the world’s elite institutions.