College for US expats in South Africa
Families living in South Africa – American ones in particular – have excellent choices available to them with regard to the college education of their children. Some students may decide to complete undergraduate degrees in South Africa, given the quality of education on offer – the University of Cape Town is internationally ranked above many American state schools, for example. Others may decide that it would be best to return to the US to complete college.
There are at least four important issues to consider in making that choice:
- The first consideration is cost. Given the exchange rate, top South African universities like Wits or Cape Town cost dramatically less than their American counterparts, even apart from the cost of students shuttling back and forth to the States.
- But if a young person hopes to return to the US to settle permanently at some point in the future – perhaps to attend graduate school – an American degree will “carry” more weight than a foreign one for reasons that have more to do with familiarity than with the quality of the degree.
- A family should also consider the different nature of undergraduate education in both countries. The US is unique in offering students a liberal arts education – a four-year academic experience where the emphasis is on a broad intellectual exploration rather than a narrower pre-professional training. In South African universities students do three-year bachelor degrees with a much smaller range of year-long courses related to their major.
- Another factor to think about is the different quality of the social experience between American and South African universities. At residential American colleges, students live in dorms and participate extensively in a social life centred on their school – like spirited football games in the fall, well-resourced extracurricular clubs, fitness centres, and such. South African students, especially in larger cities, are less likely to live on campus in dorms, and this shapes how their social life intertwines with their university experience.
- Finally, the kind of high school a student chooses to attend in South Africa may make it easier or harder to complete the rather onerous process of American college application.