“US is an excellent path for the student who values breadth over depth…and eventually wants depth but prefers to delay or supplement it with variety”
Su Ann Lim is a recent graduate from Columbia University with majors in Economics and Political Science. Her favorite parts of college were sledding down the icy steps of Columbia on a dining hall tray in the middle of a snowy night, and spending all-nighters in Butler Library with her closest friends, studying but not really studying. She blogs at www.quaintly.net.
Why should students choose to study in the US, especially when alternatives may cost less, take less time, and offer more familiar styles of education?
Studying in the US is an excellent path for the student who values breadth over depth in his or her education, and it is excellent for the student that eventually wants depth but prefers to delay or supplement it with variety. Ultimately, studying in the US is about choosing how to become a well-rounded individual in the way that you like best, and the liberal arts system is generous with its options to choose from.
The US is for you if you are uncertain about what you want to do but also want an education in various other things (music, literature, statistics, physics, philosophy!) even as you commit to one major field. Each semester/quarter in your first and second years is like a new shot at discovering yourself and what you want to study — be it what everyone else is studying, what your parents want you to study, what you’re good at, or what you love.
As for lovers of depth, fear not! US colleges do champion breadth in education but they also preserve depth. Your third and fourth years at college are when you concentrate on your major field(s), conduct research or write a thesis — basically focus, focus, focus. But of course, still with the option of taking a fun class here and there on the side =)
What kind of fun classes? Crazy and exciting classes that are incredibly educational about the world that we all inhabit, such as: French Pornography (Stanford), The Economics of Sin (Middlebury College), The Science of Superheroes (UC Irvine) and Cultural History of Japanese Monsters (Columbia, my alma mater!).
A critical piece of advice you would offer a student looking to further his/her studies abroad…
People often say that college in the US hones critical thinking and forming/articulating opinions better than college anywhere else. I think that might be a little unfair to universities in the UK, Australia or anywhere else, because students from these places are also trained hard to think critically and form sturdy opinions. While there are schools in the US — particularly the liberal arts colleges — that are fully committed to the Socratic method, small seminar settings and communication between students and professors/mentors, these things are not exclusive to US colleges.
Wherever you choose to go to school, be it in the US or not, seek out these things and immerse yourself as much as you can in them. Even where there is no liberal arts system, there will be classes that are taught by professors who value the Socratic method, mentorship, and taking time to nurture the bright and the curious. There will also be great student groups that bring together eager people with common goals for action, and difficult classes that will push your boundaries and require you to constantly form and defend your opinions. Find them and learn as much as you possibly can from everything! Know your limits, but don’t be afraid.
As for candidates who are certain they want to go to the US and nowhere else, my suggestion would be to embrace the liberal arts system, but be careful not to be overwhelmed by it. With all the choice and freedom available to you, it’s easy to go wild taking too many introductory classes, or spend way too much time flip-flopping on a major, or spread yourself too thin. Keeping your mind open is a good thing, but at major steps of the way you should be grounded by what your goals are. Always ask yourself if you are getting what you want out of an education wherever you chose to be.