How to save money by going to school in Scotland

Margarita Gokun Silver, Contributor
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Think of going to college in Scotland and you might envision Hogwarts-like libraries, "Outlander"-style kilts, and real-life royal romances a la Kate Middleton and Prince William. But proximity to the world's most famous wizard story and a modern fairy tale aren't the only things Scotland has to offer. Your education there will also likely cost you a lot less than at comparable U.S. universities.

"It was cheaper for me to have a flat and pay tuition here than just to pay tuition at some of the colleges [I looked at] in the U.S.," says Adler Hyatt, a recent graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS). "So saving that bit of money has definitely given me a cushion for a little bit to figure out how to start surviving when I get back to the U.S."

According to the 2016 Open Doors Survey conducted by the Institute of International Education (IIE), around 10 percent of U.S. students choose to study abroad either through short-term exchanges or long-term programs. The majority, around 12 percent, come to the UK.

And because the Scottish education system is similar to the structure of American liberal arts colleges — students enroll for four years and, during the first two, can try diverse subjects on campus — many find their way to Scotland.

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"[In] most institutions in Scotland, in the first two years of study, you have the flexibility," says Melissa Cunningham, Senior International Recruitment Officer at the University of Strathclyde. "You pick and choose different subjects in the first and second year and it's only at the end of second you decide what you want to major."

While tuition costs for international students are higher than for the Scottish nationals, they are still attractive. A year of undergraduate study can range anywhere from £12,000 to £20,000 – 15,000 to 26,000 USD at today's exchange rates – depending on the university and your course of study.

Many institutions offer scholarships to American students and there are also grants available from the Scottish government.

Your living expenses won't break the bank either. In Glasgow, for example, the cost of living is £650-800 ($800-1000) per month and that includes both your rent and your ability to enjoy life.

"The real plus here that we've heard from the American students [is that] they aren't living and counting the pennies," says Kimmy Shields, Recruitment and Admissions Officer at the RCS. "They are able to experience the culture, they are able to still go to the theater, [and] live in a nice flat."

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How to choose a university

A nation of just over five million people, Scotland has 19 world-class universities and offers close to 4,000 undergraduate courses. Visit the Study in Scotland website and search for a course or a university that's of interest to you. Most Honors degrees, the equivalent of the U.S. bachelor's, take four years, and if you go directly for the Masters, you'll be done within five years.

Once you determine what and where you want to study, visit that university's website and ascertain the requirements, fees, and the available scholarships.

How to apply

Undergraduate students apply online through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Center (UCAS) that serves all of the UK. It costs £24 (about $30) and you can apply for up to five universities using one application. Make sure to check deadlines: While most expect applications by January 15th, a few universities have an earlier date of October 15th.

You'll hear back by the end of March, although some may send their acceptance letters a bit later.

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There is also more to studying in Scotland than just the financial benefits.

"For both students and parents it's important to understand the value of study abroad," says Lindsay Calvert of the IIE Generation Study Abroad initiative. "There is value in the intercultural exchange and experiences that take place in another country, in another region. It's essential for students to take part in those experiences as this would benefit them personally and professionally."

Adler Hyatt agrees. "It was very rewarding and a lot of fun [to be] able to experience another culture," he says. "And Scotland is such a beautiful country. The Highlands is a 45 min train ride [from Glasgow] and you can see beautiful landscapes, beautiful nature."

Once you saved a chunk of cash on tuition, travel is definitely within your reach.

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