Episode 122: A Truly American International University

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Before we start today’s episode, which will take us abroad, let us remind you to rush out right now and get our new book if you have a junior at home (and even if you have a freshman or sophomore). That’s “rush out right now” figuratively speaking, because the book is available at amazon.com, so there is no need to leave home to get it. But why now? Because using the book is a perfect way for your teenager to spend some time this summer–that is, researching colleges of interest to him or her and/or colleges of interest to you for him or her!

In case you missed our recent episodes, the book is How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. And, as we have said before, it is a WORKbook. It makes the point that many of us learned the hard way: that is, it takes a lot of work to figure out the best colleges for your teenager to apply to. And, as some parents we have worked with recently can tell you, deciding where to apply is probably more important than deciding where to enroll. If your teenager (with your help) chooses colleges to apply to wisely and with enthusiasm, then the choice of where to enroll ends up being a lot happier and easier to make.

But back to our current series, Colleges in the Spotlight. As many of our regular listeners know, I spent last week in London attending my daughter’s graduation from her master’s degree program. My son had previously attended the same university for his bachelor’s degree, and I was looking forward to doing the graduation ceremony a second time. It is not surprising, I guess, that the alma mater of two of my kids would become today’s episode. That’s not because, by the way, it is the alma mater of two of my kids, but rather because it is a university–or one of a group of similar universities–that just might persuade some of you to leave your geographic comfort zone.

1. Spotlight on Richmond

At the beginning of our new book, we ask students to expand their college options by investigating all geographic regions of the U.S. and putting together their own personal long list of college options (or LLCO). Then, we go one step further and ask students to make sure that they have at least one college that is not in the U.S. on their LLCO. In the book, we talk to students about studying outside the U.S.:

This is a favorite topic of ours, and we can’t say enough about it. There are truly great options outside the U.S. We hope that every one of you will take advantage of studying abroad for at least a semester, no matter where you end up in college. Studying abroad is for everyone these days–not just for rich kids, not just for kids studying foreign languages, not just for kids at private liberal arts colleges. But you can actually study outside the U.S. for more than a semester or even for more than one year; you can simply go to a college outside the U.S. full time for four years.

You might want to check out one of our favorite options: Richmond, The American International University in London. Jointly accredited in the U.S. and the U.K., it is a one-of-a-kind institution. It offers students four-year bachelor’s degrees–first, on an idyllic campus in Richmond-upon-Thames (just outside London) for freshmen and sophomores and, then, on an ideal Kensington campus in the heart of London for juniors and seniors. We have seen Richmond up close for a decade and still love it. (P.S. Richmond offers master’s degrees, too, if you’d rather wait for your study abroad experience.) The global future is here, kids. Join it.

Well, that could not be more true. There are plenty of universities to choose from outside the U.S., but let me talk to you a bit today about Richmond, the American International University in London because it is the one that I know the best. I have known its students; I have known its professors (with whom I have been very impressed); I have known its staff members. I have seen it as the parent of an undergraduate student for four years and as the parent of a graduate student for a little over a year.

I have seen what being an international university is all about. At the graduation ceremony last week, after the Master of Arts and Master of Business Administration students were presented with diplomas, we had the roll call of undergraduate students. There were about 180 undergraduate candidates for Bachelor of Arts degrees–and they represented 42 countries.

Now, when we did our virtual nationwide tour of colleges (way back in Episodes 27 through 53), we often commented on the number of foreign countries that U.S. colleges claimed they drew students from. Some colleges–especially large universities–were fond of saying that they drew students from 100 foreign countries, and we always thought that was great. But those colleges typically had thousands of students, so I am not sure how international each class students sat in actually seemed to the students.

At Richmond, 42 countries were represented in just 180 college seniors. Every class students sat in was international–just like every dorm hallway and every group of students just hanging out and chatting. I remember well how international my son’s group of friends really was. This year, about 63 graduating seniors at Richmond came from the U.S., about 41 from the U.K., and the remaining 78 from the following countries: 9 from Spain, 7 from Italy, 7 from Bulgaria, 6 from France, 5 from Germany, 4 from Sweden, 4 from Lebanon, 4 from Belgium, 3 from Nigeria, 2 each from Brazil and Norway, and 1 each from Kuwait, Cameroon, Estonia, Guam, the Dominican Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Romania, Libya, Bahrain, Greece, Albania, Jordan, Portugal, India, Zambia, Pakistan, Kenya, Cyprus, Finland, Montenegro, the Republic of Kosovo, Egypt, Malaysia, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Australia.

Wow. It was amazing to see all the kids and to see the very obvious cross-cultural bonds that had been forged, but it was also amazing to see all of the families and to hear all of the languages being spoken by the proud families of the graduates. It left no doubt in my mind about the value of the truly international experience that these kids had enjoyed.

For the record, Richmond is dually accredited in both the U.S. and the U.K. Richmond describes itself as a liberal arts university, and we have talked about the merits of liberal arts study frequently here at USACollegeChat. In fact, one of the speakers at graduation last week spoke about the liberal arts tradition at Richmond and its significance. Richmond prizes what it believes to be the result of a liberal arts education: namely, students who can think critically and creatively and who can make connections among a broad range of subjects they have studied.

In our new book, one of the topics we call on high school students to investigate when exploring their college options is the presence of a core curriculum. As we have said before, some colleges have quite an extensive required core curriculum, including specific required courses; some colleges have a less specific required core curriculum, including a choice of courses in specified, but broad, fields of study (like the humanities); and some colleges have no required core curriculum at all. Depending on what you or your teenager wants, having a core curriculum can be either a positive or a negative in a college you are considering.

Richmond, in fact, has a sort of mixed core curriculum consisting of 10 three-credit courses taken in the freshman year. Its core curriculum includes some specific courses like Research and Writing I and II, Creative Expression, Scientific Reasoning, and Transitions: London Calling I and II (which focuses on service learning and answers the question, “How can you use London, with all its attractions and all its problems, to help others whilst helping yourself?”) But, less restrictively, the core curriculum also includes a Quantitative Reasoning course (which depends on the student’s major), the student’s choice of any one of 17 Humanities and Social Science course options, and two additional courses of the student’s own choosing outside the major. So, the core is there–with a little wiggle room. Frankly, I am glad as a parent that it was there because I am quite sure that my son would have otherwise avoided quantitative reasoning at all costs.

And let me mention one more very attractive feature of Richmond’s undergraduate program, and this is something else we suggest that students look for when exploring their college options. It is Richmond’s far-reaching study abroad programs, which are available through partnerships in Europe, North and South America, the South Pacific, Asia, South East Asia and the Middle East, but also through Richmond’s own mini-campuses in Rome and Florence. My son did a summer at the Rome campus as a high school student, and both my son and daughter did a semester at the Florence campus during their undergraduate study. (By the way, your college student can study at Richmond’s Florence campus through the American Institute for Foreign Study from whatever college he or she chooses in the U.S. My daughter Polly went there for a semester from Fordham University.)

Richmond’s Florence program is outstanding in many ways, including for the variety of art and art history courses that are offered and for the Italian language classes that are offered. Students can earn a full year of language credit in just one semester because of the required one-week full-time Italian course that students take prior to the beginning of the actual semester, followed by a second Italian course at the appropriate level during the semester.

Finally, I just learned that Richmond now offers a full freshman year at the Florence campus. I am sorry I don’t have any children left to send! What could be better than a year in Florence, a year in Richmond-upon-Thames, and two years in London? That’s a truly international university, as I might have mentioned already.

2. What’s the Downside?

At graduation, I happened to be seated next to the mother of one of the American graduating seniors. The family had lived in London for 14 years before moving back to the U.S. We marveled at the great opportunity that Richmond was for our kids. We wondered why everyone didn’t do it.

But surely there is a downside? Frankly, I am not sure that there is. Perhaps surprisingly, the cost is actually not the downside. Tuition this coming year for U.S. students is $38,000?not as cheap as your state’s public university for sure, but not as expensive as many private colleges in the U.S. And, yes, the kids do have to travel back and forth to London, which isn’t cheap. However, the kids tend to leave only at the semester break because they enjoy visiting the homes of their classmates in Europe for shorter breaks. So, it really amounts to two round trips per year.

I understand that, for some parents, the real downside is having their children so far away from home that they really can’t see them more than during the month-long semester breaks and summer vacations. There really is no argument to make if that is your concern, parents. However, I will tell you that you are likely to miss your children a lot more than they will miss you. I am sure that some have a bit of homesickness at the beginning, but there is so much new to see and do that I don’t believe it lasts very long. And at smaller colleges, like Richmond, there is a bit of a family atmosphere anyway, with small classes and many opportunities to build close relationships both with the other students and with the professors.

3. The Master’s Degrees

The real “deal” at Richmond, by the way, is the M.A. program, which costs about $15,500 (the M.B.A. is a little bit pricier) and is completed in just one full calendar year (that is, two academic semesters and a summer). That’s compared to the two years (or four academic semesters) you would have to pay for at a far higher annual price at many private U.S. colleges.

As I mentioned in a Facebook Live chat I did with my daughter when she was home in New York City doing her internship last summer, I thought that her M.A. program in Visual Arts Management and Curating was excellent. She worked hard and graduated “with Distinction,” but that is thanks to the outstanding professors she had and how committed they were to the students. My daughter and her classmates traveled to many museums and galleries for classes, they met with working professionals in London in and outside of classes, and they had easy access to their professors.

So, if you have an older child graduating from college next year, consider whether a good and reasonably priced graduate program in London–or somewhere else outside the U.S–might be the way to go.

4. Next Week

Next week, we will turn our college spotlight on colleges north of the border–that is, colleges in Canada, which are becoming more attractive to U.S. students. We’ll tell you why, so stay tuned.

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