I'm a Gen Zer who chose a European college over the Ivy League because I could get a master's in less time and for less money than in the US

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I'm a Gen Zer who chose a European college over the Ivy League because I could get a master's in less time and for less money than in the US
Nicole Thompson is a graduate of the University of St Andrews in Scotland.courtesy of Thompson
  • Growing up in multiple states and countries showed Nicole Thompson the benefits of travel.
  • She chose St Andrew's University in Scotland because in four years she'd finish with a master's.
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This is an as-told-to essay based on an interview with Nicole Thompson, a 24-year-old living in San Francisco. She attended the University of St Andrews, in Scotland, from 2017 to 2021. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

I was born in Australia, moved to Utah at age two, and to Missouri after that. Then I spent a few months living in Thailand before returning to St. Louis for middle school. Some of those early moves were difficult. But once I'd done it, I realized how much I liked change and new experiences.

It also showed me that staying in the States wasn't the end-all-be-all. I had an entire world out there that I could go live in.

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When it was time for my next adventure — college — I always envisioned myself going to the UK.

I considered schools across the US and Europe

I'm a Gen Zer who chose a European college over the Ivy League because I could get a master's in less time and for less money than in the US
Thompson was recruited by multiple schools to play water polo.courtesy of Thompson

When deciding where to attend college, there were two factors I took into consideration: The opportunity to play water polo and the chance to study psychology.

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I heavily considered a few schools across the US. At all of them, I was speaking with recruiters and coaches about joining their water polo teams. I was most interested in Brown. I liked the idea that it's a classic university — and it's an Ivy — so I knew it would provide great education. Plus, I'd built the strongest relationship with Brown's coach.

But as a Junior Olympics player, I was also introduced to international teams. I ultimately narrowed it down to two colleges in the UK: King's College in London and St Andrews in Scotland.

It's funny because my mom has always been obsessed with the royal family. So when she realized I might get to play for St. Andrew's, the same water polo team Prince Will had played for, she was really excited.

But my parents have always made sure to not pressure my siblings and me. So they wouldn't even give their suggestion because they wanted it to be my own choice. After months of deliberation, I chose St Andrews.

It wasn't so different from life in America

I'm a Gen Zer who chose a European college over the Ivy League because I could get a master's in less time and for less money than in the US
Thompson (right) made friends with her teammates at St Andrews.courtesy of Thompson

I felt like I had a pretty well-rounded idea of what living in the UK would be like after visiting a few times.

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Plus, nearly 40% of the St Andrews student population is international, with lots of American students. I figured that would be an easier way to transition into a different country with more people of a similar background.

There were some differences living over there, like the drinking culture. While my American friends were experiencing traditional college party culture, that wasn't the case in the UK.

We didn't have frat parties or tailgates like many schools in the US. Instead, it was more casual. It's always, "Let's go study and have a pint," or, "There's a soccer game on, let's have a pint," or "It's a Tuesday, let's have a pint!"

While it wasn't as wild, it was much more frequent — throughout the days and into the evenings — which made it a lot more drinking than I ever expected.

The education system was a perk during my job hunt

American schools are typically very rigid and include a lot of prerequisites and gen-ed classes.

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But in Scotland, I just had three hours of classes involving my major each week.

I thought that autonomy was going to be really awesome. But it was difficult to keep myself accountable.

That being said, the education system was also one of the reasons I picked St Andrews. I didn't want to waste time and money paying for gen-ed classes I didn't care about. I just wanted to take classes for my chosen major.

Also, St Andrews offers Bachelor of Science degrees, but a Master of Arts. So while it only took me four years, I left with a Master of Arts in management and psychology. That looked really good to companies when applying for jobs in the US.

In the end, I spent about $95,000 on my education. That's less than what my siblings spent in the US on their undergraduate degrees, plus I have a master's, too.

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I am back in the US now and working in human resources. But my goal is to move back to Europe within the next five or 10 years.

There are some major benefits to living outside of the US. For example, while the cost of living in San Francisco and London is comparable, California taxes are extremely high and don't even include things like healthcare, which is offered in the UK. Plus, work-life balance is really important over there, too.

I'm open to moving wherever life takes me. And if I do go and it doesn't work, a new adventure is just a flight away. That's how I like to look at it.

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