More American students discovering Canadian universities

Way up north where the brisk wind blows, Canadian universities have turned on the porch light for American students.

Andree Goldsmith of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., saw it. She turned down Wellesley, Cornell and the University of Michigan for McGill University in Montreal, where she starts as a freshman in about a month.

Tammy Kristall of the Detroit area saw the light, too. She’s a senior English major at the University of Windsor and will commute every day across the Ambassador Bridge starting Sept. 5.

And Michigan student Nicole Belisle saw the light so strongly she is now a sophomore at Brandon University way out in Brandon, Manitoba. She’s not sorry.

“I’ve never wanted to go with the grain,” says Belisle, 21, whose studies resume Sept. 4. “It was nice to branch out and do something that no one else was doing and do it well.”

Two years ago, 4,124 U.S. students attended Canadian universities. Then the secret started to spread about the schools’ low cost and high quality. American applications to Canadian universities have soared 70 percent since.

“It’s hard to find information about a college in Canada because they don’t send you the propaganda all the U.S. universities do,” says Kristall, 20, who attends the University of Windsor, which sits nearly under the Ambassador Bridge. Windsor is “not like Wayne State at all; it’s very relaxed and smaller,” Kristall says. It also offers a NAFTA-inspired base tuition rate of $3,500 a year. It has 9,000 full-time undergraduates, 46 of them Americans.

Belisle, who had an A-minus average in high school, chose Brandon first with her heart because her boyfriend lived there. Then she investigated and discovered she could get a four-year, liberal arts degree at Brandon for about $3,200 in tuition per year, a fraction of the cost of attending most Michigan universities.

But she had to apply entirely on her own.

“The only thing my high school counselor knew was the address. He didn’t have a clue,” she says.

Opposite in environment from Brandon, which has 1,881 undergraduates, is the University of Toronto in the center of Canada’s largest city. It has 34,063 undergraduates.

Toronto University is world-renowned and only four hours from Detroit, but recruitment counselor Dave Zutautas says American students astonishingly know little about it. Last fall, 205 U.S. students were enrolled.

“We have only recruited for four years in the United States, and we go into some places and they’ve never heard of us,” he says. Along with the University of British Columbia and Queens University, the University of Toronto plans to recruit in metro Detroit in November.

Ashley O’Dacre, 20, of Ann Arbor will be a senior biology major at the school. Born in Toronto and still a Canadian citizen, she comes home frequently to see her parents. She thinks students in Michigan need to expand their options.

“A lot of Americans don’t realize it’s less expensive to go to a Canadian school,” she says. Canadian universities also have fewer freshmen requirements, allowing focused students to forge ahead in their majors earlier.

McGill has seen a 50 percent application increase in five years from U.S. students. They are drawn by the prospect of an Ivy League-equivalent education at half the Ivy League price, about $16,000 per year. Applications from Michigan went from 21 in 1999 to 37 last year.

Goldsmith, 18, chose McGill because of the school’s reputation and because she has relatives in Montreal. “But I just love the fact it is in the middle of a really exciting and beautiful city,” she says.

Goldsmith already has a roommate and an off-campus apartment because McGill, with 17,212 full-time undergraduates, can’t guarantee a spot in residence halls, even for freshmen. That was a shock, as were the complicated forms required for a student visa to study in Quebec and Canada. Her advice to others thinking about school in Canada? “I’d tell them to at least consider it. Try not to follow the crowd.”