St. Andrews vs. McGill

Any considered, educated opinions on a US student having to choose between McGill and St. Andrews. History major, but also interested in environmental studies. Which school is colder? Pro’s and con’s?
Thank you very much for your input!!

The environmental differences are meaningful.

St Andrews is in a tiny village, with trips to Glasgow or Edinburgh do-able, but not every weekend. It is also meaningfully farther north, which makes the days much shorter than in Montreal. In February the difference is about an hour a day,

McGill is in a small city, and is much, much colder than St Andrews in the winter (thanks to the Gulf Stream). In February the difference is about 20 degrees F (25F v 45F)- and you feel the loss of every one of them! Seriously, in January Montreal feels colder than Iceland.

I can’t speak to McGill well, but I know that at StAs the student would be able to take a couple of classes outside their subject- but it is a couple. Both Canada and the UK do more focused degree structures than the US.


I cannot say much about the academic differences because I know very little about St Andrews. My understanding is that both are excellent, and both are academically demanding. At least in Canada you get somewhat more classes in your major compared to the US, and correspondingly fewer outside “general education” requirements. My understanding is that the same would be true of St Andrews.

However, I have lived for 15 years in Montreal, even if those 15 years were a very long time ago. There are at least three different types of “colder”. One is just straight temperature. Another is darkness. If you are further north, the winters will be darker, and days will be shorter. The third way is humidity. If it is barely above freezing (say 35 F or 2 C) and raining, it will feel very cold. If it is well below freezing (say 10 F or -12C) and sunny and very dry, then it will be colder, but it might not necessarily feel colder.

Montreal will be colder than Scotland in terms of the actual temperature. However, Montreal is well to the south of St Andrews, and so the winters will not be as dark. The sun actually will appear for a short while every day (unless it is snowing, which will be rarer than you might expect). Also, my understanding is that Montreal is likely to be a bit drier in the winter. I think that the difference in terms of how cold the winters feel will be much smaller than you might expect. Either one will take some getting used to. However, I think that you should be able to get used to either one.

Either one will also give you an opportunity to see a culture that is not quite the same as what you are used to.

McGill is right in the middle of a very interesting city with quite a bit of culture and quite a bit to do. It is also very close to Concordia, which is the only other large English language university in Quebec (there is another small English language university elsewhere in the province). This creates a significant market for businesses that sell to English speaking customers. The stores and restaurants and other public conveniences in the area will be largely full of employees who are fully bilingual. Personally I often try to speak French when I enter a store or restaurant in Montreal, and they almost always immediately reply in English (and yes this is an indication of the quality of my French).

I do not think that this will help you much to make your decision. Either one would be a great choice IMHO as long as you are a very strong student and are intending to work hard on your academic class work.


No doubt McGill will be colder. StAs will lead you to have seasonal affective disorder. In the winter in StAs, the sun will come up aroun 11AM and go down by 3:30PM. Conversely, in the summer, it comes up around 4AM and down by 11PM. StAs is far enough north, that if the magnetosphere is right you might see the northern lights. The train does not go to StAs. It goes to RAF Leuchars, next to a cow field (I kid not). StAs has three main streets, North, Market, and South. You can easily walk the entire town at a leisurely pace in an hour. In the late -90’s, when I attended, it had more bars and pubs per capita than any other city or town in Europe (not judging, just saying). StAs is older, by a LOT. The new cathedral (the ruins in the pictures you always see). It was built in the fourteenth century. A student was burned at the stake in front of the main quad during the Reformation. There is an old “rule” at StAs, that if a student draws a sword during an exam, the proctor has to give them a beer. Not sure when the last student went to take an exam armed, but they did chase try and slaughter a dean during the Reformation. StAs has the witches’ bath where, you guessed it, they drowned women for being witches. I could go on and on. StAs is a lovely place. My two years there were life changing. You can easily take the bus from StAs to Edinburgh (dear God, though, don’t take the local!).


If the student is interested in taking a significant number of courses outside of their major, I would do an in depth comparison of the degree structure and major requirement for both schools, as well as their policies with regards to minors and double majors. I would also look to see what subfields of history each school offers. While it is true that degrees at Canadian universities generally require more courses in the major than US schools, they tend to still provide plenty of flexibility with regards to minors and/or double majors. One thing about McGill is that U0 for Arts programs is very broad and more similar to “gen ed” requirements at US schools and it is possible that with sufficient AP (or IB) credit that the student could move directly to U1 thus shortening the degree by a year.

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