Trying to make sense of our options from a distance: international student

I am hoping the College Confidential community can help us assess our options.

Our S15 was so much more straightforward. Five applications (four US and 1 Canada) produced two options: a top 10 university and UBC (and a couple of waitlists) and he headed off sight unseen to the US as an international student and had a great four years.

D21 is more complicated. She is inspired to follow in her brother’s footsteps and study internationally but the combination of COVID disruptions and being less certain led to a bit of a scattergun approach to applications. I think this means she is likely to end up with quite a diverse range of options, and all unknown to us. I won’t bother with the list of applications but instead hope some of you might comment on the concrete options as they come in.

But first a little about her. Strong student, full IB with good study and coping skills. Unsure what she wants to study but tempted by engineering (although many of her US applications ended up being to liberal arts colleges where 3+2 programs would be the only way to do engineering). She is also a strong humanities/arts student. Main passion is choral singing and would like to sing in a really good choir. Otherwise quite resilient and adaptable - and adventurous enough to head off to a university in a foreign country where she knows no-one. She lived in France for a while as a child. Not religious but used to attending a private high school with some notional religion. Our personal circumstances are such that merit money is attractive (and we come from a country where people are not accustomed to spending huge amounts on university) but our incomes would enable us to pay full freight for the right university. Its a bit nerve wracking thinking of sending her to the other side of the world in a pandemic but her older brother is still in the US so she would have him as support.

So far we have two US options on the table: Lawrence University in Wisconsin (with 31 k pa merit scholarship) and St Olaf (with 26 k pa merit). We selected both because of their strong music options for non-music majors (and St Olaf in particular for its choirs). We also thought that the selective liberal arts colleges might offer some of the benefits that we saw our son enjoy in his Top 10 school, but with a less pressured environment. The other good option on the table is Queens in Kingston, Canada with a Chancellor’s scholarship (which reduces the already very reasonable tuition to almost nothing - she is a dual national Canadian so pays domestic fees, though she has never lived in Canada so it would still be the international student experience she wants ). Queens has the advantage that she has been accepted to both engineering and arts (and could pursue a dual degree in both in 5 years). [She has also been accepted to Bristol (geography) and Durham (international relations) in the UK but is concerned about the need to follow such specific courses but obviously CC is less likely to have advice on the UK unis]

Any advice on any of these options would be most appreciated. Interested in views on the quality of the education; the value to cost ratio; the campus culture and degree of diversity and inclusion; the extra-curricular environment and activities; and whether the locations would feel remote and isolated to an international student who has only visited New York and San Francisco and some national parks.

Sounds like your daughter already has some wonderful options. Congratulations!

A close friend’s daughter is a St. Olaf grad and it was an amazing experience for her. Welcome community, fabulous music programs, strong academics but not ultra competitive. She’s in med school now.

Does your daughter have any research universities that are ABET accredited for engineering on her list? Since you mentioned merit being a positive, it would seem to make sense to serious consider schools that she could graduate in 4 years if she pivoted to engineering.


The Queens option in Canada would enable graduation in engineering in 4 years and is fully accredited to the Canadian equivalent of ABET. Unfortunately when we were submitting applications to US schools she seemed more interested in doing things like global studies or environmental science. There are only two very high reaches which would directly offer engineering which is why I think it would need to be a 3+2 programme for her to do engineering in the US. We did have Bucknell on the list at one point but she ran out of steam on the essay writing front and the application was not submitted, which I now regret.

This may mean that Queens is her best option. It’s very reputable in Canada and the engineering program has a 91% graduation rate. I think she would want to do a conjoint arts degree at the same time as the engineering program is very serious with little ability to take non engineering subjects fir breath. The engineering course is demanding and there is a a reasonable prospect she would lose her scholarship which requires a 3.5 average (which wouldn’t matter too much financially as tuition is a reasonable 12k CAD per year, might might hit her self esteem and cause additional stress). The Lawrence merit scholarship is guaranteed for four years while the St Olaf one has a much lower GPA requirement to keep it.

But I am concerned that she (and we) need to think about what she would be giving up in terms of the teaching environment at a small liberal arts college.

One other thing about engineering which you may already know. Engineering codes differ among countries which is part of the reason it is so difficult for an American university student to study abroad for engineering (generally have to go early or fulfill humanities requirements or take from a US university abroad campus). If she gets an engineering degree in Canada I presume she would be limited to working in Canada? Same with the US. There may be a way around that but none that I know of.

Lawrence and St. Olaf are great schools and I think she could love the arts options at either.

I believe the closest cities have Lawrence being the less rural of the two. Both will feel small in comparison to the bug cities mentioned but that’s not a bad thing. Twin Cities area in Minnesota would be closer to what she may be using as frame of reference. Both areas have warm friendly people.


I am pretty sure there are systems to cross-accredit qualifications between countries. Many engineering grads don’t end up working as engineers but go into other fields so I think as long as the qualification is reputable and qualifies her to be an engineer somewhere we will be ok with that.

@longdistancemum For a choral singer, I can’t think of a better place than Saint Olaf. There are also talent scholarships (music/dance) and the Buntrock, which could nudge the merit up a bit more. St. Olaf is also very well regarded for physics and math, STEM in general, really. So if engineering falls away, it offers strength in math and science and a good track record in placement for grad school/med school. The campus is very beautiful, the town is small, but the twin cities are only 45 minutes away and the school runs a shuttle. IIRC, students enrolled in one of their scholars programs also have sponsored field trips into the city periodically. Finally St Olaf is well-regarded for its study abroad programs, which can range from short term (winter break) to a semester or a year. Many of these programs are supported by St Olaf faculty who accompany the students, as opposed to working through an affiliated program with another college or university. The vibe is wholesome, Midwestern, nice, kind. Minimal partying (every college has some). It is church-affiliated but not heavy handed in terms of religion and I know one graduate who is an atheist and felt warmly accepted. The nearby town is cute. Carleton College is in the same town, bringing the total local student population up to about 5K.

Lawrence I know less well. Also a great school for music, probably a touch less academic than St Olaf, but a motivated student could have a good experience at both. It’s in a small city (around 50-100K as opposed to around 30K in Northfield, I think?).

Good luck, so far she has good, solid options.


@mamadefamilia thanks so much for all that helpful information about St Olaf. She did apply for a music scholarship as well so we will check to see if that is still under consideration. The extra money would be very welcome especially if we have the engineering but to fund as well. She got awarded a Presidential scholarship at St Olaf of 23k which is one notch below Buntrock from plus a 3k for “accommodation”.

It’s really helpful to know about the strength in physics/maths. I like the idea of her preparing for engineering in an environment with small classes and good teaching. I will reach out to St Olaf to understand how the 3+2 option works and what the impact would be on the merit scholarship (some colleges seem to let you use it for the first year of engineering and some don’t). I know that many students at liberal arts colleges don’t want to lose their senior year and decide not to move on to the +2 engineering school but i suspect she might be up for it. She can always return to St Olaf for commencement and graduation to get closure with her St Olaf friends, right?

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I believe most students who start 3/2 programs end up not completing them. I would be very wary of attending a liberal arts college if there is any chance she wants engineering.


I agree with this, and why pay for 5 years of undergrad, for little, if any benefit in job outcomes? Very few students participate in these programs, fin aid is not always guaranteed at the second institution, and the student leaves their friend group after three years.

St. Olaf has an engineering studies concentration, maybe better to do that, and a major in physics and then get a masters. Same five years of school, likely more compelling degrees. And the student stays with their class and friends for four years through graduation.

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I took my son to a several day conference at Queens in late August before the pandemic. I thought it was a beautiful place. The campus is situated right on the lake. It’s large, felt safe. The town of Kingston was big enough to be interesting for going into town for stores and restaurants. Toronto and Montreal would each be about a 2 hr bus ride away, I guess. I really liked it - had it fit my son’s academic needs, and were we Canadian, I would have been happy to have sent him there. The students there seemed to be as diverse as Canada - lots of different races. I think Queens would be an excellent, and affordable option.


We considered Queens, but did not end up visiting or applying. I have heard very good things about it. Queens is also consistently ranked very high on “student satisfaction” rankings, and has a very strong reputation in Canada.

@Longdistancemum I did not pick up what country you are from. If you are from neither the US nor Canada, then Canada will be easier to stay in after graduation. However, my understanding is that you absolutely positively do not want to mention this as an option when you are applying for a student visa. If you are from the US, the only downside we have seen to studying in Canada is that it is not clear that your child will return to the US after graduation.

In terms of the accreditation the US and Canada in some cases have a closer relationship than either country has with other countries. I would specifically consider the US/Canada issue rather than a more general “foreign accreditation in the US” issue.

Thanks @DadTwoGirls. We are from New Zealand and she has dual-national Canadian citizenship so will be able to work in Canada if she wants. As an engineer I think she could probably also work in the US as it is an occupation on the NAFTA list. I suspect she may well want come back to New Zealand though, eventually at least.

It’s helpful to hear your and other reactions to Queens. We are aware that we are lucky to have it as an option as it would provide our daughter an exciting “study abroad” experience at a domestic fees cost.

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Thanks very much for this @parentologist

This is helpful to hear about the “look and feel” of Queens. While some of these things (nice campus, nice town) are a bit superficial I think they would actually be quite important for how our daughter felt about the experience especially initially.

Thanks @Mwfan1921 I can see that a student might not choose to go through with the 3+2 but if that happened my think is you would be no worse off as it would be because she was too happy at St Olaf or another liberal arts college. The option of doing post-grad engineering (or something else) would still be there. And she might also want to do that back at home or closer by in Australia.

I was interested to see that Washington University St Louis which is the +2 program affiliated with St Olaf seems to guarantee an “graduate affiliate scholarship” to the +2 students which amounts to a 50% tuition reduction for the first year and a 55% tuition reduction for the second year (and a 60% reduction of the student stays for a masters). To my untutored eyes that sounds like it would be the equivalent of retaining her St Olaf scholarship of 26k pa. This seems surprisingly generous so if I am reading this wrong please anyone let me know.

I don’t know much about engineering (my husband and I are both legally trained) but but I do think that a BA and a reputable engineering qualification would place her well in the workplace. The BA would show she could write and think and the engineering degree would equip her with a set of more technical analytical and management skills. We were able to talk to a Queens engineering graduate who said he and many of his classmates did not choose to work as engineers but found other jobs such as consulting.

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By the way if anyone knows how to edit the initial post to put tags to Lawrence University, St Olaf and Queens so more people who know these schools see it that would be much appreciated. It looks to me like some other posts have these tags but I could see how to do it when I did my original post. CC is such a great resource and I am am keen to make the most of it.

If she is going to end up anywhere outside the US, then getting a permanent resident visa or citizenship in the US is a bad idea. The US taxes the income of citizens and permanent residents regardless of where in the world they live. The US is the only major country in the world that does this.

Getting a student visa for the US is fine.

However, with Canadian citizenship, that just makes Queens and even better choice. One issue is that it is a long way from New Zealand, but from what I understand that could be said for anywhere in the world, even Australia.

Yes @DadTwoGirls We are used to being a long way from everywhere. It feeds our sense of adventure and desire to travel and live abroad.

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If you want engineering and USA, have you considered a gap year?

If your daughter doesn’t want to go back to New Zealand after university - my husband and I will happily come in her place :slight_smile: