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Looking for economical school choices? Look to the north


  (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)

There’s more to America’s northern neighbor than hockey, skiing, and maple syrup. American students are finding value and substance in Canada's higher-education system, where costs are lower than many private schools in the United States. Over the last decade, the number of American students at Canadian universities has more than doubled, says the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, to 8,200 in 2007-08, up from 3,312 a decade ago.

More than 18 percent of McGill University's 34,200 graduate and undergraduate students are international, one of the largest populations of any school in North America. About 7 percent, or 2,248, of those students are from the U.S.

The higher-education system in Canada is largely publicly funded. Currently, there are 94 public universities in Canada. The U.S. higher-education system is much larger, with 2,500 four-year, nonprofit universities.

The Canadian Embassy in Washington expects there will be as many as 10,000 students this year trekking to Canada for their education, making the United States the second-largest exporter of students to Canada behind China. About a decade ago, only 10 Canadian colleges enrolled 50 or more U.S. students and only three institutions had 100 or more. Now, 31 schools have 50 or more and 14 of them have 100 or more.

One of the biggest challenges Canadian universities face is lack of knowledge about them, said David Hawkins of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. An added benefit for many is that the admission process for Canadian schools is simpler. Most base admission on high school grades; some also require SAT/ACT scores of U.S. students. There is no essay or interview involved.

Cost considerations play a key role

Even though international students pay more than Canadians, cost can be the attraction. The University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto are among the most expensive in Canada, with tuition and room-and-board costs topping $30,000, but are still cheaper than a private school such as USC or Stanford, where annual costs are pushing $50,000. Other, lesser-known Canadian schools are well under $20,000.

Canadian colleges also offer need-based and merit aid, although not as much as universities in the United States. And U.S. families can use college-savings plans and get federal student loans.

The University of British Columbia in Vancouver designates $3 million in aid for international students. "We're interested in broadening our connections across the United States," said Aaron Andersen, a recruitment manager. The university enrolls about 800 undergraduate students from the United States and 400 graduate students, up 42 percent from 2004.

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Janelle Jalbert is the founder of Edusistance and the creator of the Race to College Success program. She has been an educator and advisor for more than a decade. You can reach Janelle by email, follow her on Twitter @RacetoCollege or @edusistance, and add yourself as a fan of the Race to College Success Facebook page.