The Harvard of Hong Kong, and 8 Other Great International Schools

Didn’t get into the college of your dreams? Don’t want to bankrupt your parents? Here’s where to go.

It’s the nightmare of every high school senior: You applied to Harvard, MIT, and the University of Chicago, and now your only plans for the fall are extra shifts at the local Starbucks. But as FP‘s Charles Kenny writes, before you send Mom and Dad to the poor house for the $40,000 per year tuition at a middle-tier U.S. school, broaden your horizons to some of the world’s best bastions of higher learning — available for a fraction of the price. Why languish in Comp. Lit. 101 at a university that doesn’t thrill you when you could be roaming the halls of the Harvard of Hong Kong? Here are some of the best schools abroad, tailored to whatever clique you belonged to in high school.

The All-Around All-Stars

University of Hong Kong: As the territory’s oldest university, HKU has more than 20,500 students from 80 different countries, and over 45 percent of the staff comes from leading universities overseas. Ranked above renowned American universities like George Washington and Notre Dame at a fraction of the price, HKU’s students tend to end up in the upper echelons of their chosen field. Almost 80 percent of its undergrads and 85 percent of its post-graduates are employed within a year of graduating — figures that should make many U.S. university deans green with envy.


The Next Alan Greenspans

University of Melbourne: The University of Melbourne is consistently listed at the top of world rankings. Its staff includes a prestigious roster of international scholars, and its location and international focus gives its graduates access to emerging Asian markets and industries. Recently, the university’s research programs have partnered with IBM to create a new development lab that will allow it to develop better responses to natural disasters.


The Free-Thinkers

University of Cape Town: Let’s say you want a school that nurtures creativity, allows you to design your own majors, and gives you the freedom to pursue your own interests — but don’t have the GPA to get into some of New England’s more free-wheeling liberal arts colleges. South Africa’s University of Cape Town, where “each person contributes their unique blend of knowledge and thinking,” may be the place for you.

With students from more than 100 countries, Cape Town keeps an emphasis on social engagement and democratic citizenship. UCT has a leading African Climate and Development Initiative that focuses on building research capacity in Africa, as well as numerous student-led activist groups. It also apparently boasts quality local wine and views of the picturesque Table Mountain.


The Tech Geeks

Zurich Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich): Sure, 76 Nobel Prize laureates have been affiliated with MIT, but ETH Zurich has a pretty good trump card: This is where Albert Einstein started his career. Consistently ranked the top university in continental Europe, ETH Zurich focuses on research and development in engineering and natural sciences. The degrees ETH offers range from architecture to neural science to nanosystems — recent projects include the invention of an infrared cocaine detector and the exploration of oceanic anoxic dead zones.

And there’s no doubt that its graduates are well-trained: Amid the economic turmoil of the past five years, ETH grads have founded 110 successful spin off companies. Given the situation in Europe these days, that’s no small feat.


The Tree-Huggers

University of Tokyo: Can you list the names of islands already in danger from global warming? The University of Tokyo’s Asian Program for the Incubation of Environmental Leaders can help you learn to save the planet. The program, which emphasizes holistic understandings of environmental issues, includes hands-on field research time. Recent workshops have included the discussion of appropriate environmental education, innovative water recycling uses, and transboundary resources sharing.

Ross Land/Getty Images

The Party People

University of Barcelona: There may not be any jobs in Spain, where the youth unemployment rate is over 50 percent, but the night life is still alive and well. Located in Spain’s second-largest city, the University of Barcelona belongs to a culture that appreciates 11:00 pm dinners and afternoon siestas. Students live near some of the best luxury shopping in the world in the country that invented tapas. Barcelona is also one of the oldest universities on the planet, and the library holds about 2 million volumes, in case you want to do some reading in your spare time.


The Cowboy Scholars

Co-op at University of British Columbia: For some students, the classroom itself is just too restricting. Co-operative education represents a formalized program that combines academics with relevant work experience. The Vancouver-based school has an extensive network for the students to draw on, as these British Columbia students alternate study and work terms in the field of their choice. UBC specializes in forestry, kinesiology, and engineering, but every student’s experience is different — the common denominator is that all co-op students have the opportunity to graduate with demonstrated hard skills. Sheena Bell, for example, spent four work terms with a wide range of organizations, but landed a job upon graduation as a researcher at the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.


The Artistes

Cardiff School of Art and Design: Maybe you’ve already earned a reputation for berets and other artistic frippery, but the Rhode Island School of Design’s yearly tuition of more than $57,000 would break the bank. You can head to Cardiff, one of Europe’s best art schools, for only about $15,000 per year. Whether you’re interested in furniture design, welding, or textiles, you can find it here. Cardiff’s degree programs, the school boasts, “will take you to amazing places.” Few other schools include among their official opportunities the chance to “maybe even fall in love – who knows.”

The Jocks

University of Sao Paulo: Located in a city of more than 20 million people, USP is almost a city itself — it boasts four hospitals and four museums, and welcomes half a million visitors a year. Its 86,000 students are best known for their skilled research — comprising 45 percent of all research published in Brazil — and true to their South American roots, a passion for fútbol and a successful soccer team. USP is located in a city that has even invented its own form of the beautiful game, known as Futebol de Salao, a faster-paced contest played with a smaller ball, to build technical skills.


 Twitter: @loisparshley

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