- Growing up in multiple states and countries showed Nicole Thompson the benefits of travel.
- She chose St. Andrew’s University in Scotland because she would finish with a master’s degree in four years.
- Thompson spent about $95,000 on her education, which is less than what her sisters spent in the US.
This essay is based on an interview with Nicole Thompson, a 24-year-old who lives in San Francisco. She attended the University of St Andrews, in Scotland, from 2017 to 2021. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I was born in Australia, moved to Utah at the age of two, and then to Missouri. Then I spent a few months living in Thailand before returning to St. Louis for middle school. Some of those early moves were difficult. But when I had done it, I realized how much I liked change and new experiences.
It also showed me that staying in the States was not the best ending. I had a whole world out there that I could live in.
When it was time for my next adventure – college – I always envisioned myself going to the UK.
I considered schools all over the US and Europe
When deciding where to attend college, I considered two factors: The opportunity to play water polo and the opportunity to study psychology.
I seriously considered a few schools across the US. At each one, I was talking to recruiters and coaches about joining their water polo teams. I was more interested in Brown. I liked the idea of it being a classical university — and it was Ivy — so I knew it would provide a great education. In addition, I built the strongest relationship with coach Brown.
But as a player in the Junior Olympics, I was also introduced to international teams. Ultimately I narrowed it down to two colleges in the UK: King’s College in London and St Andrews in Scotland.
It’s funny because my mom has always been obsessed with the royal family. So, when she realized that I might go to St. Andrew’s, the same water polo team that Prince Will played for, she was very excited.
But my parents always made sure they wouldn’t put pressure on my sisters and me. So they wouldn’t even give their recommendation because they wanted it to be my choice. After months of discussion, I chose St Andrews.
It was not so different from life in America
I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what living in the UK would be like after visiting a few times.
In addition, nearly 40% of St Andrews’ student population is international, with many American students. I thought that would be an easier way to move to another country with more people of the same background.
There were some differences living over there, like the drinking culture. While my American friends suffered from the traditional college party culture, this was not the case in the UK.
We didn’t have frat parties or tailgates like many schools in the US. Instead, it was more casual. It’s always, “I’m going to study and have a pint,” or, “There’s a soccer game on, let’s have a pint,” or “It’s Tuesday, let’s have a pint!”
Although he was not as wild, he was much more frequent – throughout the days and into the evening – which made him drink much more than I expected.
The education system was an advantage during my job search
American schools are usually very strict and include many prerequisites and gen-ed classes.
But in Scotland, I only had three hours of classes related to my major each week.
I thought the independence was going to be really great. But it was hard to hold myself accountable.
Having said that, the education system was also one of the reasons I chose St Andrews. I didn’t want to waste time and money paying for gen-ed classes I didn’t care about. I just wanted to take classes for my major.
St. Andrews also offers Bachelor of Science degrees, but a Master of Arts. So even though it only took me four years, I left with a Master of Arts in management and psychology. That looked very good to companies applying for jobs in the US.
In the end, I spent about $95,000 on my education. That’s less than what my brothers and sisters in the US spent on their undergraduate degrees, and I also have a master’s.
I am now back in the United States and working in human resources. But my goal is to move back to Europe within the next five to 10 years.
Living outside the US has some great advantages. For example, while the cost of living in San Francisco and London is comparable, California taxes are very high and don’t even include things like health care, which is offered in the UK. In addition, work-life balance is extremely important over there as well.
I am willing to move wherever life takes me. And if I go and it doesn’t work, a new adventure is just a flight away. That’s how I like to watch it.