Top of the Class

#3 College Tips - Comparing Your University Options: US vs UK vs Canada with Bryn Laxton-Coglon

February 17, 2021 Crimson Education Season 2 Episode 3
Top of the Class
#3 College Tips - Comparing Your University Options: US vs UK vs Canada with Bryn Laxton-Coglon
Top of the Class
#3 College Tips - Comparing Your University Options: US vs UK vs Canada with Bryn Laxton-Coglon
Feb 17, 2021 Season 2 Episode 3
Crimson Education

When it comes to studying overseas, the first step is figuring out where you want to apply to!

Crimson Education strategist and LSE Law graduate, Bryn Laxton-Coglon, shares his insights based on his experiences mentoring students and from his own decision to go from Canada to studying in London.

We chat about the major differences between the three study destinations, what type of student each country is looking for and what you should be considering beyond the prestige or rank of a university.

Show Notes Transcript

When it comes to studying overseas, the first step is figuring out where you want to apply to!

Crimson Education strategist and LSE Law graduate, Bryn Laxton-Coglon, shares his insights based on his experiences mentoring students and from his own decision to go from Canada to studying in London.

We chat about the major differences between the three study destinations, what type of student each country is looking for and what you should be considering beyond the prestige or rank of a university.

Podcast Host  00:00

Check it out. Welcome to top of the class, hear from education experts and get insights from high achievers to learn how you can do the same get into those top schools ready. Proudly presented by Crimson Education, the world's leader in university admissions support. Hello, and welcome to college chats a series from the top of the class podcast. Today I chat with Crimson Education strategist and LSE law graduate, Bryn Laxton-Coglon. Originally from Canada and now living in Brazil. Bryn draws from his own international experience in helping you choose between studying in the US, UK or Canada. Let's chat with Bryn Laxton-Coglon. Hi, Bryn, welcome to College Chats. It's awesome to have you on the show. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself maybe about your background, where you studied and what you're doing now?

Bryn  00:49

Yeah, for sure. Thank you so much for having me, Alex. So to all the listeners out there, Hello, thank you so much for joining us. My name is Bryn. I'm originally from Vancouver, Canada, I was born and raised in a sleepy little suburb called West van to the west of Vancouver. And I actually I went to a French immersion school. So my school is actually primarily in French. And so sort of from a young age I because I kind of had that bilingual international kind of education, I always wanted to learn about new cultures and study abroad. So that seed was planted within me pretty young, especially with the French thing. I always had my eyes on Europe, and went to France on holiday as speaking French. So I knew that was where I was headed. And then sort of while in school, I developed a particular interest for the social sciences. So a combination of all of those things led me to study law at at the London School of Economics. And really enjoyed that experience that was amazing, surrounded by super intelligent people, and one of the world's most exciting cities, but decided that maybe law wasn't quite what I thought it was. So I ended up working in business management consultancy for a while, but kind of decided I want to have an impact and love to working with young people. So switch to education. And now I'm a strategist here with Crimson. And I help mentor students primarily applied to UK universities, but also sort of Canadian schools, US schools, even some, some Asian countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, etc.

Podcast Host  02:23

Wow. So you got like a kind of a wide breadth of experience going from Canada to London. And now being a crimson strategist, where you're helping students to apply to anywhere around the world, or mainly the UK, I guess. But you kind of get this really broad scope of it a little bit of everything. And, you know, with the French language as well, I'm sure that held you in good stead when you're kind of applying for the International bass roles occasionally. Is that right?

Bryn  02:46

Yeah, exactly. And just to top it off to throw like another spanner in the mix. I currently live in Brazil. So as if as if I wasn't getting around enough, I live in Brazil, Crimson has an office here. And we have loads of students based on Brazil. So just a little bit more international flavor.

Podcast Host  03:00

Do you speak Portuguese?

Bryn  03:02

I speak Portuguese very poorly, but you know, slowly making progress.

Podcast Host  03:07

And what are you interested in sharing with students around the world today?

Bryn  03:10

So I was thinking today that we could spend a little bit of time outlining the sort of main differences between various countries, mostly focusing on US and UK, like, how does that application process work? You know, what is kind of studying in those different countries? Like, what is a great candidate in the admissions officers eyes of those various countries look like? So talking a little bit about the differences between US, UK? And I'll also throw in Canada into the mix, too, because I am a Canadian. 

Podcast Host  03:43

Right? That's fantastic. Well, I know, it's obviously a big challenge that students have they want to study at some of the world's top universities. And in that conversation, you almost always have some of the top universities in the US some of the top universities in the UK, and to a somewhat lesser extent, but always needs to be mentioned some Canadian universities as well. So what are some of the main factors that you think should go into the decision making process for students? when they're first off deciding? Can I apply to the or should I apply to the US or UK understanding that I know, you know, from my time at Crimson as well, we've had students who've applied to both as well, you know, who've gone into some places like Cambridge and Harvard, we had a student last year got into them another student, who ended up in Harvard and Oxford as well. So it's something that you can apply to both, but it is a lot of work. What would be your recommendations for students if they're trying to decide between the two? Great question.

Bryn  04:33

I think starting with this idea of applying to both countries, I also have many students that are interested in applying to both and the students that tend to seek out that option are the students that are brilliant and motivated to go to a top university and don't necessarily care where that is. They want to have a rigorously challenging, stimulating intellectual experience, and they recognize they could get that in the UK or in the US. So for students whose main priority is just they want to be challenged, they want to have like a really fantastically, intellectually stimulating university experience, you know, then apply for universities across the bond. So for those students it's, you can talk about, but what I would recommend, because it is a lot of work is the students be a little bit more discerning with the choice of which countries they're going to apply to. So what I would say is that things that you should consider, firstly, it's kind of going to be like the the type of education that you're going to get, and that the US is famous for its liberal arts program. So if you're, if you're a student who maybe has a variety of interests, you know, you're a little bit interested in sciences, but you're kind of a literature geek as well. And you want the opportunity to explore both of those interests before really narrowing down on your path, the US is a great option, because of the liberal arts program, you get the flexibility to try a variety of different things. So if I have a student who's not entirely 100%, sure which direction they want to go, the US could be a great option for them to experiment a little bit more before sort of choosing the path on the same sort of theme here, Canada is really great for this as well, because they also have liberal arts programs. So if you if you don't want to pay the fees that the US has, or you're maybe put off by extensive extracurricular requirements, Canada could be a great option for you. And you still get the liberal arts experience for the UK, I would primarily recommend this to students who are really kind of academic and they know what their interests are. So as opposed to in the US, we've got this liberal arts kind of curriculum, you can do a variety of different courses. In the UK for most programs, you choose your course before you even apply. And you study that for three years. Yeah, occasionally, four, but usually the US or the UK is only three years. So you've got to be pretty certain that like, this is what you want to study, and you want to study only this thing. So if that's the case, you know, the US or the UK, sort of a fast track for you to really dive deep into your degree, become a specialist. That's what I did. You know, I wanted to study law, I didn't want to do it wait to do it as postgraduate degree in the US or Canada and the UK allied allowed me to dive right into my chosen career path. And so if you're interested in law, or medicine, or dentistry, or many of these professional programs that in the US and Canada are like postgraduate, you can do them right away in the UK, that's a huge advantage. 

Podcast Host  07:26

Yeah, I think it's a really good point that you make about going straight into something like law that you can do in the UK, which you can't do in the US. It's almost like with students, I think a lot of the time they view just the undergraduate experience. And that's as far as they're looking ahead at this stage. Do you ever kind of chat to students about thinking further ahead, whether they want to do post grad what that might look like? And if they were to study in the US, the post grad pathway might look like this? If they were to start in the UK? It might look like this? Or is that just way too far ahead to plan?

Bryn  07:57

No, I think that's a super important question that students have to ask themselves, especially if they're interested in pursuing like a professional program. And they're deciding between the US and the UK, they have to say like, what kind of undergraduate experience do I want? Do I want to sort of get this like really rich intellectual experience, where I'm doing like many different things, and then eventually want to specialize? Or do I want to do that sort of right away. So it's important for them to have that idea. And if they, you know, even if they want to pursue this, like very professionally focused thing at the sort of undergraduate level in the UK, knowing that that doesn't necessarily determine what they have to do for the rest of their lives. You know, Case in point I studied law, and you know, worked in business working krimson. So if you if you want the flexibility and sort of our want to push your career decisions for graduate level sort of decision making us is great. But even if you decide to pursue them in undergrad at the UK, it doesn't determine what you do for the rest of your life.

Podcast Host  08:56

For you personally, what went into the decision to go to LSE in particular, because you were mentioning that you were going to go to France potentially and then you ended up at LSE? Was there anything in particular that drew you to London, LSE is like right in the heart of London, was that part of the campus experience that you were looking for that went into that decision?

Bryn  09:14

I left something out, I did took a gap year, and I moved, I moved to France and I got my romantic dream you're living in Paris and practicing French, but it was always my intention to go to university in an English speaking country. And so I actually applied to LSE I applied for a deferral for a year once I got my acceptance, went to France and had my phone and came back. And I chose LSE specifically because I love the social sciences and LSE offered this really unique opportunity to be surrounded like exclusively by students with very similar sort of research interests to me, you know, politics, government, international relations, sociology, philosophy, law, all of these things that I think are super interesting and LSE also gives you the opportunity through a course called the LSE 100 to like sample of like a couple of different other social science subjects. And so that was really cool. I got to take a couple sort of like intro sociology classes and intro politics classes. But it was mostly I chose LSE, because of this unique opportunity to be surrounded by other sort of social scientists at heart.

Podcast Host  10:17

Yeah. Would you leave me to my next question? How much of this decision between the US and UK should be based on that kind of broad conceptual I want to study in this country versus this country? Or should it be more based on the university specifics like, you know, you got the opportunity at LSE to study around people who have the same interest. And obviously, that's a drawcard that not many other universities in the US could compete with at that same level that LSE could, I feel like a lot of students locked themselves in to like a mindset, or I'm going to study in the US, or I'm going to study in the UK. And then they start learning about these amazing programs at particular universities that might not be in the country that they originally intended to go to. But they've already mentally locked themselves into this pathway. And it can be difficult to change it, even if the carrot on the other side of the opportunity on the other side is really good. And they should probably take it. So what do you see is the balance there between like that country focus versus University specific offerings?

Bryn  11:16

I think that's the, you know, the golden question that's there, I there's not really 100% perfect answer to this. And I think the best thing that you can do to sort of hedge your bets is just research a lot at the beginning. And you know, and this is really helpful. And this is I think, where Crimson comes in is that I do a lot of work with my students, helping them decide, you know, where what the best fit is for them, whether that's in the US or the UK, or whether that's a particular program at a specific school. So definitely doing as much research as you can. I think the first step is to like sort of what we said, you know, is, are you more interested in this sort of, like broad based liberal arts try a bunch of different things? Or do you really want to specialize, but even within that, like the UK offers a lot of really, really cool interdisciplinary courses that allow you to try like a couple different courses, the the most, maybe famous, being the politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford, their flagship course, you know, other ones are like human social political sciences at Cambridge, which is kind of a mix of like anthropology, international relations, etc, even Natural Sciences at Cambridge would allow you to do sort of, like all of the hard sciences, so biology, chemistry, physics, so you know, don't right off the UK, just because, oh, you maybe are interested in a more interdisciplinary course, there. Is that still within the UK? So yeah, you can't just say okay, no, I wanted to do ask because I can do liberal arts, you still have to take that next step, and do research into the specific institutions and programs because you might just find sort of the the perfect thing for you. But generally, it's a good sort of directional place to start of like, you know, what kind of education? Are you looking for interdisciplinary, or sort of more academically directional focused?

Podcast Host  13:04

Yeah, well, it's a tricky one. And I know that, you know, your research depths probably go far beyond what a lot of other students and we could probably do another whole podcast on the topic of university research, which is something that I might hit you up for eventually. But let's chat about candidacy. Because I know a lot of students are saying, Okay, I'm, you know, a solid high school student I'm doing, you know, getting great grades, getting good extracurriculars under my belt, that kind of thing, where should they start positioning themselves for a particular country in terms of their profile and their application? And how do they know which one they're more likely to get into? Is there any way that you kind of hope students determine based on their profile where there might be a better fit for?

Bryn  13:42

Excellent question? And actually, in reality, I should have answered your previous question by saying your extracurricular profile, which is a great sort of indication of which country you would be better fit. Yeah, because sort of exactly as you say, the University sort of requirements in the US and UK are different, they're looking for different types of people. The UK is looking for a scholar who has a very clearly defined area of academic interest, and has a lot of sort of research and, you know, experience within that narrowly defined sort of academic subject that they can showcase that university to prove like, you know, I am interested in biology, I have won national competitions in biology and research in biology on top of my biology class, and thus, you should let me into your biology but very focused, very focused, yeah. Whereas if you have a very focused, scholarly academic profile, probably the UK is a better direction for you to start looking into. Whereas the US they're looking for, you know, leaders, they're looking for people with, you know, a variety of different extracurriculars across, maybe some sports, some arts and community service, where they have shown like, you know, over time, a commitment to these things, as well as like Really big depth and impact. So if you are someone with like a variety of interests, and you know, you're kind of a go getter, and maybe you're on Student Council, and you founded some activities, and and you've got these, like, you know, yeah, founder level kind of things to showcase. Yeah. Last will love that. Whereas Unfortunately, the UK will be like, okay, that's fantastic. You've started this club, we don't really care that much, because you're applying to engineering and we want to know, like, have you done any research on engineering? Talk to us about Yeah, not your charity club. So and, but it's important to know that like, students don't often just have this naturally, you know, people don't have a track record of, you know, experience related to engineering right away. This is stuff that you have to intentionally cultivate. If you don't even feel like you're heading in either direction just yet. That's okay. You know, that's the work that you have to do. And that's where Crimson comes in, and helps a lot too, because we do a lot of that work with our students and help students who plan and create that, 

Podcast Host  15:59

Yeah, I love that, that it's an intention that you have to have, when you're trying to gear up towards this application process. I think some students feel as though it's kind of like gaming the system a little bit that they are working towards founding these organizations with a box ticking a little bit, they're like, Oh, well, I guess I got to do some volunteering, or, you know, do some volunteering, because that's what my application needs, etc. But really, as he said, like, it's that long term commitment. And beyond the six month stint in, in volunteering, you might be doing it over a two or three year period, on a, you know, probably less hours a week or less hours a month, even, but just as a longer kind of term impact project. So people can see that dedication. Right?

Bryn  16:37

Exactly. And I, you know, I want to almost push back against all the people who are saying this is box ticking, and that I think that's a really cynical way to approach this process. In the first for example, extracurricular development for UK universities, some people might see it as, okay, you know, unbox taking and learning about the subject, but I really choose to see it as like, you know, listen, this is something you're going to be studying for three years at university, and you're probably going to be dedicating your career to afterwards, like, you got to make sure you really love this. So let's find something that you love, and that you're really passionate about. And let me help you explore this. And it should be a really interesting process. You know, for my students that are applying to UK universities, I'm helping them, you know, research essay competitions on topics they think are really cool, and they actually want to write about, and I'm helping them create reading lists for books, and like scholars and academics who, you know, they are excited to read about, and you know, a lot of their friends might think like, Oh, you know, you're kind of you being a nerd, and you're lame, and you're sort of reading on the stuff. And so you might be dissuaded from like picking up a book on something you think is interesting. And that's, that's what I think is cool, though Crimson is I'm here to say like, actually, no, like, you have an interest. And let's explore that. And, and that's a really cool opportunity. So for the UK, we focus a lot on, like, really digging into the passion behind the subject and allowing that to come out and explore that. And for the US, it's slightly different. Again, it's not a passion related to subject, it's a passion related to impact and problem solving. So again, you could be cynical and say, Okay, I'm gonna found a charity to, you know, tick a box. Or you could say, like, Listen, you've got, however many years four or five years in high school to where you got free time, you know, you don't have a job or anything yet, you can have an impact here, like you could really see problems in your community that align with your interests, and find ways to use your special talents and your unique abilities to to solve those problems and create impact. And, and so it could be box ticking, or it could be like, Listen, you're a smart, talented person, and you've got potential and let's how do we put that to work, and really help you accomplish great things. And all we're trying to do is channel that into an application. So the application secondary, initially, it's about, you know, how can we figure out ways to unlock your potential.

Podcast Host  19:03

It's like building experience for a job, right? It's a similar kind of thing. You know, if you see your dream job, it has these kind of requirements along the way. And it's the same kind of thing as the application process that wanting to know that, when you apply, you're going to have these kind of a set of experiences instead of schools that will make your experience at the college or at the university. And even better one, where does Canada fit in all this?

Bryn  19:25

So the reason I've sort of been quiet on Canada thus far is not because they don't have great universities or that's a great place to study. All of those things are true, but because just the the application process to Canadian universities is less competitive, less intensive in terms of the demands of your extracurricular preparation, etc. So Canada is it's a like a liberal arts style program, like I said, like the US, but you don't have to do any of the standardized testing and the extracurricular requirements are pretty relaxed. So it varies a lot depending on the school. That you're applying to, you know, unlike the US and UK, which have kind of common application style programs, Canada, the you know, the application varies a lot depending on what school you're applying to, and what province it's in. So like, I'll take, for example, the three most popular schools, so UBC University of Toronto, and McGill, all have entirely different applications. So you have to submit three applications for each. Starting with UBC, it's like the most holistic one, they've recently implemented this kind of application where you actually have to write many essays about your extracurricular activities, and they ask you some sort of like insight, prep questions, we've got to like, reveal a little bit about yourself, it's much less intensive than the US, you don't have to submit like an activities list with 10. programs, I think it's only five. And and just generally, it's much more about trying to understand you and less about tell us how you change the world. Yeah, the expectations are a little bit less. So maybe a bit of a better choice for people who aren't feeling so crazy competitive, like they want to go to the top us schools. In terms of the other Canadian schools, University of Toronto and McGill, very little extracurricular requirements, the guild actually has none, you just submit your grades. If your your grades are high enough, you can get in sort of University of Toronto, they will have for the most part, you don't have any extra curricular requirements. But some programs might have some essays and things like if they're sort of more competitive, but for the most part for u of t, and Miguel, very little extra curricular stuff, mostly great focused?

Podcast Host  21:36

Well, when we are talking about grades, I'll just throw this curveball at you because it's been an issue that we've had to combat here in Australia, in that the national curriculum that Australian students generally set the a TA or VCA, HSE, etc, etc, depending on which state you're in. A lot of students don't know that they can use that to apply overseas, they say, well, it's a national curriculum, I can only use it to apply to Australian universities. And it kind of blows their mind a little bit when I'm like, Oh, actually, you can apply overseas like, it's just as accepted elsewhere, as it is here in Australia. So is there any benefit, though, to any particular curriculum, if you're applying to the US, UK or Canada? Or is it all fairly equal?

Bryn  22:15

That is a curveball question. And I think you'd have to be like a proper admissions officer at your particular school to answer it with absolute certainty. Yeah, but I think my short list short answer is no, you can apply to anywhere in the world with any curriculum, and you should not feel like you're being held back. Because you feel like you don't have the right curriculum. I applied to the UK with a Canadian national curriculum, I help students from all over the world, and a variety of different curriculums apply to other countries. And it's, it's not a problem, it's more complicated than to translate your entry requirement, you know, whether your grades meet this kind of foreign systems entry requirements, and it's definitely more complicated. But it's, it's not like necessarily a disadvantage. You know, if you come from some countries with very remote and obscure education systems, you know, you might have a hard time getting those recognized. And some top universities I know, like, for example, Oxford and Cambridge, they actually don't accept applicants from some countries, because they don't actually deem that those, the education that you've received in those countries is equivalent to the UK. So a problem I have with some students is that the South African National Curriculum can't actually apply to Oxford, Cambridge, with the South African National Curriculum, you have to take like a levels or something. So that would be the only big obstacle is just confirming that the university is going to accept your curriculum, but for the most part, I think it's just Oxford and Cambridge that don't accept it, because they're a bit snooty.

Podcast Host  23:39

And quite particular. Yes,

Bryn  23:41

they're very particular. But for the most, I mean, always check with your universities. But really, aside from Oxford, and Cambridge, I haven't heard any other students having a problem. I just want to say IB and a level are by far the most common and accepted, you'll have the least problems applying with those, but you shouldn't feel held back.

Podcast Host  23:57

Well, Brian, is there any final words of advice for students, if they're looking at the US, UK, Canada, they're interested in international study, but not quite sure where that might take them? What could their first step be to investigating this a little bit further and kind of helping them make a decision?

Bryn  24:12

I think if you're at this point, and you're trying to decide which direction Am I going to go what's right for me, we talked a lot about, you know, the academic sort of programs and requirements and liberal arts versus focused, but I think also like taking a step back and really reflecting on like, what kind of university experience do you want? You know, do you want to be at a really sort of small close knit liberal arts school somewhere in California? Do you want to be in like the beautiful gilded halls of Oxford and Cambridge, you know, studying a subject you're really passionate about, like thinking kind of more holistically, just about the wider experience that you're going to get at university beyond the classroom. So not forgetting to think about things that aren't necessarily academic krimson has a super handy spread We've got 13 factors that you should look at when you're considering universities, you know, climate size, cost programs, all these different things. So we talked a lot about the academics, which I think are a super important thing. Yeah, making sure that you're considering every experience every part that's going through lived experience. 

Podcast Host  25:19

100% agree, I think it's fascinating. You know, in my time at crimson, I've come across students who are at universities now or have gone into universities in the past, and it's a university that they originally had never considered. And they get in and they love it, because it does meet a lot of those factors. It is the climate they're looking for it is the size they're looking for. It's rural or urban, or it's like has particular programs has particular professors has a different cultural vibe. So I you know, university research is such a tricky thing. And that's why I'm saying we could probably do a whole nother podcast on it, because even when I like took a group of students to the US on a college tour, we went to a lot of universities on the East Coast, a lot of universities on the west coast. And going in a lot of the kids said, Oh, Harvard. Yeah, I really want to go to Harvard like I'm so what visiting that kind of thing. And we visited all the universities. And at the end of the tour, their answers were completely different. Maybe one girl said, Yeah, you know, I'd still like to go to heart, but really, other girls were like, Oh, no, I felt like a real connection to brown or I felt a real connection to Yale, or I really love the experience at Columbia or UCLA or whatever it might have been like, we went to a lot of universities. And I think that's the the fascinating thing that you know that the vibe or the atmosphere can really be so hard to research because it's like this kind of intangible aspect of the university that you can only really get from talking to students or visiting campus yourself.

Bryn  26:42

Actually, one thing, one positive thing to come out of this Coronavirus is that a lot of universities, especially in the UK are offering like virtual open days and tours and stuff, that might actually be a good way for you to ensure students to check out universities and take advantage of this pandemic. Because usually this these opportunities are not available to you from your home. But definitely, you know, think about the the cultural fit as well. You know, Europe is so different from the US, even the UK, the North versus the South. And I mean, I won't even get started about like all the differences between the US states, so, so making sure you're thinking about all of those things as well.

Podcast Host  27:17

Absolutely, absolutely. Well, Brian, it's been awesome having you on for students who are interested in working with an amazing strategist like Brynn going to leave a link in the show notes there for a free one hour consultation with a lovely local academic advisor to kind of help you figure out your first steps. And if you want to be a crimson student and potentially get the chance to work with our French speaking Brazil, living Canada born, LSE graduate law student even kind of look like Ryan Gosling. I mean, I know it's a podcast, but I'm sure you've been told that before at some point, right.

Bryn  27:48

I have been told that before. Yeah.

Podcast Host  27:53

Take it as a compliment. You know, he Ryan Gosling's got some good props. So now if you want to have a chance to work with someone, like Bryn, for sure, fill out that form in the show notes. And we'll have someone reach out to you for that one hour consultation if you request that. So Brent, thank you so much for joining the college chats podcast, and look forward to sharing the episode far and wide.

Bryn  28:13

Awesome. Thank you so much.

Podcast Host  28:15

Thanks for listening to top of the class. subscribe for future episodes for show notes and to plan your best future head to Crimson