College Visit: McGill University

July 13, 2009 at 6:51 pm Leave a comment

Montreal Convention CtrIf you can’t qualify for either financial aid or merit aid, there is still a way to get a world-renowned brand-name education at half the price of a private U.S. college.  And, for extra measure, it offers immersion in another language in daily living, but English-language classes.

McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, is generally viewed as the best university in Canada and The Times ranks it as one of the top 12 colleges in the world.  A popular T-shirt reads “Harvard: the McGill University of the USA”.

Because Canadians believe that every student is entitled to post-secondary education and because it is a public university, tuition, room & board is more reasonable than the top schools in the U.S., running from $23,000 to $32,000 for “international” (including American) freshmen living off campus, and less for upperclassmen.  That’s in Canadian dollars, and right now the US dollar buys about $1.15 Canadian, so that’s like getting a 13% discount off the stated tuition.

Admission is based more on grades and test scores and less on extra-curriculars than in the U.S., or perhaps it would be appropriate to say it is more like applying to a public university in the U.S.

For a student interested in foreign languages (particularly French), or international studies or comparative government, McGill offers a different perspective without living on another continent.  About 18% of the students are francophone.  We heard conversations on campus alternate from English to French.

For a student interested in a pre-med track, McGill has relationships with 7 hospitals.  In fact, a neurological institute and birthing center are practically sandwiched between the dorms and the academic buildings.

Montreal is a beautiful, exciting, bike-and-pedestrian friendly city.  The university is tucked between downtown and a large park at Mont Royal, so it has the advantages of both convenience and green space.

Still, with all that going for it, we walked away with the impression that the education and experience would be inferior to what a student can expect at a top U.S. college:

  • Class sizes even for upperclassmen run about 30 students.
  • The university only has housing for 2200 of 24,000 undergraduates, so only some of the freshmen can live “on-campus”.  One of those dorms is 4 metro stops away.  Another is about 5 blocks from campus.  Since the university estimates that living off campus saves $5000/year, there is a big incentive to move off-campus.
  • When the preponderance of students don’t live on campus, they are less involved in extracurriculars on campus.  McGill has 150 clubs….a lower number than some U.S. liberal arts colleges with 1/10th as many students.
  • The cheapest dorms are old cinderblock buildings with tiny single rooms, which we found less appealing than dorms at Texas State University or NW Oklahoma State.
  • Two students described McGill students as “independent, or at least they become independent after coming here”.  That may be a function of a university with large classes, little housing and few clubs…you have to find and create your own opportunities.

Maybe a better way of looking at it is that McGill offers some interesting twists on a typical U.S. public university education.


Entry filed under: Canada, College Visit Report, foreign languages, international, McGill University, medicine, Paying for College, political science.

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