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American students are applying to Canadian universities in droves in Trump era

Rebekah Robinson knew she liked cold temperatures and big cities, so the Baltimore teenager already had her eye on the University of Toronto after a visit to the campus with her family over the summer. But the surprise election of Donald Trump in November confirmed for her what an application acceptance would later make possible.

“It was like, that’s it, I’m going,” she said in a phone interview.

And she’s not alone: Robinson is one of many American students who university officials say have applied to Canadian schools in greater numbers this year.


The most dramatic increase has been at the University of Toronto, which saw its number of applicants from the US go up by 70 percent. Other schools have seen bumps of around 20 percent.

“I’d rather go to Canada, somewhere my parents also feel is safer for me.”

U of T’s vice-president international Ted Sargent said applications started to come in around election day, so it’s hard to say whether there was a spike after Nov. 8. Although he couldn’t provide exact numbers yet, he said they will be in the thousands.

“There could be a Nov. 8 effect, but there’s at least two other things going on,” he said.

“We’ve been investing in trying to attract the best students for the last couple of years, and I think our investments are paying off,” he said. According to the latest World University rankings, U of T was in the top five of North America’s public institutions with Berkeley, UCLA, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, and University of Washington.

The other factor, Sargent said, is that Toronto is “growing in its profile as a city that people want to live in,” as is Canada, in its inclusiveness and diversity.

McGill University, which also consistently finds itself near the top of global university rankings, saw 22 percent more applicants from the US this year.

“It is possible that the change in the American political landscape may be contributing to the increase in applicant numbers from the USA, but I cannot confirm this is a trend because we have not surveyed the applicants to ask them directly,” said spokesperson Kathleen Massey, adding that the university also saw a small increase last year, which indicates there’s more at play.

Other factors, Massey suggested, could include McGill’s international reputation, diverse student population, the appeal of Montreal as a cosmopolitan city, as well as the low Canadian dollar.

Lara Godoff, who had applied to the University of British Columbia, said after the shock of the election results wore off, she decided to apply to three more Canadian schools just to be safe — Simon Fraser University, University of Victoria, and the University of Toronto.

“Trump is so new to this political game, and I don’t know what he’s capable of doing,” she said. “I’d rather go to Canada, somewhere my parents also feel is safer for me.”

“I see what he says about women, and I don’t think having a leader like that is something good for the country,” said Godoff. “Justin Trudeau is a great leader, in my opinion, and I think going somewhere where people have the same beliefs as me would be a good thing.”