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U.S. applications to Canadian universities surge following Donald Trump win

Students cross the front campus at the University of Toronto's downtown campus on Nov 2 2015. Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

For some college-bound students distressed by the election of Donald Trump, Canada is calling.

Colleges from Quebec to British Columbia say applications and website traffic from the United States have been surging since Trump’s victory Nov. 8. Although many Canadian schools had also ramped up recruiting in the U.S. recently, some say dismay over the presidential election has fueled a spike in interest beyond their expectations.

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Lara Godoff, a 17-year-old from Napa, California, said she scrapped any notion of staying in the U.S. the day after the election. Among other concerns, Godoff, a Democrat, said she fears Trump’s administration will ease enforcement of federal rules against sexual assault, making campuses less safe for women.

Godoff had applied to one college in Canada but added three more as safety schools after the election.

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“If we live in a country where so many people could elect Donald Trump, then that’s not a country I want to live in,” she said.

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Applications to the University of Toronto from American students have jumped 70 percent compared with this time last year, while several other Canadian schools have seen increases of 20 percent or more. U.S. applications to McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, are up 34 percent.

“We can’t ignore the election results, but I think there are other strengths that are attracting students to the university, as well,” said Jennifer Peterman, ?senior manager of global undergraduate recruitment at McGill University in Montreal. Students are also drawn by the school’s diversity and Canada’s affordable cost of living, she said.

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In the U.S., officials at some colleges say it’s clear Trump’s election is tilting enrollment patterns. Some recruiters say foreign students are avoiding the U.S. amid worries about safety and deportation, opting for Canada or Australia instead. And Canadian schools have noticed growing interest from China, India and Pakistan.

“I think everybody in international education is a little uneasy, in part because some of the rhetoric in the campaign frightened people overseas,” said Stephen Dunnett, vice provost for international education at the University at Buffalo. “It’s going to be perhaps a little bit rocky for a couple of years.”

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Although it’s too early to say how many U.S. students will enroll in Canada next fall, some colleges expect to see more Americans on campus based on the flurry of interest.

Traditionally, Canada hasn’t been a hugely popular college destination for Americans. In 2014, it drew about 9,000 students from the U.S., compared with 57,000 from China, according to the Canadian Bureau for International Education.

But as Canada’s population ages, it is increasingly looking outside its borders for students. In 2014, the government announced plans to double the country’s number of foreign students by 2022. Many of the nation’s 125 universities have responded by stepping up recruiting in the U.S., promising students an international experience close to home.

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In Washington this month, the University of Toronto hosted a panel on the election and asked local alumni to bring prospective students, hoping some might apply.

Among those at the event was 17-year-old Rebekah Robinson, of Baltimore, who had already visited the school and plans to enroll. She joked with her parents about escaping to Canada to flee Trump but said she sees that as just a bonus.

“I really liked the school,” she said. “I liked the programs they offered, and I thought it was a great fit for me, so the president and the election just kind of played a small factor in it.”

Other colleges have sent more recruiters to the U.S. and are building ties with high schools, but officials say they aren’t trying to exploit any post-election fallout.

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