Higher education in the UK and the USA

Higher education in the UK and the USA



When it comes to higher education abroad, quite often the question arises of comparing the UK and the USA. Both countries are invariably associated with the highest standards of quality of education, have the oldest educational traditions and it is in them that the largest number of the most prestigious universities in the world is located. Are there many differences in British and American university education? Yes, quite a lot and, of course, each system has its pros and cons.

We prepared this material specifically for those who would like to thoroughly understand the issue, and touched on a number of important points – from the submission process, training programs and performance assessment to cost and living on campus. We want to note that we are talking mainly about undergraduate programs, however, this material will also be useful to future masters.

University Admission Process
Study in the USA, study in the UK, higher education abroad – UK Study Center Blog  System and deadlines for submitting documents.

The process of applying for studies at universities in the UK and the USA is significantly different. In the UK, students apply to several universities simultaneously using a centralized university and college admission system – UCAS(Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). 

UCAS allows you to choose five universities and undergraduate programs in one specialty, respectively. After receiving answers from five universities (conditional admission or refusal), the choice narrows down to two options. 

The system fills in one general questionnaire with personal and academic data and sends one motivation letter, as well as a recommendation from the school. 

Deadline for submission – October (Oxford, Cambridge, as well as medical and engineering specialties) or January (all other options) of the last school year at school. 

In the summer, in June or August, the applicant receives final grades and final confirmation or refusal of the priority university.

Thus, the submission of documents in the UK takes place a little less than a year / six months before the start of studies and only students who apply to Ox-bridge or for certain specialties need to get ready to submit documents in advance. 

In the United States, the process of submitting documents to universities is much longer, complex and time-consuming.

Until recently, it was necessary to submit documents to each American university separately, which involved a huge amount of work, both for the student himself, his agency or parents, as well as for the school and counselors. 

Today, about 800 universities accept documents through the Common App (Common Application) system similar to UCAS , however, in addition to the general questionnaire, each university also provides its own list of additional questions, essays and / or recommendations. 

It is worth noting that the additional essays are small – no more than 200-300 words each. Unlike the British counterpart, the Common App allows you to apply to 20 universities.

However, there are still a large number of universities that are not part of the Common App system and prefer their own selection systems, including such popular ones as the University of California, Berkeley or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The deadline system in America is also different. The first deadline, the so-called Early Decision / Early Application, is usually November 1st.

It is intended for students who are confident in their choice and undertake to accept it, with a positive answer. There is less competition at this stage and more likely to do so. 

The early deadline is followed by Regular Decision, usually between January 1 and February 1, which includes a standard review of all students, each of which applies to many universities.

It is noteworthy that American universities, in comparison with British ones, attach greater importance to student recommendations and, depending on the university, may require from two to four recommendations.

Entrance Exams and Interviews

Another important point – almost all American universities of the middle and upper level expect students to pass the standardized entrance examinations SAT or ACT – one of two to choose from. 

Examinations assess the intellectual abilities and readiness of students for university studies with the help of mathematical problems and text analysis. Prestigious universities also oblige candidates to take additional components – writing an essay and / or passing individual academic submissions.

International students are often advised to take ACT, although at the moment, it is in fact a very high-quality analogue of SAT, with more questions and less time to solve them.

While SAT has recently been significantly improved and improved. An inconvenient format for electronic exam passing is also noted – it is more designed for traditional passing and filling out the questionnaire by hand. 

It is worth noting, however, that continuous work and improvement is underway for both SAT and ACT, and we recommend candidates to study relevant exam information before making a decision.

In terms of points, Ivy League universities, for example, expect a minimum of 1,500 SAT points out of a possible 1,600 (two sections, maximum 800 points each). 

In rare cases, they will consider a student with scores at the level of 1400, however, it will be expected that the candidate is really outstanding in other areas – music, sports or creativity, for example.

In the UK, special entrance exams are taken only by certain categories of students. As a rule, these are candidates for medical and engineering departments, as well as applicants to Oxford, Cambridge or Imperial College London. 

Candidates for creative specialties submit a portfolio of their work. After the initial selection, successful candidates are invited for an interview. 

In the USA, interviews are not a mandatory part of the admission process, with the exception of drama and music colleges. 

Sometimes a university may offer an interview with a graduate who lives in the same city as the candidate.

Percentage of enrollment in top universities
Few can be surprised by the fact that the number of applicants to universities such as Harvard and Princeton in the United States and Oxford and Cambridge in the UK is measured by tens of thousands of students per year. How many people from the applicants do they end up accepting?

In 2017, the average enrollment percentage of the total number of candidates at eight Ivy League universities was 9.15%. 

In Stanford, for example, in the same year, 47.451 people applied for undergraduate programs, of which 2.071 were accepted. The number of applicants for the first deadline of Early Decision, when fewer students apply, ranged from 18.3% to 19.2% at Harvard and Columbia Universities, as well as at Princeton, while the enrollment rate at Oxford and Cambridge was 19% and 26%

Does this mean that it’s easier to go to Oxford and Cambridge? This alignment is hardly probable, and the difference in the percentage of students enrolled can only be due to the fact that much more students are trying to enroll in American schools.

Training duration
One of the biggest differences in education in the USA and Great Britain, about which we cannot but tell, is the duration of training. 

All study programs in America last a year longer than in the UK and this is due to the fact that the programs cover a more extensive list of subjects and disciplines, while at the universities of Misty Albion they are much more focused on one specialization chosen by the student.

Curriculum structure
American universities consist of so-called schools, for example, an engineering school, a law school, and so on. The training program is very flexible, before the exact choice of the main specialization (“major”), the student studies compulsory general subjects to choose from classmates from different schools. 

Students in the United States have the opportunity to form their own program and even choose specific professors. Again, the American system does not imply narrow specialization from the very beginning of training and, with the exception of some professions, a student can enter one prospective direction and finish it with a completely different one.

This determines the reason why US universities consider candidates holistically, trying to understand what kind of person he is as a whole, and not just from an academic perspective, as we wrote above.

A similar system is used in the IB (International Baccalaureate) school curriculum, and students from some international schools are familiar with it. 

IB also has a holistic approach and is designed not only for academic success, but also for the general development of horizons and outlook on life. 

Such a program is not suitable for everyone – there are students who have clearly decided on the direction and the choice of subjects and the depth of their study at IB may not be entirely interesting to them.

British universities are also divided into departments similar to “schools” in the USA, however, movement between them is almost impossible, apart from an official transfer to another specialty. 

That is, choosing, for example, the specialty “Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence”, a student will not attend lectures on general subjects with students from the Department of Linguistics. 

The British education system, of course, is also focused on the general development of the student and various skills for life and work, but the goal is to prepare a specialist with deep specialization in a certain field. 

Transfer from one university to another in the UK is also not the easiest process, while in the US this is a fairly common standard practice.

If we draw parallels between the two systems, we can say that when enrolling students, the British university is looking for the best candidate for the chosen faculty, while the American one is looking for the best candidate for the university and its culture as a whole.

Assessment and exams

In connection with the general, American approach to teaching, programs at US universities consist of a large number of group assignments, seminars, written projects and presentations. 

Accordingly, the final assessment consists of many components, of which one is exams. The British system does not include such a variety of project activities and for the most part consists of lectures and rarer term papers or seminars. 

Evaluation of some modules at 100 percent may depend on success in one exam and / or several jobs.

Student life
Student life in both countries is very similar, and in addition to studying, it, of course, includes new acquaintances and friends, and many parties. 

And if all this does not affect academic performance, of course, this is an important part of the student experience and the opportunity to relax.

Of course, students and their parents are interested in the issue of living. In the UK, hostels (called student residences / halls) are usually run by third parties, especially in cities like London.

 As a rule, they are not far from the university and have rooms to choose from, from completely separate, with all their amenities, to those where amenities and a kitchen are shared with several other students.

In the United States, student accommodation is significantly different. Dormitories (“dormitories”) are part of the campus and living in it implies active participation in public life. 

In the United States, the practice of sharing two or three students in the same room is common. Sometimes dormitories are associated with certain student associations – obscure fraternity / sorority (“brotherhoods” and “sisterhoods”), and only associations can live in one dormitory. Student associations with centuries of tradition are also an important part of student life. During training, club members become a kind of university “family”, help new students adapt and hold meetings and events, and afterwards do charity work and support each other throughout life.

While studying at an American university without participation in the life of the university and student associations is impossible, in British universities this is not required of anyone and depends on the wishes of the student. 

In them, of course, there are also associations and clubs, but a person who wants to focus only on study and work can also feel absolutely comfortable.

Cost of education
One of the important differences between British and American universities is the cost of training. In the UK, tuition fees are controlled by the government, which sets limits on the cost of higher education.

In this regard, British universities are not autonomous and the approach to students is not so commercial, which, in our opinion, is a plus. Under a law passed in 2012, universities can charge a maximum of £ 9,000 a year from UK and EU citizens, which is roughly $ 14,300. 

For international students, the fee is 2-3 times higher, and is set by each individual university, but again, within the framework set by the state.

In the United States, the government has virtually no influence on prices set by universities. Tuition fees vary depending on whether the student enters a private or public educational institution, as well as the state in which the chosen university is located. 

The average tuition for a year of study is in the range of $ 29,000 to $ 50,000 per year. If a student claims to study at Ivy League universities, the average cost is $ 65,000 per year.

Since not everyone can afford such a cost of education, public loans are offered for local students in both countries. There are also more scholarships and grants in the United States compared to the UK.

Interestingly, despite all the independence of universities in the USA, state educational institutions are still partially controlled by the government and in institutions such as, for example, the oldest state university University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the majority of students (about 82%) are local residents of the state of North Caroline.

So where to go to study?
We asked our tutor, Dr. Nina-Maria Gardner, who helps our students with writing essays and motivation letters to American universities, tell us from our own experience about the main differences between studying in the UK and the USA. 

Dr. Gardner is a graduate of Yale University in America, she also completed her doctoral studies at Royal Holloway University of London, UK.

If we compare the undergraduate programs, then the American system, of course, is more flexible and diverse, especially when it comes to choosing subjects. 

Unlike British educational institutions, in the United States at the time of admission it is not necessary to know the exact name of the discipline that you want to study, and even if a student comes up with the idea to study a certain subject, but changes his mind in a year, he can very easily change his specialization. 

For example, having entered Yale University at the theater department, and realizing that this program does not include a large number of acting lessons, I changed my program to study English linguistics with a focus on Shakespeare’s work. 

A common complaint among British students with whom I had to work is the lack of flexibility in choosing additional modules,

Education in the UK consists mainly of lectures and is supplemented by infrequent seminars. Assessment for the entire module may depend on one final exam or another one or two works that a student performs during the year. 

The American system also consists of lectures and seminars, but there are much more components of the final assessment. In my experience of undergraduate studies in the United States and doctoral studies and teaching in the UK.

I believe that the system practiced in America motivates young people better and encourages regular attendance and participation in academic activities, as well as a more fair assessment of student success.

In terms of lifestyle, I was always impressed with the quality of student accommodation in the UK. When I studied at an American university, we lived in small rooms of 2-3, or even 4 people, which sometimes, due to differences in interests and characters, was a very difficult task. Nevertheless, in general, I believe that the experience of studying at both British and American universities is an unforgettable adventure with a huge number of opportunities for development, participation in various extracurricular activities, internships and simply gaining new life experiences. While studying at Yale University, getting to New York was very easy, so I often went there to visit the theater, museum or just go for a walk. Similarly, studying in London was an unforgettable life experience, given the rich cultural life of the city.

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