7 Differences to Know as an American Student in the UK

Classrooms Team

May 3, 2021

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As an American college student, you might be used to your ways of studying, grading, and interacting on campus. Whether you’re thinking about studying abroad, transferring schools completely, or even getting a fresh start and beginning your university education in the UK somewhere, there are a lot of things that might come as a bit of a culture shock to you when you move across the pond for your education. Every place has cultural and practical differences, and the UK is no different. And if this is the place you see yourself getting your degree, it’s best to learn what you can and roll with the changes as they come.

While there will be differences no matter where you go, there are a few specific things to keep on your radar when moving from the USA to the UK for your studies. And while it might still take some getting used to, The learning process can truly open so many doors for you. Here are a few of the differences you’ll want to know as an American student in the UK.

1. Length of Time

This one will likely only be relevant for those pursuing their whole education in the UK, not for those studying abroad for one year or one semester. Still, it’s worth noting that in the UK, most degrees only take three years, not four. While Scotland is an exception, where degrees still take four years, most degrees in the UK only require a three-year commitment.

2. Gen Eds

While colleges in the United States are all about broadening your education, the UK puts more focus on the depth of your education. While the USA usually requires a broad range of classes including general education classes, universities in the UK don’t usually require you to take classes outside of your field of study, instead, encouraging students to dive deeper into their majors and spend more time on their own field of study.

3. Tuition

Cost of education can differ depending on what kind of school you’re going to, and what kind of scholarships you’re offered. But on the whole, American universities are much more expensive than universities in the UK. College in the UK isn’t free, but it’s significantly cheaper than American college. On average, international students can expect their fees to start somewhere around $14,000 per year — which is sometimes less than a semester in America. While those with a British passport often pay even less in tuition and fees, international students can still save money when studying in the UK.

4. Class Structure

Whether you’re studying abroad for a semester or you’re going across the pond for your entire college experience, one of the most important things you’ll be doing with your time is going to class. While of course, you’ll be learning and studying no matter where you go, classes can be structured a bit differently. While the US tends to have one standard class or lecture for every course, many UK universities offer both a large lecture and a smaller discussion-based group seminar for every course so you can get the full spectrum of experiences out of your education.

5. Grading

Similar to the grading system in the US, the UK offers percentages out of 100 in order to rank grades. But beyond that, there are a lot of differences in the way grades are calculated. Most notably, a 70% is considered an “A” in the UK, rather than the standard 90% or above you need to achieve an A in the United States. However, it’s also significantly harder to achieve a grade as high as 90% or 100% in the UK. It’s definitely different, but it’s nothing you can’t adjust to.

6. The Social Scene

While a lot of the academic and practical elements of education differ from country to country, the social scene does, too. Notably, the drinking age in the UK is 18 years old, which changes university culture. Rather than Greek life and other party-based activities, students are more likely to go out to pubs when they’re looking for a night out. While of course, each school and friend group is different, there is a cultural difference that often comes into play.

7. The Assessments

While your workload in the US is likely to contain multiple smaller assignments throughout the course of the semester, the UK is more likely to give you fewer, larger assignments like papers, revisions, and exams.

Studying in the UK

Regardless of your reasoning or how long you’re going for, studying somewhere else in the world can be the adventure of a lifetime! If you’re going to the UK, there are so many exciting things you can see, do, and experience. What are you most excited about in your upcoming study journey?

Prepping to study in the UK? Check out this resource from our reading list:

Complete Guide to Living, Working and Studying in the UK: Preparing You for Life in Britain (Amazon) by Rajiv Immanuel

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