There are a number of differences between US and UK universities. Perhaps the biggest one relates to majors or courses of study. In the US, students aren’t expected to know what they want to study when they apply to university. In the first two years, students take classes in many disciplines which provide an overview of the arts, humanities, mathematics, natural sciences and social sciences.
This is done as a preparation for a variety of careers versus a specific career path. Except in professional areas like engineering, students don’t specialise (choose a major) until the final two years. The rationale is that people no longer choose a professional path and remain in that same job for a lifetime. It’s important that, regardless of their job, they are broadly educated and can write well, communicate and solve problems.
In the UK, the process of education is quite different. Students apply to universities to study a particular course or subject. For those who are certain they want to study economics or biology or some other particular academic area, the UK provides a very specialised academic programme. Individual classes all relate to the course of study.
A typical degree takes three years to complete rather than four years in the US. This can be a significant saving both in terms of money and time. Applications to the UK and the US reflect these differences. In the UK, students apply through a centralised application centre and are limited to five applications. The application consists of information about where the student wants to study, exam scores (predicted or final), a one-page personal statement and a one-page reference that supports their suitability for the course.
In the US, applications vary by institution with each university asking different questions and requiring different information. Applications can be tedious and ask a lot more about life outside of the classroom. There is no limit on the number of applications – other than the amount of time it takes to complete each one.
Universities in Singapore, Hong Kong and Canada – thanks partly to their British roots – follow more of the UK model of universities.
When it comes to choosing a university, it’s important to understand the differences between the various systems and choose the type that will best lend itself to both academic and personal success.
– Dale Ford
Dale Ford is one of two University Counsellors at British International School, Phuket. For more information, visit them at www.bisphuket.ac.th