Not everyone applies to international schools, but for students who do, the United Kingdom is one of the most popular destinations. Of course, if you’re interested in studying abroad, you don’t have to commit to a full undergraduate degree. Most US universities will offer study abroad opportunities that will allow you to study abroad for anywhere from a summer to a full year. This blog post, however, will focus on the differences and potential pros and cons of pursuing a degree in the United Kingdom.
One of the biggest differences between pursuing an undergraduate degree in the US vs. the UK is simply how long it takes to earn the degree. In the US, it usually takes 4 years and that time is broken up as follows: 2 years completing general education requirements and 2 years completing upper division, major-related coursework. In the UK, there are no general education requirements (or very few of them). Students start out in year 1 studying their major. For this reason, it usually only takes 3 years to complete your undergraduate degree in the UK.
This shortened time to degree may be great if you know for sure that you want to study, say, cognitive science. But if you aren’t sure what you want to study and want to spend a year or two exploring, you’d be better off in the US system.
When it comes to the application process itself, there are definitive similarities between the US and the UK, at least in broad outline: both require an essay, both require a letter or recommendation, and of course, grades earned in courses matter a lot.
But there are also some key differences.
- In the US, we don’t see any “either/or” restrictions. For example, we don’t have to choose between Stanford or Berkeley. In the UK, you can only apply to Oxford or Cambridge.
- There are other restrictions, too. In the US, the Common application (the application platform used to apply to most non-UC schools) will allow you to apply to up to 20 different schools. In the UK, their application, UCAS, caps you at 5 schools.
- The personal statement is the UK is really more of a Why Major essay. And in general, the UK admissions folks are most interested in your preparedness for your major. Your personal statement will highlight just that.
- Some majors in the UK (they call them “courses”) require either an entrance exam or an interview.
There are a lot of other differences to consider, too, but we’ve hit upon some of the bigger ones. There’s a lot to be said in favor of the UK education system and I encourage every student to at least consider it. If you’ve never thought about the possibility of earning a UK degree, take a look at Oxford, Cambridge, University of Edinburgh, London School of Economics, or any other of their amazing campuses and see if you think you might be a good fit!