While most students still study in their home countries, an increasing number are drawn to go overseas, particularly by the internationally famous universities of the UK and the USA. Universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and MIT are renowned across the world, and studying at one of them can open doors in just about any country, and any career path. But just as the UK and USA can have significant cultural differences despite sharing a language, their universities can also differ considerably.
The biggest difference between the two countries’ universities is in the content that you’ll study. Specifically, US degrees are much broader. You don’t choose a “major” – your main subject – until your second year, and there are wide-ranging degree options such as liberal arts for those who don’t want to specify. In the UK, your degree will have a much narrower focus, and you’ll decide on your subject when you apply; while you can switch subjects, it’s rare to do so and typically quite complicated. The advantage of a British degree is that a narrow focus means you can explore your subject in considerably more depth.
The other major difference is in assessment style. British universities are moving towards having more ongoing assessment, but at the most traditional and prestigious universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, the vast majority of your final grade will still be derived from end-of-year exams. You will write essays and have those assessed throughout the year, but they don’t affect your degree classification. This means there’s a lot of pressure coming into your exams, particularly in your final year. By contrast, American universities have regular, smaller assessments throughout the year that contribute to your grade. This takes the pressure off the end of the year, but means that you can’t do as much to turn your marks around if you’ve been slacking.
Remember that while these might be the most important differences academically, there are non-academic differences that can affect your university experience just as much. Take extracurricular activities, for instance, which are plentiful but optional in the UK, and virtually compulsory in the USA. Or cost: British universities are cheaper for international students, but US universities may offer more financial assistance. And don’t forget factors such as accommodation; if the American practice of sharing a room as an undergraduate is off-putting, you might be better off studying in the UK. Think carefully before you make your final decision, so that you pick the university, and the country, that’s best for you.