How “Uni” is different across-the-pond: US vs. UK
We’ve all heard the stories and seen the movies: The US-of-A dorm-mates and debatable dining halls… the “football” games and cheerleaders… The Greek Life recruitment and the “freshman-fifteen”. Despite the variations between social scenes of US and UK universities, the two educational systems stand with exceptional standards: “[the] US and UK pave the way for best universities in the world” (QS World University Rankings).
With extracurriculars aside, and a close eye on logistics, here are the major differences you can expect between American and British university culture.
Length of Time
Completing a degree in the UK may be perfect for students seeking a fast-track to graduation. Whilst American degrees require 4 years at the bachelor’s level and an average of 2 years at the master’s level, universities in the UK are 3 years of undergraduate study, followed by 1 year of postgraduate study for the majority of taught programmes. Research degrees (PhD, MPhil etc.) can take up to 4 years.
American students – you are likely familiar with selecting a Major and Minor at the beginning of your degree. Your coursework will cover a vast breadth of subjects in Year 1 and Year 2, including a range of Humanities, Sciences, and Mathematics elective modules, while consisting of Major-specific classes during Year 3 and Year 4. Your classes are relatively flexible, and you can more-or-less build your own schedule at the start of each semester: A choice to avoid all 8am lectures? Yes please!
But this breadth transforms into depth as soon as you step foot on UK turf. Whilst there may be fewer class choices and less flexibility, UK university programmes instead offer students a very focussed-approach to your pre-specified programme of study. In the UK, it’s not uncommon to only have 8-10 hours of lectures and seminars per week. Outside of this allocated class time, students are expected to read, work, revise, (and when time permits between the textbooks, relax!)
Exams & Grades
Unfamiliar to most American students, it’s common practice in the UK for class grades to be solely determined by a single end-of-semester Exam. Whilst this puts an unwelcome immense amount of pressure on exam season, it happily lightens up the assignment workload during each term, making part-time jobs, extracurricular societies, and social sports teams a friendlier phenomenon!
Sports & Societies
Wanting to get involved? Look no further than the Newcastle University Students Union! From A-Capella and Cheese & Wine, to Dance, Pilates, French, and Finance, the UK university culture knows their societies… especially at Newcastle, where students have access to over 160 clubs encompassing social gatherings, sports teams, professional societies, and so much more! Whilst some American universities may be perceived as embracing a more rambunctious social vibe consisting of everything from dancing mascots and branded swag to American football pre-games and campus-wide celebrations, the diversity and breadth of social societies across UK campuses offer unparalleled opportunities for all!
Academic term-time and holiday-breaks
British universities typically start in October, about a month later than most American universities, and finish in June. Additionally, postgraduate students can expect to write dissertations during the summer months and come December, students flip the tassel. This is different than most American universities with graduation typically occurring in May.
From Colorado State University to Newcastle University …
Furthermore, UK students can expect longer holiday breaks than US students, with one-month off over Christmas (Winter break) plus one-month off over Easter (Spring break). International students particularly enjoy filling these extended breaks with European travels. Newcastle is a short train ride away from Edinburgh, a beloved Scotland city, an hour flight from Dublin, and quite often a budget-friendly plane ride away from Paris. UK university provides students with the perfect home-base for some extra cultural immersion and sense of adventure.