Higher Education in England vs. in the U.S.

Elisabeth Miller is a student at Carroll College and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Reading, England.

A little over a month has passed since I welcomed my first week of classes at the University of Reading in Reading, England. I hoped to gain more knowledge for my degree and develop an awareness of another country’s culture during my semester abroad. While one can certainly encounter England’s history and unique customs in the city, I noted several characteristics of English education varying from my schooling in the States on Reading’s campus. Here are a few main differences between American and English universities:

In the United States, it typically takes four years to obtain a Bachelor’s degree. Americans identify a student’s college standing with names such as Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior. In the UK, a student acquires a degree in three years. First year students are called “Freshers” but the second and third year students do not have any particular titles.

Windsor Hall, Reading

Windsor Hall, the dorms where the majority of Freshers and international students live at the University of Reading.

Secondly, the classes in the UK are generally less frequent. At my home university, my lectures are an hour and given three times a week. At Reading, most of my courses are only once a week and are either one or two hours long. Because less time is spent in the classroom in England, students are expected to study independently. More self-discipline is required to learn the material, and this approach encouraged me to use multiple resources to ensure I confidently understood the subject matter.

The library at the University of Reading is the perfect study place for hardworking students

The library at the University of Reading is the perfect study place for hardworking students

The method of evaluation is different in England as well. In the United States, I take about four exams throughout the semester and complete a final at the end of the term. These exams constitute 60%-70% of my final grade while quizzes, labs, and homework questions make up the remaining total. At the University of Reading, the final exams for all courses, including fall semester courses, are given in the summer. It is not until the summer exams are completed that the students receive their final grades. During the term, however, professors still assign essays and lab reports that are due at the end of the semester. Furthermore, American students choose majors and minors depending on their academic interests. Many colleges, particularly liberal arts colleges, require additional courses for students to complete their education. In contrast, students in England pick a subject and only take the classes related to their degree.

'Practical' Students are carefully preparing a dissection of a mackerel in my vertebrate zoology practical

‘Practical’ students are carefully preparing a dissection of a mackerel in my vertebrate zoology practical

Although there are differences between the American and English university systems, the desire to learn and prepare for professional careers seems universal. College is a place where students from countless backgrounds and countries come together to learn about their subject and themselves. So far, my exposure to English higher education has granted insight into both academics overseas and the British culture surrounding the college experience.



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