There are a lot of similarities between the United States and UK, but the university experience is not one of these! If you are from the UK and thinking of going to university in the USA, you might be surprised at how completely different your experience will be from your friends back at home. Here are just some of the biggest differences – good and bad — you will find between University in the USA and UK.
Get Ready for the Communal Bathrooms in American Dorms
Living in a dorm is one of the quintessential parts of the American college experience. You might even be happily looking forward to late-night cramming sessions with your new roommate who will come to be your best friend (equally as possible is that you will become worst enemies and you’ll have to find a new roommate halfway through the term).
But brace yourself for the communal bathroom experience!
Unlike in the UK where residency halls often have ensuite bathrooms, or just a few people sharing a bathroom, many US student dorms have large communal bathrooms used by the entire floor. There are even videos dedicated to the subject of “how to poop in the communal dorm bathroom” and threads with advice like “wear flip flops” and “put toilet paper on the seat before sitting down.” No wonder so many US students move off campus after freshman year!
You Don’t Have to Decide on a Major Yet
In the UK, you are expected to be highly knowledgeable of your major before applying, and will take courses almost specifically on that subject.
By contrast, the United States emphasizes a much broader course of study. You can even enter college with an “undeclared” major and decide later. This is possible because, for the first 1-2 years of uni, you will take classes in a number of subjects while collecting credits. In fact, most universities require ALL students (regardless of major) to take a minimum number of humanities, sciences, and other core classes.
The Application Process Is Completely Different
Right from the beginning, you will realize how completely different university in the US and UK are when you have to go through the application process.
In the UK, it is the university academics who decide who gets in. In your personal statement, you have to do your best to show off your knowledge and expertise in the subject.
In the USA, it is the “admissions office” who make the decision. That’s right – people who have absolutely no knowledge of your major will determine whether you are accepted to the program or not!
Because of this, it is no wonder that extracurricular activities matter much more when applying to US universities. They are looking for “well-rounded students” as opposed to students who excel in a specific area of study. In your personal statement, don’t bother trying to impress them with obscure details from the subject area. They will be more impressed by stories of personal growth and overcoming difficulties which will show that you will be a valuable member of their university community.
American Universities Have Impressive Facilities
In the UK, we’ve got Westminster Abbey, Peckwater Quadrangle, and Buckingham Palaces. In the United States, they have university campuses.
After traversing through the humble streets of University towns and cities, you will find yourself shocked at how extravagant the campuses are. And you will be even more impressed when you visit the facilities.
While the UK has great academic facilities like libraries and research halls, American universities invest a lot more in their sports facilities, community centres, and even fitness centres.
It will seem too good to be true… until you see the yearly admission price of US universities!
You’ll Have Quizzes
In the UK, you go to lecture, do the reading, and then take final exams. These final exams make up your entire grade. There are no such things as “quizzes” throughout the term.
By contrast, final exams only make up a fraction of your grade in the United States. So what is your grade based on? Throughout the term, US professors will give you smaller assignments, projects, and quizzes. These are all meant to help make sure you are following the subject material. If you mess up, it isn’t such a big deal because it is only for a small percentage of your final grade.
American Universities Care About Your Life Outside of Uni!
When you go to uni in the UK, you are expected to come to lectures, study hard, and get good marks. After that, they could care less about what you do. In fact, they could care less if you even get good marks. If you are struggling in a course, don’t expect the professor to dedicate any extra time to you! You’ll be lucky if you can even find the professor after lectures.
By contrast, American universities have extensive support systems. It might even seem like they are holding your hands at times.
The professors have open-office hours where you can come ask questions and seek advice. There are study groups and tutoring available. There are counsellors for academics. There are counsellors for career advice. There are even counsellors for attending the psychological needs of students. Oh, and if you get a bad mark on an assignment or exam, you can talk to the professor about it and they might let you redo the work or retake the exam!
What’s this School Pride???
If you are a student athlete, then you are going to love the university experience in the USA. In the UK, you are lucky if a handful of students show up for your big match against a rival team. In the USA, student athletes are elevated to celebrity status. They play on impressive facilities. Their games are broadcast. They even have mascots!
The sports teams aren’t the only thing that American universities are proud of. Don’t be surprised if you see complete strangers wearing your university’s sweatshirt, and then getting into conversations with you about the school. And then there is the “Greek experience” of fraternities and sororities which is unique to the USA. No matter how many times you’ve seen it in movies, nothing will completely prepare you for the experience of rushing a frat or sorority!