USA and UK boasts of half of the world’s top 200 universities and they share a rich heritage of quality higher education, excellent facilities for research, and a thriving culture promoting intellectualism, meritocracy as well as academic freedom. While both provide an excellent environment for learning, there are many differences between the two countries regarding the university structure as well as student life. Let us explore and understand the primary differences between the British and American systems of education.
Length of Time
The most important difference between the two education systems, is the amount of time it takes to finish the degree. In general, degree programs in the US take about one year more than programs in the UK, although this varies depending upon whether one receives a Master’s degree prior to a PhD. Scotland is an exception where a bachelor’s degree lasts four years. In both systems, one can go directly to a PhD program from undergraduate program, but in the UK it is more common to complete a Master’s degree program before enrolling for a PhD. Courses of study are shorter in the UK because the course programs are much more focused as compared to that of US.
Almost all the universities in US begin their terms in mid to late August, while smaller liberal arts colleges starts later around September. They have a lengthy break from mid-December to mid-January. Universities on trimester or quarter-based system, begin their winter break at the end of November Thanksgiving holiday. The academic term in the UK is a bit different. While most also use the semester system, some universities follow trimester and quarter systems. Many schools start in September or October and end in May or June, making for a longer academic year. The academic session is less standardized throughout the United Kingdom.
Universities in the UK are made up of colleges dedicated to a specific subject. The colleges are still governed by the university and each college has a lot of autonomy from each other as well as the university itself. One lives with others in college, eat with others from same college, and stay within the college for the duration of studies. Rather than applying to the central university admissions department, one either applies directly to the college of the subject one wants to study, or in the case of undergraduate programs, one applies through a centralized system which allows one to apply to several colleges at once. This means that one has to know what one wants to study before even applying.
In contrast, in the US, one applies to the larger university and for the first year or more, one takes courses from a variety of fields. One has to declare a major at the end of the first year or during the second year. American universities have different departments, which houses a number of related majors. After declaring a major at an American university, one is still expected to take classes outside of that field, called as electives. Hence, the general emphasis of higher education in the US is getting a range of knowledge from a variety of different subjects. In the UK, the emphasis is more on depth; getting a very thorough understanding of the chosen subject.