There are several types of degree programs in the UK: Foundation Years, Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees, and Doctorates or PhDs, all of which are all globally recognized qualifications. 

Foundation Year

A foundation year is a pre-university program that aims to get a student up to speed for a particular course. This year-long program works quite well for certain sciences and engineering programs and also for some art programs, but in many instances, foundation years at British universities are especially designed for students whose first language is not English.

American students need to be especially careful when considering foundation programs as they may not be a necessary or a worthwhile investment of both time and money. A student with good grades and relevant tests scores (AP, ACT, SAT) should not undertake a foundation year as our student advisors can assist in identifying which universities accept students’ current qualifications. In very rare cases, a foundation program is the correct route for an American student, but only a handful of our partner universities offer foundation years that are appropriate for Americans. Contact your student advisor for more information (or sign up for one here!).

Undergraduate Degrees

In EnglandWales and Northern Ireland, American students can undertake a 3-year undergraduate degree and graduate with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc). They can also opt for a 4-year sandwich course, which includes one year’s professional experience in industry or a year studying abroad. Typically, the three-year programs are more focused than their American counterparts, eschewing general education courses and electives for a more direct and focused approach to the field of study.

If students choose to study in Scotland, they will follow a system that is more similar to the US one. In fact, the American university education system is modelled after the Scottish system; however, a Scottish undergraduate degree still tends to be more focused than a typical US degree. An undergraduate degree in Scotland takes four years to complete. While students will study a wider range of subjects than in England, Wales, and Northern Irelend, unlike in the US, students must declare a main focus of study at the start of their degree (though this can be changed during their studies, if they wish). 

There are 2 types of British undergraduate degrees:

  • Single honours programs involve focused study of a single subject. The core of each program is already designed and you have the opportunity to shape your work by choosing additional modules.
  • Joint honours programs/Combined programs enable you to study a combination of subjects, creating opportunities for you to build a degree program to suit your personal interests and needs. Note that the combination of subjects is made by the university.  Student do not have the option to combine subjects themselves.

Graduate Degree

At the graduate level, students have a choice between a taught or a research-based master's degree or a PhD.

The taught master’s, or often called an MA (England and Wales), MLitt (Scotland) or an MSc (Master’s of Science), usually takes 12 months and is very popular with American students. It follows the same structure of classroom work and some research that you would expect from a US degree, but is more focused and thus shorter.  Many of our partner universities can boast professors who are also leading researchers in their fields of study who are publishing papers and making groundbreaking discoveries, so this is an excellent opportunity to learn from the best!  In terms of recognition it is the same as an American degree, but you save a year of study.

The research-based master’s degree can be called a variety of names, including MSc by Research, MRes, and MPhil, and are normally based on a research project that the student would undertake in lieu of classes.  Research-based master’s usually involve working closely with a tutor and take around 12-18 months, but can take sometimes take up to two years. Many students often begin this type of program and then transfer into a PhD. Part of your Master’s work is often credited towards your PhD and may serve as a basis for your PhD research area. As with a PhD, in order to be accepted into a research-based master’s program, you must typically submit a research proposal and have a strong background in research, especially in your subject of interest. If you are particularly interested in a specific area and have perhaps already done some undergraduate research this may be the best option for you. 

PhD programs in the UK take just three years to complete. For more information about PhD programs, please contact your student advisor or sign up for an advisor here.

MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN US AND UK DEGREE PROGRAMS

Focus

British degrees tend to focus on the student’s chosen major from the beginning of the degree program and thus are more professionally oriented than the US education system, which tends to begin with a broad base of instruction. For students who have a clear idea of what they want to study, a British degree is ideal as you are allowed to specialize in your subject area from the start.  Because of this early focus, British degree programs are shorter – Bachelor’s degrees are typically 3 years in length, with the exception of Scotland, where undergraduate programs take 4 years to complete.

The UK style of education is particularly suitable for students who want to immerse themselves in a specific subject or combination of subjects straight out of high school.

Independence

British degrees leave much of the learning up to you, with the emphasis on lectures backed up by tutorials and a ‘suggested’ reading list, which is actually very much required reading! Undergraduates and graduates alike are expected to conduct their own research, develop their own ideas, come to class prepared to engage in discussion, and motivate themselves outside of lectures.

Cost

British education simply is not as expensive as American universities.  There are a myriad of factors that contribute to this fact, but in general, British tuition rates average out to around $20,000 a year, depending, of course, on the currency conversion rate at the time.  Cheaper tuition plus shorter degree programs mean the UK offers American students a cost-effective option for their education! 

HOW ARE BRITISH DEGREES TAUGHT?

  • Lectures - Formal presentations by experts in the respective field to large groups of students, who take notes on what is said.
  • Seminars - Small groups of 8-20 students who discuss assigned topics with a tutor. 
  • Tutorials - More informal meetings in which 1-3 students discuss their work with a tutor. The close contact between student and tutor in seminars and tutorials is a particular strength of UK degree courses.
  • Continuous assessment - Depending on your degree course you will be expected to produce coursework, participate in projects, seminars and exams. Plus, depending on the course, produce a final dissertation and take final exams.

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