The 3 Main Differences Between U.S. & UK Universities

Words can hold different meanings depending on a person’s perspective. Two words “college” and “university” are two words used interchangeably. In England, their definitions are entirely different.

1. The Words “College” & “University”

In America, a “college” is an institution that offers undergraduate or associates degrees whilst a university offers graduate and doctorate programs. For the English, that same word means is the equivalent of the last two years of high school at a magnet school, meaning you take specialized classes. These can be a variety of courses such as medicine, sports, cosmetology, amongst many others. Then after completing college, you move onto university to get a degree.

When I first discovered this difference, I decided to ask a friend from England about what the rest of their school system was liked, and wow: My mind was blown. One of the most interesting differences that I learned is that the English call would call it “grade nine” instead of “9th grade.”

2. How Assignments Are Graded

I am not sure if this is how it is all across the UK, but in my first year at the University of Roehampton, I had to stop my jaw from dropping when the criteria were explained. In America, if you get a +90%, you’ve gotten an A, if you get a +80% then you have earned a B. This continues until you reach below 60, then you have received an F and have failed that assignment.

In England, a grade percentage of 40 is the minimum requirement to pass the course. That grade is strikingly different than the numbers needed to pass a course in America. It was also interesting to learn that the highest grade other students had received was in the 80s, and that is considered basically the same as an A. Grades between the numbers of 90-100 were extremely rare to come by, virtually unheard of. After a life of aiming for 90s-100s, this new grading system definitely took some getting used to.

3. Two Types of Classes for Each Module

The format for the classes themselves also took some getting used to. Instead of there being just one class for the course, it was split into two parts called the “lecture” and the “seminar”.

Basically, the lecture would be a one hour class in which the professor covers the learning points for that week’s lesson as well as a brief explanation on key terminology. The seminar, usually two hours in length, would then talk about the same topics in much more detail as well as in-class exercises to make sure it’s understood.

I found that while both the lecture and seminar were jam-packed in the first week of classes, by the second week the lectures were barely attended. In talking to fellow students about this, I discovered that most students found the lectures to be less useful than the seminars. I’m not sure if my personal feelings on the course being divided like so, but I do agree that at times the information did feel quite repetitive making me question the necessity of a “lecture” versus just the “seminar.”

In the USA, however, you don’t really have this choice!

Overall, the core experience of being on a campus surrounded by students being assigned assignments at an academic level is similar across universities between both American and the UK, however, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience a culture different than my own.

If you would also like to try something new and maybe push yourself out of your comfort zone, I would highly recommend checking out the program possibilities with ATP. If you would like to find out more about studying in the UK, please fill out the “Contact an Advisor” form on the bottom or side of this page.

Published Originally: May 26th, 2020
by Oksanna Shulgach, ATP Student Ambassador
Studying at: 
University of Roehampton