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Study in America

The American university system – 4 ways it’s different from the UK

This article is only one part of our studying in America series and you can see lots more information on our special studying in America section.american university system

If you're planning on studying in America it's best to know how universities work over there before you make your final decision.

You may be surprised at the number of differences between American and UK universities.

The American university or college system differs quite a lot from the university system in the UK.

The first point to remember is that 'college' means the same as 'university' in America and does not refer to what we would call a college in the UK (16-18 year olds).

4 ways that American unis are different

  1. Degrees are 4+ years long

    Most courses will run for 4-6 years as opposed to three and most commonly you will work towards a bachelor of arts or science as you would in the UK.

    It is important to note that you do not have to take all four years at university either. A good way to save money is to spend the first two years at a community college. It is a lot cheaper than a university and you can then choose to move onto a University as you start to specialise in a subject.

    This is not to say that you will take this path. Many students can accommodate the cost of American universities for international students so they choose to spend all of their years there.

  2. Grades are A-F

    The grading system in America is slightly complicated to say the least. They don't rely on the UK system of 1st,2.1 etc etc.

    You are graded from A-F with (A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D, and F). It is worth noting that F is a fail. From then on you get a GPA mark which is 4.0 at the highest and 1.0 is the lowest. In simple terms A=4.0 and B=3.0 etc.

  3. Some courses are compulsory

    The study is also far more varied. If you should choose to attend a university in America then you will need to keep yourself brushed up on Maths or physics as these may be courses that you have to attend in your freshmen (first) year.

    As you move into your sophomore (second), minor (third) and major (you guessed it... fourth) years you will have a chance to focus on something that you want to study. However, the choice is still far more varied than UK universities and every summer you are able to choose from a wide variety of courses like economic geography to gay culture in the 1980s.

    If you were looking to study something such as Law at Harvard then you would have to study for 2-3 years on a general course first and then apply to the course you would want to do.

  4. More coursework based

    At American universities the amount of exams will obviously differ with each course and university but as a general average there are more exams and coursework in America. The difference is that in America you are required to do more work throughout the year as opposed to all in one chunk.

    There is also much more based on coursework as opposed to exams. You will need to keep up the hard work throughout the year to come out with the best grades.


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