Updated: Feb 22
Studying in the UK is an incredible, life-changing experience for the right kind of student. To be honest, it’s quite different than studying in the US! Read on to learn about the major differences, both in terms of experience and the application process, and decide whether it might be worthwhile for your family to explore schools in the UK for your teen’s undergraduate years.
What are the main differences between education in the US and UK?
Undergraduate education is typically only 3 years in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales (but 4 years in Scotland).
Students apply directly into their course of study (in the US, we call this a major) and there’s very little opportunity to switch or explore.
Students are thrown immediately into their course of study, perhaps diving into advanced material and using neat research equipment much sooner than students in similar programs in the US and Canada.
There are no general education (GE) requirements, so students can avoid classes they dislike.
So, not much like the US at all! But, for the right student, this could be a perfect opportunity.
What are the benefits to studying in the UK?
It is affordable! Tuition starts at $14,000 (US) per year, and there are only three years to pay for. Not to mention, you can still qualify for federal financial aid.
Every university offers a high quality education, as the education sector is regulated by the government.
There are over 160 universities in the UK, so there is something for everyone. Remember to explore the incredible schools outside of London!
UK universities have a very high proportion of international students on campus -- on some campuses, as much as 30% -- so students are sure to have a global experience. This extends to the faculty, too, who tend to come from all over the world.
It’s an opportunity to jumpstart a student’s academic interest with immediate experience in their course of study.
There is a graduate visa route to stay and work in the UK after graduation, as long as the student applies proactively.
How is the classroom environment different?
In the UK, classes tend to be smaller. Without the GE requirements, everyone is only in the room in order to follow the curriculum in their course of study. These curricula tend to be very straightforward, with the exception of a few elective courses. As with most small classes, students can expect to get a good amount of interaction with the professors. Everyone gets to take their required classes each semester.
Also, UK schools place a bigger emphasis on independent learning and studying. There is less continuous assessment, and students can expect to be graded with one or two exams. Student support services are available, but students have to engage first. Likewise, each student gets a personal tutor in the department, but the student has to engage first. While this can be a tough transition, these independent study and research skills are incredibly valuable for graduate school.
Who is a good fit for UK schools?
Students who know their major with total certainty, who want to throw themselves into it, and who have or are willing to develop independent learning skills.
How does my child apply?
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is the UK’s answer to the Common App. It’s not as difficult as it sounds! Here are some application tips:
Review this application resource from UCAS.
Work with your school counselor to submit a reference that includes commentary from your teachers and a link to the school profile.
Don’t recycle your Common App essay for the UCAS Personal Statement! UK schools want to see a much more academic and straightforward essay.
You’ll be evaluated academically, so focus on grades and test scores in high school.
Make sure to do your college research, as UCAS will limit you to five schools.
If you have questions, you can contact the international admissions representative at a UK university. Or, you can reach out to Robert, the college counselor at College Torch, to discuss UK universities, whether your teen might be a good fit for them, and what’s involved in the application process.
The college search involves a lot of legwork! Download my completely free College Research Guide to get my ultimate list of college search resources so you know exactly where to start.
Robert Powers (M.A. Johns Hopkins) is the college consultant at College Torch. He is an expert in colleges and the college admissions process. Parents, join his private Facebook group for Parents of College-Bound Students.