How to choose between American and British Universities

Choosing where to study for university is a big responsibility, requiring students to weigh multiple priorities. For some students, staying in their home country, close to family will be most important. For others, it could be finding the best school in their subject interest. For other still, they might be looking for a cultural experience in university, seeking a very different country. For students in their late teens, there are big questions to ask about what they truly prioritize in a university, and Aegis Advisor brought together some of its experts on American and British university systems to give some insight into the different school systems.

For most universities in the United States, students are required to complete both courses for their majors and for general education, which includes English, history, language, math, science, and social sciences at most universities. This coursework takes place over the course of four years, and students often use these education requirements to pick a major. At many American schools, students can begin university “undecided” in their major. For engineers, many schools require that students select a major by the end of their first year, and for bachelors of arts students, most are required to select their major by the end of the second year. This system requires students to attend school for longer, and sometimes take classes that they may not be inclined to, but it also gives students much more flexibility and forced understanding of students who study different subjects. 

In comparison, the students in the typical programs for undergraduates at British universities will only complete three years of coursework and must apply to the university with a specific major. During coursework, students are often only able to take courses within their department and are expected to stick with that field. While it is possible to change one’s field of study at a British university, the process is not guaranteed and can be tedious. Many students who have succeeded in this system love the way they can delve deeply into their subject of interest without having to take extraneous courses. Study in this way also requires that students have taken certain classes in secondary schools to qualify for certain courses while this is not the case for American universities. 

Another major difference in the university system is the structure of the courses. In the most highly ranked British universities, students have tutorials, sometimes called supervisions, in which they meet one on one with a university instructor every week. This meeting requires intense preparation and professional communication. While students find this type of attention very valuable, it can also be anxiety producing and a tremendous amount of work. It is impossible to get behind if one needs to meet with their professor and present material or written work every week. In comparison, American universities almost never require individualized learning. Many of the top universities operate on a system with larger classes that meet for lecture two to three times a week with break out classes outside of those lectures. The smaller sessions, usually once a week often have 10-15 students participating. This style offers more opportunity to collaborate with other students but less individualized practice. There is no better or worse system, much of it depends on the students wants and needs. 

While we’ve presented just a few major differences between the American and British university systems, there are many more, smaller differences in these countries’ educational systems. The biggest piece of advice Aegis Advisors’ university experts give to their students is to list out what they think they want in a university experience and then seek out students at schools that line up with their priorities. Coming into these conversations with thoughtful questions is very helpful. For example, students at Princeton University are required to write a thesis and cannot double major, so for a student who has many interests, they may ask a  current student what it is like to only choose one major to do complete research in a specific subject. Admissions offices are excellent sources for these student connections, and we also recommend looking at a student’s high school alumni to find students who have matriculated to specific universities.

Aegis advisors, because of its global staff, is well equipped to aid students in their university decisions. We are excited to work with any students looking for advice on their university application process as well as students needing assistance in any major curriculums or test preparation. Contact us today for more information.