When you think of the United Kingdom, you likely think about a region steeped in history and culture and some more widely popular features such as Stonehenge, the royal family, Big Ben, tea, and much more. But how much do you know about the UK’s higher education system? 

For example, when considering a post-high school education, you think about attending college or university. In the UK, ‘college’ refers to technical school options, while ‘university’ is more closely associated with school after high school in the traditional US sense. And that’s just one distinction of the UK higher education system. There are nearly 200 universities that span the region, each offering brilliant learning opportunities that differ slightly from higher education in the US. 

Let’s take a closer look at what a UK education means.

Degree options available for US students in the UK

There are several different types of bachelor’s degrees in the UK, including Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Education (BEd), and more. The UK also offers a variety of shorter undergraduate courses, including foundation degrees, Diplomas of Higher Education (DipHE), Higher National Diplomas (HNC), and Certificates of Higher Education (CertHE). 

Popular majors for US students in UK universities?

Some of the most popular undergraduate majors for international students in the UK, including students from the US, include business studies, accounting and finance, undergraduate law, economics, and art and design. Of course, you’ll have plenty more major options, but these are some of the most common choices amongst international students! 

If your goal is to receive your bachelor’s degree, you must get decisive when attending university in the UK. As part of the application process, you’ll need to determine the subject of your degree, meaning you’ll start university in the UK with your major already determined. While there’s some flexibility in your first university year to change your intended degree, it’s less flexible than at school in the US. However, much of this inflexibility results from your degree duration — which is shorter in the UK than in the US.

Duration of undergraduate programs in the UK

One of the top reasons students flock to the UK is they can save a valuable resource: time. A bachelor’s degree in the US typically takes about four years to complete, while it’s usually only three years in the UK. The same goes for postgraduate degrees, too — master’s degrees are shorter in length in the UK. This signifies that your undergraduate studies in the UK are highly focused on your degree subject, so you can earn it faster. 

Important note: if you attend a university in Scotland, obtaining your bachelor’s degree will take four years.  

How is the style of learning different in UK universities?

Students attending university in the UK experience a more independent learning style, with courses that are more lecture-based and research-focused, with an expectation for students to prepare for class and work more autonomously. While your professors will be supportive, they want you to actively participate in your university experience. This learning style better prepares you for your professional career after graduation, too! 

What is the grading system like in UK universities?

Are you a student who likes to tackle assignments outside the structure of the classroom? If so, keep in mind that the UK’s more independent learning style signifies you’ll have less out-of-classroom assignments, like homework, and more autonomous study. A large portion of your grades are based on end-of-year exams or essays. 

The grading system is different in UK universities than in the US. While US students may be familiar with letter grades (A, B, C, D, and F), the undergraduate grading system in the UK is calculated by tiers and percentages. For example, ‘First-Class Honours,’ also known as ‘First,’ means an overall mark of 70 per cent or above, which is equivalent to an A in the US. 

‘Upper Second-Class Honours’ or ‘2:2,’ in the UK is equivalent to a B in the US, with an overall grade of 60–69 per cent. ‘Lower Second-Class Honours’ or ‘2:2,’ and a grade of 50–59 per cent, corresponds to a C in the US, and ‘Third-Class Honours’ or ‘Third,’ and a grade of 40-49 per cent is equivalent to a D. If you fail, that means your overall mark (or grade in the US) is lower than 40 per cent, which is equal to an F.

How do UK universities support research opportunities for students?

If research is what you’re after, look no further than the UK. The UK’s education style offers a wide variety of research opportunities, even for students pursuing bachelor’s degrees. Students are encouraged to do research as undergraduates to gain vital training and skills needed for postgraduate or professional opportunities. 

Hear from UK university alumna, Dr. Emily Rickman, a graduate of the University of Sheffield, about her research experience: 

‘One of the key components to my UK education was being treated as an individual rather than just part of the system, which allowed me to start publishing cutting-edge research in highly reputable peer-reviewed journals even as an undergraduate … I was treated in a way to lead my own research, create my own project ideas, push the boundaries and innovate, and these are all key skills that I continue to use in mission management and design for NASA missions.’ 

UK education costs

Even given all these perks, a UK education might actually cost you less than studying in the US. The average cost of attending university and receiving a bachelor’s degree for international (non-UK) students in the UK is about £22,000, equivalent to about US$28,000 per year. Comparatively, the average cost of attending a higher education institution in the US is approximately US$36,000 per year. 

Even as an international student in the UK, you might end up saving money with your overseas education. 

There are some key differences between a UK higher education and one you’d receive in the US, making attending university in the UK an exciting new experience. Consider these differences as you weigh your options; a UK education might just be exactly what you’re looking for! 

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