When deciding which country to pursue your higher education, there are lots of factors to take into consideration. Universities across the world can offer a very different experience depending on the country you’re in.
Two countries that are commonly compared are the UK and the US. United by a common language and a common history, there are lots of different perceptions about what the US college experience is really like, and how it compares to other countries.
So I caught up with Madeleine, a student at the University of Tulane in New Orleans, Alabama, to find out what US university is really like, and how it differs from the experience in the UK.
How is your degree structured?
In the UK, the majority of undergraduate courses are single strand, for example ‘English Literature’ or ‘Engineering’. That means that your classes will all revolve around that one subject.
At many UK universities, you can also find joint honours, which means that you can take classes in two similar subjects, such as ‘Politics and Modern History’. This means that you can take half your classes in each subject.
In the United States, Madeleine explains that this is slightly different.
“You usually pick a Minor and a Major. The Major is the focus of your studies, but you can choose from a broad range of classes.”
They don’t even to be related, but you do have to meet certain requirements in order to graduate with a particular type of degree, like a Bachelor of Arts.
“It’s flexible too, you can move your classes about after you’ve started, something which you can’t do in the UK,” Madeleine says. “Having this broad range of classes makes you very employable and means you can study things you’re really interested in, no matter how different they are.”
In the UK, a university’s breadth of courses comes from the department you are studying in, rather than a wider section of the university. This means that it is a great choice if you know exactly what you want to study. If you’re a little more unsure, then universities in the US offer you some space to explore your interests.
So how are universities coping with COVID-19, from a student’s perspective?
Madeleine says that in the US it does depend on the university, but on the most part the education system is coping well with the current pandemic.
Her experience at the University of Tulane has so far been good, with the staff and students being flexible on changing arrangements to make sure they’re working for everyone.
At Tulane, they’ve built additional dining facilities to make sure that students on-campus can access meals in a Covid-secure way, as well as additional classrooms that have air-conditioning and technology. As she shows me outside her bedroom window onto these impressive complexes, it is apparent that the university has really risen to the challenge of providing their education in a safe and secure environment.
“We’re also Covid tested three times a week,” she says, “The test was developed in our own medical school and the university pays for it themselves.”
In the UK there has been a lot of concern about moving classes online, and Madeleine says that has been a worry in the US too.
“We have a hybrid here at Tulane, but it really depends on the state and university,” she explains. “I can choose to take all my classes online, or some online and the others in person, or all of them in person.”
In the UK at the moment, the majority of courses and universities are offering only online classes and examinations due to current government restrictions. However there is some hope that this could change as the vaccine is rolled out further.
So, what’s the best thing about university in the US?
“Definitely the freedom,” says Madeleine. “When you go to university you have the opportunity to study things you’re really interested in and passionate about. That’s really liberating.”
Universities both in the US and the UK offer the freedom to live independently and explore your environment, learning new skills and meeting new people. But the freedom of choice that comes from university in the US is staggering.
In the US you can choose an institution that is public or private, that’s in a city or on the edge of one, that’s surrounded by countryside or by the beach.
What’s the biggest downside to studying in the US?
“College education here can be very expensive,” says Madeleine. “I’ve found it to be worth my money, but it’s a big investment.”
Although UK universities are generally considered to be cheaper, American universities offer a breadth of course options that could make it worth the investment. Also, US universities are renowned for their facilities, which have predominantly remained open during the pandemic.
Weighing up your choices when it comes to universities can be hard, and Madeleine says it’s an important balance between quality and cost.
“Explore scholarships to make sure that you’re getting plenty of ‘bang for your buck’,” she says.
To find out more about UK and US institutions, explore our partner universities here.
To find out more about current news about universities across the Atlantic, check out our weekly round up here.