Fundamental differences between UK and US university degrees  –  1

We coach many students who are applying to both US and UK universities. Much of our time is spent discussing the differences between the two systems. Knowing how to approach and prepare for your university degree is an important part of finding out more about you, your academic ability, your creative side, your commitment to certain subjects and how you want to learn as well as when to apply.  

In this series of blogs we will cover topics such as: 

  • What is the difference between the US and the UK?  
  • Fees and Funding 
  • Admissions 
  • Academic enrichment v extra-curricular  
  • The Personal Statement v Personal Essays  
  • The Reference v Recommendation Letters 
  • Breath v depth  
  • Teaching and Learning 
  • Resources to help your decision making 

Schools and qualifications 

But first a word about schools: in the UK there are two different systems of education running in parallel; England, Wales and N Ireland have 13 years of school and most undergraduate degrees are three years in length. In Scotland schools have 12 years of school and four-year university degrees. Generally, students study for GCSEs in Years 10 and 11 before taking A levels or the International Baccalaureate. 

In the US (as well as many other parts of the world) schools run to Year 12 when you may receive your High School Diploma or similar level qualification. Depending upon where in the UK you are applying, how academic you are and how competitive the university or course is, you may need some extra qualifications or perhaps an extra year of study to be sure of being made an offer. Most UK universities publish their entry requirements and many of them also have a list of acceptable international qualifications and entry requirements for each country.  

Some students may need a top up Foundation Year to prepare for direct entry to an undergraduate course. Many universities run their own Foundation Years specifically for international students and will guarantee a place on their undergraduate degree if the student obtains a certain grade.  

One thing is certain – if you are serious about applying to different countries you need to know what is right for you, the fundamental differences in studying and how to apply.  

UK Universities   US Universities  
  • England, Wales and N Ireland have 13 years of school, 3 year university degrees  
  • Scotland has 12 years of school, 4 year university degrees  
  • 12 years of school, 4 year university degrees  
Entry level requirements:  

GCSEs with A levels, International Baccalaureate or some internationally accepted qualifications 

 Entry Level requirements:  

High School Diploma plus standardised tests; SAT/ACT plus maybe SAT II subjects