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Let’s Talk Academics

Although many of my posts are about my experiences while traveling, it is important to remember that academics are the reason for getting to be in this new place- I mean, it is study abroad. Hence, it is important to know the differences between the UK and US approaches to studying and exploring academics.

For starters, students pick their major or degree straight away. In high school during grade 11 students will study four main subjects, often referred to as A levels, to then drop one of those subjects for grade 12 year. From these three courses students will then pick one course in which they want to pursue a career and will thus go to school for that subject. This is the biggest difference between the two education systems. Rather than have students do pre-requisites in various disciplines (arts, English, maths, sciences etc.) the UK has students enter their program directly meaning they only take courses in that discipline. Therefore, chemistry students will only take courses in the School of Chemistry while biology students will remain housed in the biological sciences building. For this reason, there is little to no communication between the various colleges. Often this is not a problem. However, because I had required sciences courses for my major back home, I was in two disciplines and conflicts between the two module schedules were immediately present. Since the schools don’t communicate their schedules with each other that meant it was up to myself and the other students to work with the lecturers and figure out a resolution for the conflicts. That was a lesson I learned right away: if you have a problem with a course it is up to you to make the effort to find a resolution and communicate your concerns with the appropriate lecturer or instructor. All of the lecturers were really understanding of the conflicts and worked with us to find the best solution.

As for the courses themselves, they can range anywhere between 10 and 30 credits which equates to 2.5 US credits per 10 UK credits. The classes difficulty ranges dependent on the year of the module and how many credits are allocated to it. A full time student is considered 60 credits so this can either be achieved by take a few credit dense classes or multiple 10 credit courses like myself. Courses can consist of lectures, seminars, workshops and tutorials. Make sure to ask your lecturer if you have any uncertainties as to if and when you would have those additional classes. Seminars and workshops frequently do not occur every week. They are either every other week or only certain scheduled weeks. These additional classes help to increase class engagement, exploration of topics and working with a lecturer or tutor.

Another aspect that varies is the grading system. A 70 percent is the cutoff for an A with a 40 percent as passing. During orientation IFSA will provide you with the breakdown of how the percentages will transfer back in as well as advice on how to be successful in your studies and the examination period. This information may be difficult to apply immediately within your studies, so make sure to revisit it throughout the semester. The final grade will, for the most part, be composed of a final examination paper (test) or essay. Some grades are composed solely of the work done during the final examination period while others can be composed of part coursework during the semester and that done during the final examination period. In the spring, the exam period lasts a total of six weeks. The semester breakdown goes as so: there will be classes up until the three week spring break period, then the week after spring break is a revision week in which some courses will hold sessions for questions and reviewing important information for the exam. Then, during the following six weeks, exams will be held. Since exams are only one day in duration, throughout those six the exams will be spread out. For instance, I had one exam per week for three weeks in a row while others had two exams in one week. There really isn’t a rhyme or reason to the scheduling that I could observe, it just kind of occurs as is.

Hopefully this overview helps to provide a good insight into the differences between the US and UK systems. Although it may be intimidating at first, with time the system will become second nature. Best of luck!


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