US versus UK Universities
- Deciding What's Right for You

US versus UK Universities
- Deciding What's Right for You

Faced with the choice between applying to university in the US or the UK, it makes sense to first determine what you want out of the experience. Both systems offer excellent options for a fine education but have distinct points of difference.

Some thoughts:

  • Are you committed to a particular field of study, or motivated to explore a range of subjects and disciplines?
  • Are you looking for a school where students are actively engaged in a vibrant on-campus community?
  • Is cost or size a deciding factor?
  • Do you have a career goal that demands a post-graduate degree, so you prefer to complete undergraduate studies in three versus four years?
  • Are you more concerned with high teacher to student and seminar to lecture class ratios, rather than the renown of a University's research faculty?

If you know which subject or set of subjects you intend to study, have a firm career objective and a strong academic record, but are not involved in sports or passionately engaged with extracurricular pursuits; you might be a better candidate for a UK university.

However - if you do not yet have a firm idea of your field of study, are excited to study a broad range of subjects, aspire to compete in team athletics, or immerse yourself in campus life engaged in activities and events beyond the classroom - you will be more satisfied with the US college experience.

While facilities at UK universities are improving, they can't compete with US colleges and universities that have substantial private endowments. Government regulated tuition makes UK schools good value for money, but they can't match the amenities, extracurricular options and quality of student life available on most American college campuses.

Next, it is important to evaluate where your strengths as a candidate are likely to have greater appeal.

Admissions criteria also differ between the US and UK.

In the UK, students apply for a place in a degree program. The challenge is to convince professors reading your application that you have the right profile for their specialization. Certain subjects are more competitive than others at the same university. Getting an offer for a place in an English literature department may be harder than it is for a Classics or Geography program. Grade point average, secondary school exit exams (A-levels, Baccalaureate & IB) and standardized tests are prime considerations in a UCAS or Oxbridge application.

Your UCAS personal statement is targeted to members of the department you are applying for, whereas a US common app essay is an exercise in personal expression that can be totally unrelated to school experience.

US universities and colleges are looking for "well-rounded candidates" that will contribute to the college community. An admissions committee, not an academic department, will determine the fate of your application. While high GPA and standardized test (ACT/SAT) scores are important, they aren't enough to ensure success. Personal statements, supplemental essays, extracurricular activities, unique life experiences, internships and sports achievements also matter and can compensate for less than stellar test scores if you happen to be the person an admissions department is looking for in their quest to form a diverse Freshman class.

The range of choice is another factor to consider. Between large universities, state schools, and private colleges, options in the US are vast. While this can be intimidating, there is more probability that you will find several schools that correspond to your objective criteria and personal preferences. It is also possible for foreign students to qualify for merit scholarships and need-based financial aid.

Finally, as you consider your choices, allow yourself ample lead-time to reflect on your objectives and fully investigate options, including whether to apply to both UK and US universities. Once you've created a short-list of potential schools, both in the UK and US, try to find the time to schedule campus tours. Develop a plan of action that may include a SAT or ACT prep course or essay-writing workshop. Making an informed choice based on diligent research will significantly improve the likelihood of acceptance at the right school for you.

This article also appears on William Clarence's blog.

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