In the U.K., students pick a course of study, then pick the university. Because they go straight into their major, they earn a bachelor’s degree in three years. British students narrow down their subject choices in high school. When looking at U.K. school websites, realize that a “module” is what we refer to as a class, and a “programme” or “course” is what we call a major. Also, they spell and punctuate differently over there!

According to the representatives from Cardiff and Essex, there are fewer assignments and assessments throughout the year than in the U.S. Grades are based primarily upon final exams. Students should be able to handle a lot of independent study, as they won’t be spoon-fed.

Why study in the U.K.?

  • Cost: It’s a three-year program, with tuition running about $22K/year and living costs $13-18K. Some merit-based scholarships may be available.
  • The U.K. schools will accept FAFSA.
  • Students may work up to 20 hours a week.
  • Schools will assist with visa application, which occurs after accepted and three months before start of school.
  • First term starts late September or early October.
  • First term runs to mid-December; after four weeks for Christmas break, second term goes to Easter.
  • Exams are spread out over six weeks in May and June.
  • There is a lot of support in place; courses are pass/fail in the first year.
  • Each student gets a tutor/adviser from major.
  • Student union has counseling, disabilities services.
  • U.K. schools are a good option for IB students.
  • Every student gets a single dorm room.

About Cardiff and Essex

  • Cardiff isn’t top of top but accepts AP scores of 4 and 5.
  • Cardiff is a city of 350,000; university has about 30K students.
  • Essex has lower standards for admission than Cardiff, but some subjects are competitive (human rights, government, politics).
  • Essex is 45 minutes from London and has three campuses. Main campus is 200 acres of parkland in Colchester (large town); 16K students; drama school very competitive, just outside London; third campus small.

Studying in the U.K. vs. Studying in the U.S.

Duration: Students in the U.K. earn their bachelor’s degree in three years (except in Scotland, which takes four years) because they are more subject-focused, and 80% finish in that three-year period. The U.S. bachelor’s degree is designed to be earned in four years, but nationally, only about one-third complete the degree in that time.

Application: All U.K. schools use the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), and you may apply to up to five schools that have the “course” or major that you want. In the U.S., many schools use the Common App or Coalition App, but others have their own university or college application. Students aren’t limited in the number of applications they submit.

Learning: Majors are declared from the very beginning, and emphasis is more on depth than breadth in the U.K.

Assessment: U.K. schools tend to have fewer assignments and assessments than U.S. schools, with grades based mostly on final exams.

Accommodations: Most rooms at U.K. schools are singles, and meals are not provided; in the U.S., single rooms are rare and most dorm rooms are shared. Full dining options are available in the U.S., and usually freshmen must purchase a meal plan.

Admissions Philosophy: U.K. schools look for the applicant to be suitable to study the subject; U.S. schools look for the applicant to be suitable to the institution.

Extracurriculars: Sports are generally less important in the U.K. system than in the U.S., and athletic scholarships are more prevalent in the U.S.

Application Timeline

            The application process involves the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, or UCAS, ( You pick up to five universities for a course of study (in the U.S., that’s a major). These five schools should range from high to low chance of admission so that you have at least one likely to accept you.

            A very important aspect of the application is the personal statement. This essay is different from those for U.S. schools in that it’s more like the “Why Do You Want to Go Here?” supplemental essays in the U.S. According to the University of Essex, “[Y]our personal statement should explain why you want to study your chosen course at university. You need to demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment, and convince the Admissions Selectors that you will be suitable for your chosen course.”

            Use the UCAS to apply starting in September, with a deadline of January 15. You will find out which schools have accepted you by March. At that point, you pick one “firm” choice and one “insurance” school by May. Acceptance is conditionally based upon tests—AP, IB, SAT—and receiving your high school diploma. Universities in the U.K. typically make a conditional offer based upon predicted grades. The requirements, whether of AP, IB, or SAT scores, vary from university to university, so it’s important to check the requirements at each institution.

U.K. universities worth a look