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Comparison of American and British Universities: A Complete Guide

British and American universities share many similarities and still, have many differences. Students in both Britain and America rely very little on the instructor to teach the course material. In both cases, students expect to learn from their own motivation and ability to complete a task. Besides, in both countries, professors are generally available to answer student questions outside of class time.

Let’s see how British and American universities differ from each other:

 

Lectures in British Universities vs. Lectures in American Universities

 

In Britain, lectures are what Americans would call “discussion” classes. They have a more casual feel to them and involve a lot of conversation with the professor or teaching assistant. 

In America, lectures tend to be far more formal and conducted by a professor or TA (teaching assistant). The lecture is typically not moderated conversation but rather a presentation that the professor leads.

 

Evaluation of Students in British Universities vs. Evaluation of Students in American Universities

 

In Britain, the idea of criticism towards students takes on an entirely different meaning than it does in America.

In Britain, the evaluation of students is much more constructive. It is seen as a way to help the student grow and learn for future exams or tests.

In America, evaluation tends to be much more traditional where grades are given out objectively without regard for the student’s emotional well-being.

 

Class Structure in British Universities vs. Class Structure in American Universities

 

In Britain, most classes are assigned pre-determined lessons that must be completed before the final exam. 

In America, however, most classes are in a more traditional lecture format where students can ask questions or discuss topics based on what they have read or experienced.

 

Final Exam Structure in British Universities vs. Final Exam Structure in American Universities

 

Exams are also structured quite differently between Britain and America. In Britain, students are often afraid of exams because they only get one shot on the final exam.

In America, however, many colleges have several chances to take an exam to improve their grade. 

Also, some American universities allow students to take an “incomplete” if they need more time or assistance with a particular part of an assignment. In Britain, however, a student is expected to complete all classwork and pass every test to get a degree.

In America, there are both oral and written exams. 

Written exams typically include short answer questions and essay-type questions that can be answered within three hours. An oral exam usually includes a presentation in which the student must explain a topic or answer questions from the instructor. 

In Britain, however, there is only one written exam that lasts up to two hours and may include essay-type questions in addition to true/false and multiple-choice questions.

 

Grading Scale in British Universities vs. Grading Scale in American Universities

 

In Britain, students often receive straight A’s (A+, A, A-) without much effort because most exams are pass/fail.

In America, however, the grading scale is typically stricter. An “A” in American universities can refer to an average grade of 90-100%, which can be difficult to achieve.

Contact Hours in British Universities vs. Contact Hours in American Universities

 

One of the biggest differences between American and British universities is in the required amount of time spent with students.

In America, it is not unheard of for a professor to meet with their student once every several weeks over an entire semester. 

In Britain, however, it is expected that students have contact with their teacher/professor much more often. For example, when writing a dissertation, students are encouraged to meet the professor once a week for an entire year to discuss their progress.

 

Tutor Hours in British Universities vs. Tutor Hours in American Universities

 

In Britain, there is far more emphasis on tutoring than is seen in America. Many students rely heavily on tutors and study groups to help them understand their coursework and pass their exams.

In America, students typically rely on their own motivation and ability to learn to succeed in their studies. Some students also hire tutors in America but this is far less common than it is in Britain.

 

Teaching Assistants (TAs) in British Universities vs. Teaching Assistants (TAs) in American Universities

 

In America, TAs are graduate students who assist the professor with teaching the class.

In Britain, however, TAs can either be a graduate student or a member of academic staff such as a post-doctoral fellow. 

A TA’s job in Britain is to help students learn course material and study for tests. In America, a TA’s job is typically limited to grading student work.

 

Evaluation of Professors by Students in British Universities vs. Evaluation of Professors by Students in American Universities

 

In Britain, the evaluation of professors is taken much more seriously than it is in America. In Britain, a professor is required to answer questions from their students at least twice a year and must explain how they intend to improve themselves as a teacher.

In America, evaluation of professors typically doesn’t have much importance to the individual professor.

 

Evaluation of Teaching Assistants by Students in British Universities vs. Evaluation of Teaching Assistants by Students in American Universities

 

In Britain, a TA is typically evaluated by students twice a year through written feedback and/or listening to oral reports given by the TA.

In America, TAs are not typically evaluated by students at all. A TA’s primary purpose is grading student work and providing them with assistance as needed.

 

Coursework in British Universities vs. Coursework in American Universities

 

In Britain, the coursework that professors must complete is much more extensive than it typically is in America. In fact, a professor in Britain is required to write and submit a personal statement twice a year. This statement should give evidence of intellectual curiosity and research skills. 

In America, this is not typically required. The only coursework that professors typically complete in America is writing and submitting a syllabus for each semester they teach.

 

Required Reading in British Universities vs. Required Reading in American Universities

 

In Britain, there is much more emphasis on reading than there is in America. For example, in some British universities, students are expected to read at least eight journal articles per week.

In America, however, there is typically much less emphasis on reading. The focus is more on lectures and class discussions.

 

A Typical British University Class vs. a Typical American University Class

 

In Britain, students sit in large lecture halls with the professor standing in front of them. However, in American universities students sit in smaller classrooms with the professor sitting behind a desk at the front of the room.

Another difference is that British lectures are typically much longer than American lectures, lasting approximately 60-90 minutes. In America, classes will last anywhere from 40 to 100 minutes.

 

Campus Life in British Universities vs. Campus Life in American Universities

 

In Britain, students tend to focus more on their coursework and studying for exams. As a result, campus life tends to be much less common than it is in America. In Britain, there are usually other opportunities outside of the classroom that help students grow as people such as clubs or sports teams. 

In America, however, campus life tends to be a major part of university life. Some students even refer to their college as “the best four years of their lives” due to the freedom and opportunity that campus life allows for.

In Britain, most students either commute or rent an apartment off-campus with friends. In America, however, many students choose to live on-campus in either a dormitory or off-campus apartment because it is typically much cheaper than living with roommates.

 

So, where do you want to study: An American University, or a British University?

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November 15, 2021

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