The American university system seems to be a bit of a myth to us Brits. There are enough rom-coms and comedies set in the US college system to portray a certain image of university life, from Legally Blonde to 21 Jump Street. But to what extent is this appearance actually true?
In the UK, you apply for a certain degree through the centralised system UCAS, where you are encouraged to be as specific as possible, often leading students choosing degrees they regret! When you get to exams, the entirety of one module’s weight is loaded onto one final piece looming in the dark distance.
In the US, however, you apply to individual universities for broader “majors”. They favour breath over anything else, offering majors in wider areas such as humanities or social sciences. The rumours about gaining “extra-credit” are completely true. Professors are known to let students re-do work and do extra work in order to boost their grades which you would never find in the UK. Another difference is that in the US you have a lot of class quizzes and tests throughout the year (gulp).
In the UK you know you’ve been swotting hard if you break over the 70% mark.
This is not the case in the US where many students would see a B (80-90%) as abysmal. Good job they can do all that “extra-credit”. They have it easy…
Let’s be honest, university life in the UK is centred around messy nights out and the occasional few weeks of cramming for exams. You have those sporty types which won’t stop banging on about their lavish weekly socials. In the UK we try and recreate this passion through the annual “Varsities”, but there is no real competition with the US.
At big state universities especially, sports are the centre of university life. You’ll see “jocks” donning their college jerseys and throwing American footballs to each other like on the movies. This is especially true given that sports scholarships are such a prominent thing in the US, so people come from all over the world just to play sports. Likewise, you can’t help but notice the sheer amount of “team spirit” for their sport teams. After speaking to friends studying abroad in the US, apparently the sports facilities are next to none so there is no surprise it’s different in the UK.
On the subject of general uni living, another big difference is that in the US a lot of people bring their cars to university so day trips and going home is quite common. As you’ve seen in Legally Blonde and Pitch Perfect, many colleges will also allow pets. PETS, I hear you say. You’re not even allowed fairy lights in UK bedrooms… However, in the US it’s very common to have to share a room with someone in halls. I think that outweighs the pet situation to be frank.
The drinking culture in the UK most definitely lives up to its messy reputation. In the major cities, there is a club night for every type of person with every type of music taste, from trashy and cheesy to edgy drum and base nights. Rather than having societies, British students are sorted into cliques from their halls. There are certain university halls that are renowned for being particularly druggy or particularly arty, for example. Not many people bring their car to university so students stay very much intact within the student bubble.
Given that you can’t legally drink for most of university, house parties are the life and soul of your calendar. I spoke to Jack, a Swansea student who spent a year in Maryland at UMBC. He said that Fresher’s week involves no drinking at all and it’s more event-based with games etc. He told me that people got used to parties being shut down constantly, and campus supervisors would come around and bust up the situation. Amusingly, he said that “DD’s” were a big thing: designated drivers. Because everyone was far away, there always needed to be a person to step up and take the hit of being sober all night. Also, the Greek-named “frats” you see on the movies are actually a thing. They get just as rowdy as the Rugby lads initiations in the UK, but they seem praise “flip cup” and beer pong a lot more. In order to join one of the beloved fraternities and sororities, you have to go through “hazing” – a practice of “rituals” and “challenges”. I won’t go into details about these initiations – let your darkest imaginations do the thinking.