British School vs. American School


February 27, 2012
by Darci Miller

Upon arriving in London for study abroad, I was initially amazed by how normal everything felt. I mean, everyone speaks the same language – how different could things possibly be? But two days later, as I was standing in an endless line and waiting to register for classes, I realized that some things here might not be quite the same.

Upon arriving in London for study abroad, I was initially amazed by how normal everything felt. I mean, everyone speaks the same language – how different could things possibly be? But two days later, as I was standing in an endless line and waiting to register for classes, I realized that some things here might not be quite the same.

While the lack of a language barrier definitely helps (we all know what a “lift” is, right?), the British school system does its own thing. Most British universities are three years rather than four and get this: the first year doesn’t even count. That’s right! If Brits want to slack off their entire first year of “uni,” they absolutely can. Of course, it’ll affect their ability to get work placement but it won’t mean anything when it comes to their degrees. This means a whole ton of drinking and skipped lectures followed by two years of mountains of work.

In America, handing in an assignment means printing it out and giving it to your professor. Not across the pond: Each assignment needs some sort of cover sheet that’s provided to you on Blackboard (or the “Virtual Learning Environment”) and needs to be handed into the department office. Not the lecturer or seminar tutor, but the department office. Does this make sense?

The grading system is different as well. One hundreds are completely unheard of: Eighty is basically the equivalent of a perfect score so don’t freak out about getting a 60 – that’s a decent grade here! There are all sorts of different labels assigned to seemingly arbitrary numbers and not even the educators have any idea why it’s done like this. Trust me, I’ve asked.

And then, of course, there’s registering for classes. British students only take classes in their “course,” or major so when associate students attempt to take classes in multiple courses, the online system isn’t equipped to handle it. You may be able to take out books from the school library using a touch screen and a scanner, but you have to run around to the different departments and have them physically sign you up for classes. I never thought I’d miss waking up early for my registration time back in the states!

Bottom line: No matter where you study abroad, you’re going to have culture shock, even if it means writing papers with footnotes instead of in-text citations. Just smile and chalk it all up to experience!

Darci Miller is a New Yorker studying journalism and sport administration at the University of Miami. When she’s not writing for the school newspaper, you can find her at the gym, either working or working out. She loves all '80s pop culture (the cheesier the better!), and glues herself to her TV when the Olympics are on. She dreams big, and believes the sky’s the limit!

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