Study in the UK?


Maranda Bianchi '22, Writer

Studying abroad provides a variety of opportunities inaccessible in American schools. The UK is filled with world-renowned universities like Oxford and Cambridge, and many others in the prestigious Russel group (the UK equivalent of the Ivy League), which are significantly easier to get into as a foreign student. The abroad experience will help develop a greater sense of independence and cultivate a broader sense of the world and its cultures. Although it may be far, it is still closer to the Boston area than California or other places in the west coast.  

Requirements of Acceptance: Most universities in the UK require a GPA of at least 3.0 unweighted or a minimum of 3.5 for the more prestigious schools. Also, universities in the UK want to see AP exam scores rather than ACT or SAT scores as they feel it more accurately assesses how the student is actually learning. Most colleges will require 2-3 AP exam scores of a 3 or higher. More prestigious universities require 2-3 AP exam scores of 4 or higher, especially in the field you wish to pursue in university. In regards to ACT scores, for most universities, a score of 27 is required. And for the SAT, most universities require a cumulative score of 1200. These may differ for more prestigious universities. Although these are the basics there may be some variation by school, so it is best just to go on the school of interest’s website to find out their requirements. 

How to Choose a University: The best way I would recommend picking a university is by finding which are ranked in your subject of interest. For example, if you want to go into engineering, search the ranked universities for engineering. Then look at the requirements, the number of students, the size, the look and location of the university, etc. to form a list. I also recommend looking at where the university is located on the ranking of student satisfaction rate. This is the evaluation by students about whether they are satisfied with the education they receive there and whether or not they are happy at the university. (I took some off my list because they were ranked too low in this category). Additionally, within some English schools, you have to choose a different ‘college’ to be a part of. ‘Colleges’ are what they call the different sections of dormitories. Some can be more modern buildings, while others can quite literally be castles. Additionally, when choosing a ‘college’, it is important to consider roommates. Most accommodations provided to foreign students tend to be single person, and very rarely will you have a roommate. More often than not you will have suite-mates instead. So all of you will have separate rooms but share common areas like bathrooms and kitchen spaces (how many suite-mates you have will be determined by how early you apply for accommodations). One thing that can also vary by ‘colleges’ is ‘catering’. If the ‘college’ is listed as ‘catered’, that means there is a chef there that will cook for you the majority of your meals, similar to the concept of cafeterias in US schools. If it is labeled as self-catered, then there will be a kitchen in your suite where you will prepare your meals yourself. For self-catered students, universities will sometimes provide meal plans that students can join so they will be able to sustain healthy diets. 

Prices: Education over there is cheap compared to American prices. Universities in prices range from 20,000-30,000$, not including financial aid and scholarships. Compared to US schools that can cost anywhere from 40,000-80,000$. The English students only start to pay the loans for their tuition after they receive a steady income, Scottish students go for free. Seems better, right? Scottish schools especially give American students scholarships because they feel bad charging others for their free education, whereas US schools are very clearly happy to take your money and put you in years of debt. However, one thing to be noted is the prices listed above for both do not take into account living expenses. 

Educational Differences: One thing to be noted when going there to study is the differences between the educational structure. In UK universities, grades do matter. The degree you receive is based on your academic performance. The higher your grades, the more valuable your degree. To earn your degree, at the end of your education, you must write a dissertation. This is a ten-page essay on a topic of your choice based on your major. This essay is written to prove your knowledge of the subject before you graduate. The last year of your study is dedicated to writing this. One additional thing to note is that there are no base classes you need to take. If you are a History student, you are not required to take a science or math course. For English schools, you take three modules per semester all based on your major, and this structure continues for all three years of university (yes, they only attend three years before graduating). In your third year, you continue to take classes while also working on your dissertation. For Scottish universities, you have to take two modules based on your major and one free to choose any area of study each semester (for example, you could do two modules on engineering but then decide you want the last module for economics). You have a second year of this same structure, and then your third year you are restricted to only classes in your chosen major. The fourth-year is thus dedicated to just writing your dissertation. There are no classes this entire year, but instead, you spend your time working and doing internships (all internships in the UK come with full pay because it is considered unethical to not pay people for their work). Additionally, schools in England start in early October and end in late June. In Scottish schools, the term starts in early September and ends in late May (like American schools). For completing the three years of education in England, you will receive a BA degree. However, in Scotland, completing all four years of education earns you a MA degree. 

Studying Abroad: If going to the UK university wasn’t enough, you can also participate in a year abroad. Most universities provide programs in the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Oceania. In England, the year abroad happens between the second and third years of education but does not count towards your degree. In Scotland, the year abroad replaces your second year at university, and grades there do count towards your degree. 

UCAS: One of the most important things about studying abroad is how to apply. Some UK universities can be applied to through the Common App but a great majority cannot. Therefore, it is better to apply through the UK portal called UCAS. This application form has far less questions to fill out, notably asking less about clubs and outside activities (UK students do not have clubs or sports in high school so if you want your participation in this to be a part of your application, you would have to include them separately in your personal statement). You are required to submit basic information that is essential to applying for a visa. You also have to submit one teacher recommendation, rather than two, and a personal statement. There is no such thing as supplemental essays in the UK. The deadline for applying is usually around January 15th (when I applied it had been moved back to January 26th).  There is no limit to how many schools you can apply to in the US, but in the UK you have a maximum of five schools. 

Personal Statement: One thing that confused me the most in my own application was the difference between the US and the UK personal statements. In the US applications, you are given a prompt like “some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.” In essays like this, you have to eloquently catch the reader’s attention and allude to the fact that you are amazing without directly saying it. You are then given a length requirement that is usually a minimum of 250 words and a maximum of 650 words. This contrasts greatly with the UK personal statement. In the UK, you have to show your interest in the major you applied for. For example, if applying for a degree in economics, describe what in high school made you like it, some classes you took to show your interest in it, some books or articles you read to increase your knowledge of the subject, other things you did inside and outside school to prove interest, maybe some skills learned from a job that could help in the future or in the studying of that subject, what you like about how the degree is being taught at the university you applied to (best to keep this part general because mentioning specific colleges is always a no), prove your hardworking and will contribute to the school and its enrichment, etc. The UK personal statement is most akin to what you would typically write in a US supplemental. The UK prioritizes straightforwardness and wants the essay to reflect that; there is no reason to be overly wordy, rather just to the point and eloquent. The length of these essays is limited to 4000 characters. 

Response Time: Universities usually will get back to you quickly. US schools can take up to four months for a response. Universities can take only four days and usually no more than three months. Usually, you will get accepted by a university as long as you meet all their requirements. If you get accepted, you will receive a notification from UCAS telling you there has been an update and then the university will email you directly. In the UK, when you are accepted, you receive something called an ‘offer’. These offers are either unconditional or conditional. Unconditional offers mean that you do not have to meet any requirements and are guaranteed a place at their university. These are not very common. The most common ones are conditional offers. Conditional offers are when you have to meet a requirement before you are guaranteed a place there. This can mean an AP exam of a certain grade or a certain GPA at graduation (most universities for me required a GPA of 3.0 by graduation). Since these grades take time to be released, offers are normally accepted by the student in mid-June or mid-August. It is important to keep track of these dates and also when to start applying for accommodations.  

Ultimately, the education you choose is up to you but this is all the basics you have to know when applying to UK universities. There are pros and cons to all forms of education and it is best to choose what is right for you. (if the editors want to cut this last bit here or add something better for me at the end, that is up to them)