With a large number of students heading from DU to study abroad in the UK this fall, here I write about my experiences studying in both the UK and the US academic systems.Studying in the UK will expose you to a number of differences in academic culture. Below, I’ve highlighted some of the most significant.
Generally you can expect to have fewer hours of class in the UK. In the UK many full time juniors or seniors might have just three or four hours of class time, compared to 15 hours at DU.
The time you spend in class will be much more lecture-based than at DU. Don’t be surprised to find little student participation in your classes in the UK. Often only the Professor will speak for the duration of the class. Instead, student participation is reserved for “tutorials”. Typically, these are one hour seminar/discussion sessions with the Professor, sometimes in their office with just five or six other students.
Given this, there is a much greater focus on independent research outside of class and you will be expected to conduct your own research. In many cases this means picking your own books and articles to read from a list on the syllabus, rather than being assigned specific readings for each class as you are at DU. This means that if assigned a particular essay, many students will answer it very differently based on the differing reading that they have done themselves based on their interests. To get strong grades, incorporating this individualized reading into your papers and exams will be important.
Generally, there will be fewer assessments than at DU. For many classes you might find that your assessment comprises either a single exam or a single paper, or perhaps an exam and paper due together at the end of the quarter/semester. Consequently, it is unlikely that there will be a participation grade, quizzes or midterms. Some students like the fact that they have less stress across the quarter, others don’t like that all their assignments may be concentrated at the end of the quarter.
This system means that there is more ambiguity and less structure in the UK system as a whole. The Professors will see you as more of a self-starter. Often, a Professor might never mention the assignments for that class and will instead expect you to read the syllabus, see what the assignment is and do it without guidance.
In the UK, particularly in England and Wales, most students only study for three years to earn their degree. The three year degree means that there is no common curriculum. In college, students only take classes in their major and therefore usually only from one department. Therefore, most students choose their College major whilst in High School at the age of 17. A DU Junior studying abroad should be aware that local students taking third year classes in the UK will most likely already have studied as many as ten classes in that major.
Given these differences, it will be important to adapt quickly by setting your own learning plan, making sure to meet with your Professors and by disciplining yourself to work throughout the term in order to disperse your workload rather than leaving all your work until the final weeks of the semester.
-Callum Forster, DU Study Abroad Peer Advisor