The British University System: Studying Abroad in England
University-level courses in the United Kingdom are taught in English, but few other similarities exist between British and American universities. From grading to scheduling classes to choosing a major, the Brits do things their own way. But, hey, you were the one who decided to study abroad to experience something different, right? Studying in the U.K. offers the chance to soak up another culture without having to soak up another language.
British students planning to attend university begin specializing in an academic subject while they still are in high school. Students choose their university majors essentially during the years that are equivalent to 11th and 12th grades in the U.S. In 11th grade, students study four or five courses and take the first round of exams, called A levels, before proceeding to a second year of advanced A-level study in three subjects. Students emerge from these two years of study with the equivalent of what is considered advanced placement or freshman-year credit in the U.S. Therefore, in England, most university degrees are completed after only three years of study rather than four.
Students apply directly to a university's academic departments (such as history or biology) for admission to bachelor's degree programs. The specific academic department makes admission decisions, not a centralized admissions office. For students entering an English university, majors are determined when they apply, and they're permitted to take only courses that are within their majors. As an applicant to an English university, the department in which you plan to study reviews your application and admits you. Additionally, you can expect to study in no more than two departments at most British universities. Some universities, however, have become more flexible and are allowing study abroad students to study in multiple departments at the introductory (first- or second-year) level.
Because of the preparation U.K. students go through before arriving at university, many first-year courses at British universities equal courses at a U.S. university's sophomore year level, especially where languages, science, and math are concerned. As a visiting student, the university may allow you to take only first- and second-year courses. Be aware that second-year courses match junior-year courses in the U.S. British universities often limit admission to final-year (third-year) courses to students with extensive backgrounds in their respective fields of study.
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