Studying in UK vs. US Universities

by | May 10, 2022

The UK and the US are two of the most popular destinations for international students. In the UK alone, there are over 450,000 international students at university. There are some big differences between UK and US universities, such as the application process, length of study, etc.

You can apply to more universities in the US

In the US, you can apply to as many ‘colleges’ (that’s what university is known as in the US) as you want to. Though it’s not advised to apply to more than 15 and college counselors usually recommend that you apply to around six to eight colleges.

In the UK, you can apply to up to five universities (four, if you’re applying for medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine). It’s fewer than the US but there are several advantages to this, including the application process is much easier and quicker – which we’ll continue discussing below.

But the UK’s application process is easier

In the UK, every student applies to several universities through UCAS. This is a UK-based organisation that operates the application process for British universities. Here, you can choose your university options, submit your grades and personal statement and this service will store this information.

It’s all done in one place, making it much easier. You also only need to write one personal statement (which is essentially a short essay about why you want to study the course you’re applying for) but because this will be sent to all the universities you apply for, it’ll need to be just about the course and not a specific university.

In the US, the process of applying to university can be much longer. This is because students need to apply to each university directly, going through each institution’s admissions department.

In the US, there’s also a system called Common Application. It’s not as detailed as the UK’s UCAS system but it does allow you to submit all of your applications in one place.

Students applying to universities in the US also usually need to supply essays for each university they apply to. So, if you apply for 10 universities, you’ll need to write 10 essays – all specific to each university.

The length of study is not the same

One of the biggest differences between UK and US universities is the time it takes to complete a degree. In general, it takes one year longer to get a degree in the US compared to the UK.

UK courses are typically one year shorter because the course programs are more focused than in the US. Here’s a rough guideline on how long courses take in both countries (if you’re studying full-time).


  • Bachelors: 3-4 years
  • Masters: 1 year
  • PhD: 3-4 years+


  • Bachelors: 4 years
  • Masters: 2 years
  • PhD: 5-7 years+

University structures are also different

Universities in both the UK and US are divided into schools according to their subject – for example, any business-related courses would be a part of the Business & Law school. But, one big difference is how the actual courses are structured.

Confused? Don’t worry, we’ll explain further…

American universities give students the opportunity to explore multiple subjects for at least a year before deciding on a final major. This isn’t for everyone.

For example, if you choose a US university and you’ve already decided on a final major, you’ll still have to attend other classes throughout the first two years. If you don’t, you won’t work towards your final degree.

That’s not always the case in the UK. If you choose a combined honors program, you’re able to study two subjects at once. Sometimes you can do more. For example, you can do up to three at Newcastle University. This is similar to the US. But, if you choose a regular honors degree, you’ll usually only focus on your specialism.

Though, there’ll be opportunities to take optional modules. So, if you’ve selected engineering, you’ll attend engineering-related classes, plus any optional modules you’ve chosen.

This is why UK courses usually don’t take as long to complete as you get to study your chosen subjects straight away – rather than exploring different options beforehand.

Find your country and discover the courses available to you.

Student life and accommodation can vary

You’ll have plenty of opportunities in both the UK and the US to make lifelong friends. Some things are quite similar, such as being able to join a wide range of clubs and societies.

You’ll get the chance to explore some amazing cities and create amazing memories. In the UK, you have accommodation options such as student halls that are provided by the universities or even private accommodation.

In the US, students usually find themselves sharing dormitories with other students. Or in some cases, students can apply to join a fraternity or sorority. These are large houses that a group of students can stay in after a detailed application process.

It’s really down to you and the type of lifestyle you want to enjoy.

The exams are quite similar

In the UK and US, courses require a lot of reading and assignments. This can include essays, research papers, oral presentations and more.

The only slight difference is that the UK is more lecture-based and there’s a big focus on seminars and workshops. However, you’ll still do assignments in both countries.

Final grades are usually determined by the performance of your assignments. Although in some cases, your entire grade can be based on a final exam.

Now that you know the similarities and differences between UK and US universities, it’s a good time to find out more about what the UK has to offer international students…

Questions? Let’s chat!

Bettina Weil, Founder

Weil College Advising, LLC


Weil College Advising

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