Studying in the UK vs the USA

  • 7 min read
Studying in the UK vs the USA

The UK and the US are two of the most popular study abroad destinations. They have world-renowned universities and offer a wealth of opportunities for international students.

When it comes to higher education, there are several key differences between their education systems that are important to consider before you decide where to study.

Application procedure

To apply to a university in the UK, you’ll need to submit your application through a centralized application portal called UCAS. It allows you to apply for up to five programs at once.

You’ll need to provide information like your personal details, education history, and a personal statement during the UCAS process. You’ll also need to pay an application fee of £18 for a single application, or £24 if you’re applying to two or more universities.

The US application process is more decentralized. You generally need to apply directly to each university you’re interested in.

It’s likely you’ll be asked to write an essay for each US application you make, whereas you only need to submit one personal statement in the UK.

If you’re applying to five US universities, you may need to write five essays, making the process more lengthy. You will also need to pay an application fee to each university, so it can be more expensive.

Education structure

If you’re opting for a bachelor’s program in the US, you’ll study courses from a range of disciplines and then choose a major after your first or second year. This is to let you explore different fields to help you figure out what enjoy before you commit to a program.

If you’ve decided on a major already, you’ll still be required to attend classes that are outside of your chosen subject which will give you a wider breadth of education.

Students in the UK choose their major before they start studying. They specialize in one subject from the start of their degree. This is an advantage if you have a clear idea of what you want to learn.

You can study joint honors programs where two subjects are combined. For example, a degree in business and history. Not all universities offer joint programs, so be sure to check if they’re available at your chosen institutions before you apply.

If you know exactly which field you want to go into, then it may be better to study in the UK. If you’re unsure, the US may be a better option for you.

Program length

Most UK undergraduate programs are three years long, whereas they’re four years in length in the US. Shorter courses can be more intensive and can be great for students who want to get their degrees quickly, but you’ll have less time to explore your new surroundings as a student.

Although a shorter program may save you time and money, it also means you’ll have less time to explore other subjects and interests, like what’s possible in the US. If you’re looking for a more rounded education, the US may be better.

The costs

The cost of studying abroad can be very expensive but the UK tends to be cheaper than the US. The tuition fees you’ll need to pay in the UK will depend on the university you choose but it can be anywhere between £15,000 - £30,000 a year or more.

The fees in the US also vary greatly as there are no limits on how much universities can charge. Tuition costs typically range from $25,000 - $40,000 a year but can be over $50,000 or more if you choose a popular, private, or prestigious university.

In addition to tuition fees, you’ll also need to think about living expenses which include rent, food, socializing, and travel. Prices will depend on where you choose to study, but major cities are generally more expensive than smaller towns.

Overall the UK can be a more affordable location, but each country had cheaper and more expensive options.

Teaching styles

Students in the UK generally learn through lectures, seminars, and practicals depending on the chosen subject. Students are typically assessed through assignments and exams at the end of the semester or year.

Meanwhile, students in the US tend to experience a more hands-on approach to learning. Common requirements may include participation in group debates, sitting mid-term exams, and completing numerous tests and assignments throughout the year which contribute to the final grade.

If you prefer to complete your exams in one go, then the UK may be the place for you. However, if you feel that’s too stressful and prefer regular and gradual assessments throughout the year then the US may be right for you.

Studying in either country is a big commitment in terms of time and money, so carefully think about how you prefer to learn and what you enjoy before you choose a location.

Academic year

In the UK, the academic year is divided into semesters or terms, with breaks in between during the spring, summer, and winter. On average, each semester is around 12 weeks long.

There are two term structures in the US, one is the semester system, and the other is the quarter system.

For institutions following the semester system, The academic year is generally made up of two semesters, with the same seasonal breaks as in the UK. Each semester is around 15 weeks long.

For those observing the quarter system, the year is made up of four 10-week study periods, with holidays in between.

Carefully research and compare the term structures for the universities you’re interested in before you apply. Ask yourself if you prefer long terms or shorter ones before you go for a break.

Student life

Both countries are renowned for their cultures and the extensive variety of extracurricular activities you can take part in, but they’re different when it comes to culture and atmosphere.

The US is a vast country. You’ll experience different cultures and climates depending on where you are in the country.

For example, California and Florida are sunny states with gorgeous beaches and a laid-back lifestyle. New York is a fast-paced metropolis, whereas Alaska is a snowy and peaceful place with tight-knit communities.

The UK is a lot smaller. While it’s home to famous attractions, beautiful beaches, and cosmopolitan cities, there’s less variety compared to the US. The climate also tends to be similar throughout the country due to its small size.

If you’re seeking a wealth of diversity and amazing weather, then the US might be more suitable for you.


On-campus accommodation is available in both countries. it's common to share a room with another student in the US, whereas you’ll have a room to yourself in the UK, but you may have to share facilities like a bathroom.

Students generally tend to live in private off-campus residences after the first year. On-campus options may still be available for non-first-year students but the number of living spaces on offer may be limited.

There are also alternative accommodation options available in the US like homestay living arrangements. If you opt for a homestay, you’ll live with a local host family, which is great if you wish to have an authentic living experience in the US.

You can also live in a fraternity or sorority house in the US. You’ll live in a large property with lots of other students. You’ll have to pass a rigorous application process to earn a place in the house.