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Study Abroad Master’s or Undergrad – US or UK?

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The QS rankings feature more US and UK universities in the Top 200 list than any other country in the world. And with good reason, too, as these two countries are the first industrialized nations globally, leading research in fields like STEM, Medicine, Humanities, etc. Both the countries share a rich and solid tradition of quality higher education, research might, and academic erudition stemming from currying intellectual freedom.

Through this article, we will attempt to dissect the features of the American and British education systems from the viewpoint of a student seeking to make an informed decision on the best destination to study abroad.

Course Duration

One of the key differences between the two systems would be the amount of time it takes for one to complete the degree. A Bachelor’s degree in the UK is for three years, a Master’s for one, and a Ph.D. can take three to four years. In contrast, a Bachelor’s degree in the US takes four years, with a Ph.D. taking anywhere between 5 to 7 years after completing at least two years of full-time classroom study. As you can see, the US education system gains two years over the British system. The British system is the most rampant education system globally, with SAARC and the Commonwealth countries following this pattern.

Academic Term

The US universities follow the trimester system, with their academic year being demarcated into the Fall, Summer, and Spring sessions, where the term begins in mid to late August. Most of these universities take a rather lengthy break for Christmas and New Year’s, from mid-December onwards, only to reopen for the Spring semester in early to mid-January. Most universities in the UK function on a semester system, with academic quarterly or trimester systems being less in vogue. Universities begin the session in September or October, ending in May or June, with the academic year being unequally divided between the sessions.

University Organization

Many universities in the UK have separated each discipline, administered by a college or a center, dedicated to a specific subject matter. Although colleges are still governed by the university, each college is afforded autonomy in terms of fees, curriculum, examinations, etc., which give each such college, a distinct form and identity. Declaring a major at the time of application is mandatory, and a vital feature of the UK system is there is no change of major permitted beyond the first year, unlike in the US.

However, in the US, one can study at a range of schools, majors, and minors from across programs while seeking admission to one program. One can take courses from various fields and declare a major at the end of the first year or even during the second year. American universities advocate a Liberal Arts approach. A STEM student can also take electives in Natural History, Archaeology, and Geography, which may not have much to do with the declared major.


Owing to a steep exchange rate, education in both countries is fairly expensive. The ticket price ranges from $20,000 to $35, 000 and above for an international student, depending on the university, tuition, cost of living, etc. However, the cost of education in the US is traditionally more expensive as the international student fees are expected to subsidize the cost of study for the resident student. Also, the US government does not necessarily subsidize education, as does the UK government, not counting the financial assistance on offer for citizens like FAFSA, Sallie Mae, etc. Also, universities in the US are clearly for-profit organizations, driving a bottom line, with expansion being funded through the student monies. In contrast, the English universities follow a more socialistic approach, with capped tuition for residents and citizens and the government giving generous bourses and funding to universities. In the UK, the government sets the upper limit for tuition fees, whereas each individual school has the autonomy to decide its own fee.


With variances in the approach, the American system follows more of a Liberal Arts approach to education, emphasizing studying a broad range of topics that may not be germane to the course, degree, or even school. In contrast, the British system thumbs its nose at a ‘jack of all trades’ approach to education, preferring in-depth academic inquiry with an emphasis on subjective study.

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