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How Do I Choose Between US and UK Universities?

While applying for universities and boarding schools, many of our students consider applying to both US and UK institutions. However, beyond the different accents, criteria, and emphasis in the applications, some applicants may not necessarily know all the factors that set the two regions apart. Below is a list of five core differences that we feel students should know when trying to decide which region to apply to.

1. When you choose your degree is different.

Though plenty of students apply to US schools with a clear goal and major in mind, it isn’t actually necessary to declare their majors until after your sophomore year in most institutions. This gives students time to explore their interests and enjoy their experiences on campus, as US institutions prefer and place an emphasis on well-rounded students on their campuses. Additionally, students may discover that they are more interested in other fields of study during this time as they are exposed to more experiences and knowledge, and they may decide to pursue different majors instead.

On the other hand, UK schools require that you apply to a specific program from the start. When applying to a specific program, students must meet the academic requirements of that particular program rather than of an entire institution, as opposed to US institutions.

If students are unsure of their courses of study, we would recommend that they pursue studies in the US. This will allow students to explore more, and will remove the need to transfer across colleges as programs and fields of study are often separated by school in larger UK institutions. Moreover, transfers are not guaranteed and may even be extremely difficult in some cases.

2. The Overall Class Experience: Core classes and the length of courses

US universities will often make students take core classes, or a set of courses that everyone regardless of major must take, and these core courses will often lie outside their chosen fields of study. These classes range from writing to political philosophy to mathematics to STEM. However, UK schools do not require core classes; instead, students will dive right into the program that they signed up for. Because of this difference, US universities typically take students four years to complete, whereas UK universities typically take three years to complete. Thus, if you’re more interested in a holistic class experience, you might favor US universities in this regard, but if you just want to rush through your specialization, the UK might be better instead.

3. Cost of Education

Depending on the institutions, the difference in cost between an institution in the US and one in the UK can be quite large. In 2012, the UK passed a law that limited tuition fees across all universities in an effort to make postsecondary education more equitable and affordable. While fees for international students will often be significantly higher than for local students, these fees still fall under a certain limit that the government sets.

In contrast, tuition in the US has no limits. Because of this, the range of fees can vary wildly. For example, according to U.S. News, the average cost of attending a public college from out of state in the 2021-2022 academic year was US$22,698 while the average cost of attending a private university that same year was US$38,185. Some universities even reach as high as US$50,000 or above in tuition and fees. These fees usually do not include room and board, which can also be very expensive, especially in urban areas.

4. The Physical, Social, Cultural, and Academic Environments

As students will spend many years at the institution that they choose, it’s important to think about the physical, social, cultural, and academic environment. Physical environmental factors would include things like humidity, dryness, temperature, precipitation, and more. If someone likes sunnier weather, perhaps they’ll like warmer and dryer climates like those found in California or Arizona. If someone likes colder weather, perhaps going to a school in New England or in the UK would be better for them.

Social factors would include the type of student life available, such as Greek life, cultural clubs, and similar organizations that are meant to bring students together. Of particular note is that in the US, clubs often have more variety and emphasis to them whereas in the UK, there is less emphasis on structured clubs and extracurriculars, such as Greek life or athletics. Thus, if students don’t really see themselves participating in student activities, the UK may be a better fit.

Cultural factors could include whether or not a student would feel more comfortable in UK or US colleges due to the different societal norms. The UK and the US in general are said to have different customs and attitudes, for example toward alcohol and religion.

Furthermore, the academic environment of schools in general will also be important to consider. Are students interested in going to schools where academics are the primary focus? Or would they rather not? Regardless, the academic environment and the other factors are all important to students when they consider where they want to be for a significant part of their lives.

5. Postgraduate paths and opportunities

Especially for students considering professional career paths such as law and medicine, it is important to note that the processes of attaining degrees in those areas are vastly different across the pond. In the UK, because students dive right into their specialized fields of study in their very first year of university, it usually takes a shorter amount of time to then achieve any postgraduate qualifications necessary for their careers. In contrast, students in the US typically do not start delving deeply into their chosen fields of study until their second or third year of university, which means that their process of achieving their necessary postgraduate qualifications is significantly longer than those of people doing otherwise. In the US, students rarely study law or medicine as undergraduates; instead they study in related fields, such as the humanities or STEM, respectively, and then pursue a law or medical degree in graduate school.

Additionally, usually, students in the UK must have a deep understanding of a field of study before pursuing a postgraduate degree. This is not necessarily true in the US; for example, someone with an undergraduate degree in English can then apply and be accepted into law school. Furthermore, students need to think about where they wish to practice their profession; certification for one country in medicine or law does not usually transfer to the other. For example, attaining a license to practice law in the US does not mean that you also have a license to practice law in the UK; practitioners would need to get that license separately, often by taking difficult exams. Thus, if someone wants a very streamlined experience and is likely to pursue a postgraduate degree as well, the UK would be good in general except in cases like the above where someone is looking to practice a profession that needs regional accreditation in the US.


Still unsure on how to pick which region and which universities to apply to? Dragon Prep offers consulting services to help guide your child’s pre-college process. For more information, call or WhatsApp 9835 8011 or visit


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