Academic differences between the US and UK

Being back at home over Christmas Break, I was asked hundreds of questions about what it is like to be abroad.  Over and over again people asked me how the university work here differs from home and it got me thinking, so here are a few academic differences that I have noticed between Mizzou and Manchester.

  1. Talking to your teachers is much more formal, you would call them Dr. or Prof. as opposed to just their first names as we do back in Manchester. This makes your relationship slightly more formal, which is good is some regards, but can also make approaching them a little more intimidating.
  2. Work isn’t anonymous, so if your professor likes you, chances are you will get a better grade. Whilst this may seem a little unfair (and it is) I advise getting on the good side of your professors as it may be the difference in you getting an A or a B!
  3. American uni is more like school, by that I mean that you will have homework due every week for most of your classes. I had to write about 500 words per week for two of my classes last semester and had quizzes every week in another.  This means you really have to stay on top of your work, but also reduces the amount of pressure you feel for each assignment.
  4. 70 in the US is not good…. Whilst at Manchester, getting a mark back that is in the 70s is cause for celebration, in America, it is cause for despair as any grade between 70-79 is a C. Basically getting a good grade in the US means that you have to get almost every question correct as only 90 and above is an A.
  5. You have to buy the books! Whilst at Manchester, you don’t have to buy any texts books for most courses, as much of what you will read is online journals and articles, here at Mizzou it is not unusual to have to spend up to $80 for text books for one class, and this is something important to factor in when deciding where to study abroad. However, if you do have an extensive and expensive book list I recommend you go to your first week of class and work out if it is entirely necessary to by the books, as sometimes you won’t need them so you don’t need to waste money.
  6. The Professors have much more flexibility when it comes to classes. In Manchester, you get your syllabus and you see what you will be learning when, what course work and exams you will have.  They are set is stone and won’t change (except for the occasional pushed back deadline).  However, here at Mizzou, three out out my 4 professors last semester changed the course during the semester.  One made our exam a take home exam which was a lovely surprise, another took away two pieces of coursework and changed our final project to making a presentation rather than having to make a video.  Both of these were nice changes and I think improved my final grade.  But my other class the professor got rid of some sections that were worth 50 points out of 400 which I think may have made my grade worse than it might have been, this means that you can’t rely on one part of the course which you think may be easier to get a high grade in as your course could be changed at any point during the semester.
  7. People study much more specific subjects. For example, whilst I study Geography (not a common major here at Mizzou), the few people I have met who are Geography majors here are studying GIS (Geographic Information Systems) which is a very specific course.  This applies across the board, whilst at home my friends study, history, classics, economics or English, here people are business finance majors, or marketing, hospitality and most commonly a very specific type of Journalism as Mizzou’s Journalism school is the best in the States.  So if you do a subject that isn’t specific, I suggest you prepare an answer to the question: “So what are you doing with that” aka asking what job you can get!

It has taken a bit of time to get my head around the differences in academia it has been a great experience to see how different people learn. What I have seen is that there is more of an emphasis on breadth in the US uni system as opposed to the depth that is preferred in the UK. Indeed you will often not be expected to do your own research for a class and often will get marked down if you use literature that is not in the syllabus.

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