Since “study” is half of “study abroad,” it’s important to have an idea of what you’re getting yourself into before you start planning all of your exciting new adventures through Europe. I found the UK system of few assignments and multiple essays a little harder to adjust to, as I’m used to minimal essays and frequent multiple choice exams at Ole Miss. Keep reading for a (very) brief overview of the British higher education system!
In the UK, most undergrad students typically go to university (or uni, if you’re British), for 3 years. Freshmen, sophomores, and juniors don’t exist, either; students are referred to by year. For example, at Ole Miss, I’m a sophomore; at Reading, I’m a second-year. Instead of taking a mix of generalized classes and degree-specific classes, students usually only take degree-specific classes. For example, if you’re studying archaeology at Reading, you would just take archaeology classes. I felt a bit out of place in my first-year history and archaeology classes because all the other students had a whole semester’s worth of knowledge on topics I knew little about.
Instead of 2 semesters, the academic year is divided into 3 terms, autumn, spring, and summer. The spring term is reserved for lectures and seminars, while summer term is dedicated to a few makeup lectures and exams. I only had 6 classes total the first 2 weeks of summer term, and then I was done until exams! This leaves a lot of time to goof off, but you should spend at least part of it actually revising (aka studying). Exams in the UK are hard! Between spring and summer term, we had a 3-week Easter break, which allowed lots of time for travel and de-stressing.
At Reading, students can only take up to 30 ECTS credits per term, with a majority of classes being worth 5 or 10 ECTS credits. The credits reflect the amount of time a course will require, so a 10-credit course will be more intense than a 5-credit course. My classes only met 2 or 3 times a week for about an hour each time, so most of your information for exams will come from the readings assigned to you outside of class. Luckily, I didn’t have to buy any expensive textbooks or scantrons; the lecturers either passed out handouts during class or posted the readings on BlackBoard. I learn better hearing somebody talk about the information, so I struggled a bit trying to absorb the material when reading it by myself. After a few weeks, I got better at taking effective notes during lectures and relating it back to the materials.
I took two 10-credit classes, which required two essays each: one halfway through the spring, and one at the end. These were the only assignments I had for the entire semester, aside from the final exams, so I really had to keep up with the material and do my best on each assignment. The professors and lecturers are a bit more impersonal compared to Ole Miss, but they really do want you to succeed. If you have any questions relating to the class, they’re only an email away.
Overall, the UK system isn’t any more difficult than the US, you just need to prepare for lots of reading and essay-writing. I enjoyed not only my classes, but also learning about the differences in education between the US and the UK. Still, I’ll be glad to return to the familiar class format at Ole Miss! Cheers!