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International Exchange

The differences between studying in America vs. studying in the UK

3 October 2019

I’ve completed six weeks at LMU now and it’s fair to say that studying in America is far different from studying at home in Cardiff (first off Cardiff students are only just completing their first week of lectures for the year!). In my post today I’m going to chat all about the differences I have found so far and how I’m coping with them.

Before we get into the differences, I will say that the one similarity between Cardiff and LMU is that I have the same number of teaching hours. So each of my modules (or classes as they call them here) has three hours a week and I take three classes (the same as at home). So my total equals nine hours a week of contact hours. If you didn’t already know I’m an English Literature and Philosophy student hence why my hours are so low – I know those of you who take science spend far more time in class than us arts students!

Each of my modules in Cardiff over the last two years has varied with the way it assesses grades. Some modules have two summative essays (a mind-term and a final assessment), some had one essay and one exam and some simply had one essay that counted for my whole grade. So as you can imagine I’m used to only having written work in the middle of the term, or right at the end. LMU is completely different, I am constantly writing essays and have at least one due in a week. So far I’ve written two essays for my American Literature module, three for my Ethics module and I have one due in next Monday for Modern Philosophy. As you can tell, that’s a lot of work! Interestingly not all essays are letter-graded (this is standard over percentages here), some simply get a check, check plus or check minus – if I’m honest I’m still unsure what this really means.

Alongside all the essays, American universities also like to quiz students frequently. One of my classes has a quiz every other week. Although being tested like this frequently sounds daunting, I’ve found it to be a really good way to achieve marks towards my overall grade. The quizzes are simple in layout and take no more than 10 minutes, the professors (that’s what they call lecturers here) aren’t interested in catching you out in these quizzes either. If you keep up with your class’s readings then you should find these relatively simple – so far I have achieved 100% on both the quizzes I have taken.

Now I know that if I read someone had achieved 100% on a test at home, I’d be absolutely mind-blown – that score is pretty unheard of in Arts subjects! But American universities have far higher grade boundaries and so give far more opportunities to achieve those higher grades. For example, the top grade of an A requires 94% or higher. Our overall grades aren’t based just on academic performance either, for example, one of my classes gives 20% for attendance and participation, whilst another gives 10% for the same criterion.

In between, writing essays and revising for quizzes, there is also a lot of reading to do. Unsurprisingly, both English Literature and Philosophy consist of mounds of reading, in fact, one of the librarians here at LMU told me that English students have the most reading but that they’re shortly followed by Philosophy students! In Cardiff, Philosophy readings are normally given to us in a course reader, they’re normally a range of different essays from different philosophers and we’ll look at a different one each week. Here, however, my philosophy classes involve reading from actual philosophical books rather than just extracts. It seems really weird to be reading philosophy out of an actual book and not out of a course reader for once! When it comes to my English module, I was extremely surprised to learn that we would be reading extracts of things only instead of the whole books I’m used to reading in Cardiff. The thing I have found most strange about my literature reading, however, is that the first few weeks were taken up with reading the American constitution, different American laws, and different political documents and speeches from when America as we know it was founded. Although this wasn’t what I was expecting from a literature module, I’m definitely glad that this formed part of the readings as I’ve learnt so much about the history of the country I am currently living in!

Let’s skip back to talking about essays for a minute. Other than the fact that I’m writing essays far more frequently, the other area where they differ tremendously from how we go about essays in Cardiff is that they are not submitted anonymously, nor online. In actual fact, your professors here are allowed to read your full drafts and critique them before you submit them. I went to office hours today to go over the draft of my essay that’s due in on Monday and came away feeling far more confident about my work and how to improve it to get the best grade possible!

Overall, I can tell you that studying in America is a lot more day to day work than in Cardiff – I definitely have far less free time. But I also feel that my grades are doing far better because of it, so the hard work seems worth it!

Let me know if you have any questions about the differences between studying at Cardiff and studying in America in the comments! I’m more than happy to answer any queries!