Did you know that more than half of the world's top 200 universities are situation either in the United States or the United Kingdom (Times Higher Education - World University Ranking). 

Both countries have a rich background in the education sector surrounding research, quality education, culture that promotes and protects intellectualism and freedom to speak and learn. Furthermore, the UK has some of their institutions dating back to the 1800's even before the US formed its constitution. While both education systems provide a robust learning environment, there are many difference between the way institutions are structured as well as the learning experience of the student. In this article we will explore the primary difference between the two systems by covering the following topics:

  1. Length of Time
  2. Academic term
  3. University / Organization
  4. Homework/Assignments and Grades
  5. Cost
  6. Accommodation

Length of Time

This is by far the biggest and most important difference between the two education systems, that is, the amount of time it takes for you to finish your degree. In general, most undergraduate/college degree programs in the US can take a whole year longer that their counterparts in the UK. Although this further varies if you decide to pursue a masters or a doctorate. The reason behind the shorter course programs in the UK is that the course material is more focused to the topic / field of study whereas in the US en engineering student would also be expected to have a beginners course in Psychology or Photography, completely unrelated to your focus topic but allowing for more exposure to other fields. 

Academic Term

Most institutions in the US commence their terms mid to late August, although some smaller colleges may start slightly later. Most take a lengthy break in December and start the next semester in January (early or mid). These are two semesters a year and there are some trimesters or quarter based systems as well. 

In contrast, the academic term in the UK is far more varied, while most use a semester system, the trimester and quarter systems are also used, namely for distance learning or online learning where students are more receptive to off peak learning starts and experience online on-boarding as compared to week long orientations. Many schools start in September or October and end in May or June. 

University Organisation

Many universities in the UK such as the University of Aberdeen Online are made up a collection of schools/departments/colleges which are dedicated to the research and teaching of a specific field of study. While the over all organizations and operations of the "college" is still governed by the University, however each entity has its only marketing, finance, admissions and department heads. Ideally, in this system, your entire study experience is with others within your school or department. You application is processed by the departmental admissions teams and not by the central university admissions department as is the case in the US. Some cases, predominantly in undergraduate program applications, you apply through a centralised system that allows you to apply to more that one school. This system is called the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service or UCAS. 

In the US on the other hand, you apply to the central admissions and for the first year (if not more) you take courses from a variety of fields and only declare your chosen field of study (your major) at the end of the first year. This is useful for those who are not yet certain of their preferred field of study. However, even after you declare your major you are still expected to take courses fro outside you core focus, these are known as "electives". 

For these reasons it is easy to conclude that the emphasis of higher education in the States is breadth, or amassing a range of knowledge from a varied number of subjects, whereas in the UK the emphasis is in depth; that is accumulating a thorough understanding of the chosen subject. 

Homework/Assignments and Grades

Following form the above concept of a large breadth of education in the US system, courses require weekly or biweekly reading and summaries along with other assignments such as case study reviews, chapter summary with major research papers and oral presentations as mid term and end of term evaluations. In the UK though, most schools are more lecture based with a single submission at mid-term and end of term. There are mammoth documents that are worked on throughout the academic year (such as the certificate year - 60 credits at the post graduate level and 120 credits at the undergraduate level) and submitted as one final original research based paper. In the US your grade is based on your performance on a variety of assignments giving you the opportunity to improve your grade over the period of study. 


The cost of education in both counties is far from cheap, but the tuition fees in the United States and Canada is generally higher than that of the UK. In 2012 a law passed in the UK allowed institutions to charge up to £9,000 (approximately $14,300) per year at the undergraduate level and this applies only to Home (UK and EU based) students. Fees for international students is significantly higher while following the limits for the fees as stipulated by the government. 

In the US though, the government has limited control over what the universities charge their home and international students. The US works on a system that charges different fees for in-state and out-of-state students and international students, moreso, the fees differ greatly between private and public insitutions as well. As it now stands, the average annual fee for a two-year course in a public insitution is around $3,000, while the average for a four-year private institution course can go up to $29,000 a year. 

Both countries offer a number of scholarships and funding options and it is best to discuss this with the admissions team at the time of applying to identify what are the options available to you. 


Almost all insitutions provide hostel accomodation or residence halls for the students to reside in. In the UK it is normal for a student to have a bedroom for themselves, whereas in the states it is very common for one to share a large room with atleast one other person. There are varing options in both countries including off-campus accomodation that could possibly be managed by the University. As always explore all your options right at the start, especially since insitutions provide a larger number of options for students in the second or third year of their programs. 


While the the objective of any insitution worldwide is similar, the structure ofthe educational system varies from country to count. For example, College in England is equivalent ot the third and fourth years of high school in the states. The approach to education in each system is slightly different and there are always pros and cons to every system. When contrasting the two, you should take the time to weight your options with an objective mind and understand that the US system and the UK system can never be identicially compared, but if the choise of program meets your personal objectives and your correr requirements, then that is the right choice. 

Universities, regardless of whether they follow the US or UK or EU system of credit frameworks are tasked with the job of producing professionals and intellectuals who will fundamentally impact and shape the world we live in. Students who register on a bachelors course online or offline are expected to explore, analyze and master a body of knowledge based on the predefined curricula of the educational system irrespective of the country they reside in. Here are two links to the government bodies overseeing the education systems in the two countries, it would be good for you to review when making an informed decision. 

  1. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ous/international/usnei/us/comparecredit.doc
  2. http://www.qaa.ac.uk/en/Publications/Documents/Academic-Credit-Framework.pdf

Alternatively, contact us to find out more about the Master of Business Administration and Master of Science in Finance offered by the University of Aberdeen Online in the US and Canada.

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