UK vs. USA Education System Rankings

According to the world university rankings, more than half of the top 200 universities in the world are located in the U.S. and the U.K. While both countries provide excellent higher education opportunities, there are many differences between them.

Length of Time

This is perhaps the most important difference between the education systems of the two countries. In general, it takes one year longer to get a degree in the U.S. than in the U.K.

The courses of study are shorter in the U.K., because course programs are generally much more focused than in the U.S..

In both countries it is possible to go directly to a PhD program after your undergraduate program. Although, in the U.K. it is more common to do so after a Master’s degree program.

Academic Term

In the U.S., most schools use the semester system. However, there are also schools that use a trimester or quarter systems. In general, the academic year starts in mid to late August and ends in May.

Just like in the U.S., most schools in the U.K. also use the semester system, although there are some go by trimesters or quarters. Schools start in September or October and end in May or June, which makes for a slightly longer academic year.

University Organization

In the U.K., universities are made up of “colleges” that specialize in a specific subject. While these colleges are part of the university, they have a lot of independence from each other and the university itself. So instead of applying to a university in general, students apply to a specific college. This means that they have to know in advance what they want to study.

In the U.S., universities are made up of “schools”, for example, the School of Arts and Sciences. However, unlike the U.K., students apply to the larger university. After that, for the first year or even more, they take courses from different fields and only choose what they want to major in during the second year.

Even after you choose a major at an American university, you are still required to take courses from other fields, known as “electives.” For this reason, we can say that the U.S. educational system focuses more on breadth. While in the U.K., the emphasis is more on depth – getting a thorough understanding of your chosen subject.

Homework and Grades

If you go to university in the U.S., you will have assignments almost every week – be it reading, presentations, research papers, etc. In the U.K., classes are more lecture-based. This means that you will either be getting few assignments or none at all, with only one final exam at the end of the course.


While the cost of education is rather high in both countries, it’s generally higher in the U.S.. In the U.K., universities may charge students up to $14,300 per year, according to a law passed in 2012. For international students, the cost can be significantly higher.

In the U.S., the average fee for private four-year universities is around $29,000 per year, with some charging as much as $50,000 per year. In order to help students pay for school, the government provides them loans with favorable terms and interest rates.


In the U.K., it’s common for students to have a room to themselves, while in the U.S., many students have roommates.



  1. Ranking – a position in a hierarchy or scale
  2. PhD – stands for “Doctor of Philosophy,” sometimes referred to as a “doctorate.” It is a degree awarded to people who have done advanced research into a particular subject.
  3. Undergraduate – a student who is studying for their first degree at a college or university
  4. Trimester – a period of three months; each of the three terms in an academic year
  5. Slightly – to a small degree; a little; a bit
  6. Emphasis – special importance; significance
  7. Roommate – a person occupying the same room as another

Questions for Discussion

  1. What are some of the main differences between the U.S. and U.K. education systems?
  2. What are some of the things that both countries have in common?
  3. Which educational system do you prefer and why?


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