American College v British Uni: 15 Differences

One of the biggest culture shocks when I, Lauren, a third year at Exeter University in the U.K., came out to the States for a month to intern for Her Campus was trying to navigate the terminology of American colleges. In fact, it led to many amusing comments of, “So... what’s homecoming?” or, “Can someone explain what tailgating is?” I felt a bit like an alien, but I’m only British! So I had to get Connie, a Carnegie Mellon senior who studied abroad in England for a semester, to explain everything to me. So here’s our definitive guide of the differences between American Colleges and British Universities. Enjoy!


Let’s start with the obvious one...

1.      Brits Apply for a Course and American Declare Their Majors Later On

This is an odd one for us Brits; in America, you pick your college first and then your degree later on. We do it the other way round; pick your course first and then base your university choice on where’s the best place to study it.

2.      American Students Take General Education Classes; Brits Don't

This is alien to us Brits - you’re studying engineering, but you have to take American history? What. On. Earth. Having said that, it’s a great idea as it gives you a broader education. But still, I was bad at maths, so I gave it up – I don’t want to study that again!

3.      Americans Have a More Flexible Choice of Classes Than Brits

So with the fact that you chose your major later on and have to take general education classes, you have a wider choice of classes. While it’s possible to take classes outside your declared degree in the U.K., it’s much less common.

4.      Brits Can Study Law and Medicine at the Undergraduate Level

These degrees are long enough; why add an extra four years on? No need for pre-law or pre-med in the U.K.: just an undergraduate degree and you’re done.

5.      Americans Pay Way More for College

Whilst fees in the U.K. are £9,000 at the most (about $13,800), and for Scottish students they're free, the average American student is shelling out a crazy $22,261 a year for their college education ($43,289 for the average student at a private school). No wonder you guys spend half your lives paying it all back!

6.      Americans Do More Extracurricular Activities Than Brits

Most British students will be more dedicated to their extracurricular activities and so will focus on one or two, whereas our American counterparts will make sure they try as much as possible within their four years of college.


You can drink at 18 or at 21 – what difference does it make?

7.      Brits are Generally Legal to Drink When They Start Uni

Since Brits can drink when they’re 18, most people start uni legal to go clubbing; only a few are underage when they start uni. This means no sneaking around – we walk straight up to the till and proudly show our own driver's license.

8.      Americans are More Likely to Use Fake IDs

This is the logical consequence. While not everyone has a fake ID, Americans have more of a need for this than their fellow British students. Try being a British student going to America and suddenly being underage again; it’s weird.

9.      Americans Drink out of Red Cups

The Yank (Connie) says: "This is for all the Brits: it’s true – we really do drink out of red cups!"


American college students tend to have more parties because it's hard to go out while underage, but do Brits have parties too? Of course they do!

10.   In America, Frat Parties do Exist, and They are Like You See in the Films

American frat parties: the subject of thousands of Hollywood films. And for once they got it right. Connie says that frat parties are generally like you see in the movies: crazy and out of control, and full of freshmen behaving like idiots.

11.  Brits Love a Good House Party

While we don’t have Greek Life so we don't have frat parties, we do throw a great house party. Not always as big as frat parties, but I’m sure just as much fun!


12.   Americans Tend to Have Roommates

The Yank (Connie) says that it’s really common at American colleges to have a roommate – even past your freshman year. But in the U.K. this really depends on which uni you go to, and which halls (American translation: dorm) you choose. If you’re lucky in the U.K. you'll get a double bed and your own suite!

13.  Americans Can Live in a Sorority House

Brits: we have no comparison for this. If Americans are part of a sorority they can choose to live in their sorority house instead of dorms, but it isn’t mandatory.

14.  Brits Tend to Move into Flats or Houses After First Year

Only at Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham is it common to live in college after your first year.

15.  At Some American Colleges it’s Mandatory to Have a Meal Plan

Here’s a new one for us Brits, who are used to the option of catered or self-catered halls. Connie says that some American colleges require that their students buy their meal plan for the first year – we suppose it’s to allow the students to mingle a little more!


So, it turns out that our cousins across the pond in America aren't so different from us Brits when it comes to uni versus college, but there are a few crucial differences, especially when it comes down to work and play!