University in UK?
April 20, 2010 3:39 PM   Subscribe

US High schooler would like to go to university in UK (maybe). Has numerous questions about the system. Help?

I have a ton of questions. Do you know the answers to any of these? I know this is long, thanks for reading :)

1. Are visas difficult to get, or is securing admission enough to get a visa easily? I was born in the UK but don't have citizenship, if that makes any difference.

2. I think that in the UK, as in a lot of Europe, you enter a specific degree program and are expect to stick with that. Is it impossible to switch? Difficult? I have some idea of what I want to do but am not super-convinced that my current chosen major is right for me.

3. How can I find schools in the UK that are a good fit for me? For US schools, there are numerous books, I have a college counselor, and everyone around me knows a lot about schools. No one can really offer anything about UK schools outside of Oxford, and without much knowlege of their reputation, I have trouble telling what my chances are of getting into various schools.

4. Can you recommend any schools to me? I'd like to be somewhere pretty urban, the more the better (planning on applying to multiple NYC schools as well). I'm interested in economics, and would like to work with increasing the rate of development in LDCs in the future. I have a pretty good GPA (3.79 total unweighted, 3.98 academic unweighted), marred only by a period of school I missed while studying abroad and difficulties with latin. I'm also going for national merit, definitely semifinalist, and have a pretty bad (680r/740m/740w) SAT right now but will be retaking in June.

5. I go to an IB school. I will (hopefully) graduate with an IB diploma, though I have no idea how well I will do on the tests. I saw, a while back, on the site of a New Zealand school, that the given IB policy may not be enough for an int'l student to get in and I shouldn't trust the IB policy written. Is this likely to go for UK schools as well? If I have IB, will that likely be sufficient for admission?

6. Is there much or any financial aid available to int'l students? Do US based scholarships ever apply? I know int'l student fees are much higher than citizen fees, so school-based scholarships are probably not as big a deal for the schools, since it is less of a stretch to pay for most people. Is this true?

7. UCAS confused me. I feel like it is something I should understand. What is this?

8. How would 'rigorous' (though I rarely feel really challenged by it) US schooling (AP/IB/H classes throughout) compare to the preparation provided by the UK equivalent of high school?

9. How are classes in general different? I'm guessing that the attitudes toward homework, testing, attendance, etc. would be different, but in what way?

10. Is on-campus housing the norm (for freshmen, at least)? What about food?

11. I would like to take a gap year. Am I able to apply and defer for a year, as I can for many schools here? Or do I need to apply the winter before the fall that I intend to start?

If you have any other information that you feel I should know, please share. I'm sure there are things I am not thinking about. Thank you so much!
posted by R a c h e l to Education (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Economics + urban setting = look at London School of Economics.
posted by londongeezer at 3:59 PM on April 20, 2010

Response by poster: Is there any way for me to tell how selective a school is? I got the feeling that maybe LSE would be out of reach for me, but it's definitely a dream school.
posted by R a c h e l at 4:06 PM on April 20, 2010

Best answer: Just remember you are paying the overseas rate and that you won't find a lot of scholarships unless you are especially considered. London School of Economics is one of my mater schools but London is incredibly expensive and I found the living conditions to be pretty hopeless. LSE also really only caters to its post-grad group, which is giant and outsizes undergrads.

Looking outside of London, Leeds University, Birmingham University, and Warwick University are all sterling and have great atmosphere. I attended Birmingham City University's Institute of Art and Design and absolutely loved the experience and the center they have in central Birmingham.

The most important thing to know is no amount of American classroom experience can prepare you for British post-secondary pedagogy. You will probably be required to attend a foundation diploma course to get ready.

In Britain, university students have worked in their subject areas from the age of 13 in nearly all cases. The learning curve is fantastic and changing majors is nearly impossible without withdrawing from uni and then reapplying because spaces are fought over often. Message me if you would like to be put in touch with some UK university professors and grads.
posted by parmanparman at 4:16 PM on April 20, 2010

Best answer: I can help a little bit here. I'm Canadian (Canadian public high school), went to Oxford.

(1) Not sure. I'm a British citizen, but I knew quite a few international students, and no one seemed to have visa difficulties.

(2) At English universities you generally apply directly to, say, 'History', not 'General Humanities', and you don't pick a major later on. I don't how much this applies outside Oxford, but generally, how hard it is to switch will depend on how soon you do it & how similar the programs are. Switching between two similar programs at the end of your first year is not likely to be a problem. But I know quite a few people who switched at the end of the first year and added a year to their degree (basically, they just started again from the beginning).

(3) There's a couple of international university fairs that come to Canada, and they probably go to the states too. I went to one in Toronto where there were a fair number of UK unis - Warwick, most of the London unis, Glasgow, maybe Edinburgh? Other than that, I'm afraid I can't help.

(5) I did IB. I can't say for sure, but I'm almost positive it did not hurt me, and I'm pretty sure that it helped me quite a bit. Regular Canadian high school grades probably would not have been enough for me without some kind of better-known international standard like the IB.

(6) Depends on where you go, but there's little to no undergraduate funding for Canadians, and I would guess that it's the same for Americans. I seem to remember from when I was applying that Glasgow had some deal where the last year for international undergraduates was either free or much cheaper than the previous 3.

(7) Have you looked at their website? I seem to remember it was pretty straightforward.You could trying calling the admissions office of somewhere you're applying to if you need more help - I seem to remember Glasgow and Edinburgh were particularly helpful.

(9) I can only speak for Oxford, but I had optional lectures, and mandatory tutorials 1-2 a week. Almost my entire degree was composed of 100% finals I wrote at the end of my final year.

(10) Again, I can only speak for Oxford, but most people live in college for most or all of their degree. Food quality is generally at least 'ok', and at some colleges is actually pretty good.

Sorry I can't answer many of your questions, but feel free to send me a message if you want to ask me anything else.
posted by iona at 4:16 PM on April 20, 2010

Best answer: I can't talk about comparisons with the US system, but here are some answers...

The "top 20" schools in the UK are the Russell Group: wiki page.

The Guardian has fairly reliable university rankings with more info including background on student life, and rankings per subject: browse here.

For cost of living - a rule of thumb is North cheap, South expensive, London exorbitant. This doesn't always hold, except for the bit about London.

All UK unis should accept an IB. You'll be fine.

UK students can apply for defered entry - I expect you can too but I do not know for sure.

University residences are the norm for first year students (not called freshmen here - may be called "freshers" for the first week, but not longer). These may however not be on campus - particularly in city universities, residences can be spread out. Usually there's a mix of halls (with and without catering) and self-catering flats which have similar facilities to halls but allow for a more independent existence. Sharing rooms is very very rare now.

Urban - the big cities in the UK with good universities are Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Edinburgh, London. These are in no particular order, and I've probably missed some out (is Bristol urban? I always think of it as being a bit too "nice"). I can't speak for economics, but the Guardian guide linked above will tell you what you need to know.

Changing major is not that common, but not unheard of. More common is to start on a joint degree (e.g. Economics and Politics) and then drop a subject, or go major/minor. A complete change of direction may require an extra year's study, so it's worth talking to admissions tutors before you commit to anything if flexibility is a big deal for you. If you have a clear second choice subject, it's probably a good idea to be studying it from the start, even if only as an elective course.
posted by handee at 4:17 PM on April 20, 2010

Best answer: Passing on 1 and 6, and 8/9 really depend on what you've done and where you end up:

2. That's the general rule, though that's changing towards a more modular system, and Scottish universities have long been more 'American' in course structure.

3. Push or The Student Room? The forums at the latter host prospective and current students, and posters are usually glad to help answer these questions in a lot more detail.

4. LSE seems an obvious fit: as urban as it gets, diverse international student body, and possibly scholarship potential too.

5. A number of independent (private) schools in the UK offer IB, so admissions depts will be familiar with it. (Especially LSE.)

7. UCAS = one application form covers all British institutions. Saves you applying to each separately.

10. University accommodation for the first year, at very least.

11. Yes, you mark on your UCAS form that you wish to defer.
posted by holgate at 4:18 PM on April 20, 2010

Best answer: The most important thing to know is no amount of American classroom experience can prepare you for British post-secondary pedagogy. You will probably be required to attend a foundation diploma course to get ready.

In Britain, university students have worked in their subject areas from the age of 13 in nearly all cases. The learning curve is fantastic and changing majors is nearly impossible without withdrawing from uni and then reapplying because spaces are fought over often. Message me if you would like to be put in touch with some UK university professors and grads.

Very true. Even with the IB, I was seriously overwhelmed in my first year - I had very little background in most of my subjects, whereas most other students had spent at least a couple of years studying them in detail. In retrospect, I can't quite believe they admitted me, given how unprepared I was.
posted by iona at 4:19 PM on April 20, 2010

Best answer: 2. I think that in the UK, as in a lot of Europe, you enter a specific degree program and are expect to stick with that. Is it impossible to switch? Difficult? I have some idea of what I want to do but am not super-convinced that my current chosen major is right for me.

It is correct that one enters university to study a particular subject. Switching between subjects is entirely possible, but depending on the switch they may not consider your previous studies sufficient. For example, changing from "politics and philosophy" to "politics" is simple enough as it's within the same department; changing from "computer science" to "electronic engineering" might be OK, or might not, depending on your grades and what sort of things you would have to pick up to understand the course; switching from "computer science" to "art history" they would probably expect you to go back to the start of the course.

3. How can I find schools in the UK that are a good fit for me? For US schools, there are numerous books, I have a college counselor, and everyone around me knows a lot about schools. No one can really offer anything about UK schools outside of Oxford, and without much knowlege of their reputation, I have trouble telling what my chances are of getting into various schools.

Times university guide, Sunday Times university guide, Guardian university guide, Amazon university guide books.

7. UCAS confused me. I feel like it is something I should understand. What is this?

It's an electronic application system used by almost all UK universities for undergraduate degrees. Prospective undergraduates fill out their details electronically (current qualifications, predicted grades, address, personal statement, statement by teachers, and so on) and up to 5 university courses they are interested in applying for. Some universities ask for interviews, or informal chats. The universities can then offer places, either unconditionally or with the requirement that certain grades are attained. The student can then accept one offer, and a backup offer.

9. How are classes in general different? I'm guessing that the attitudes toward homework, testing, attendance, etc. would be different, but in what way?

When I was at university nobody took attendance, but there was recently a change in regulations (people were using student visas as extended holiday visas, and not attending classes) - if you're absent for more than two weeks, the university has to report it to the border agency.

Attitudes towards those other things vary between universities.

10. Is on-campus housing the norm (for freshmen, at least)? What about food?

It's common for universities to guarantee accommodation for first-year undergraduates. In later years students typically arrange their own accommodation via private landlords, 3 to 5 people to a house.

A few universities have accommodation which lacks cooking facilities, but it's more normal for accommodation to have cooking facilities, and for canteens/restaurants to also be available; so usually students can choose to cook or buy cooked food.

11. I would like to take a gap year. Am I able to apply and defer for a year, as I can for many schools here?

Yes, there's a checkbox on the UCAS form.
posted by Mike1024 at 4:32 PM on April 20, 2010

Post-preview: parmanparman is probably right that LSE focuses more on its graduate body than undergrads.

Is there any way for me to tell how selective a school is?

If you look at the course/institution guides on the UCAS site, you'll find the 'tariff', which indicates what kind of grades they're looking for in a variety of qualifications. The one for Economics at LSE says that they want a 38 total in IB, with a 7 6 6, and at least a 7 in Maths.

That's only a rough baseline, though, and a good indication of the competition you'd face is in the applicants/places ratio.
posted by holgate at 4:34 PM on April 20, 2010

Best answer: 1. My partner came to the UK to study for an MA and getting a visa was no problem. Most if not all Universities will have an International office that will help you work through this.

2. It's certainly possible. when I did it I had to retake a year, but then I was switching between universities and I had failed that year. From what I remember it would have been easier switching with the first college. Plenty of people switch to different courses and there is a system for transferring earned credits.

6. Scholarships aren't any where like a big a deal in the UK as in the US. They do exist but they tend to be very competitive and there aren't that many of them. From this page it does seem like you can get Federal grants and loans. While it is true that fees for UK students are cheaper than those for International students they still aren't that bad -- typically $10-$25000 per year for undergraduate programs.

8. UCAS is the central admissions scheme for UK colleges. You will need to apply though it, you don't typically apply to colleges directly.They have a website for International students that should tell you waht you need to know, you will also find useful -- it is the official site for students coming to study in the UK.

10. It depends on the University, but generally yes. Student accommodation will typically be available, though not necessarily on campus. There is sometimes housing specifically for international students. Colleges also keep lists of approved off-site housing.
posted by tallus at 4:40 PM on April 20, 2010

Best answer: Just joining in to say that I took the IB and many of my friends ended up going to schools in the UK. None of them found the transition to be difficult, or that UK students had an advantage over them. However, the IB program in my high school was very intense.

Unlike the US, most programs in the UK are three years so there's a lot more material and crammed into a shorter period of time - which is why changing majors is so difficult (especially if you're in an engineering program).

I looked into going to the UK for school but quickly realized that it would be impossible for me to get any sort of financial aid as I am not an EU citizen. I'm not a US citizen either, so I'm not sure what kind of government aid you can get from the US government. I ended up going to school in the US as I got a good scholarship from my university, despite being an international student. I think that in the end you'll find that going to a UK uni without a UK or EU citizenship is going to be very, very expensive.

You're interested in Economics - so I would look at the London School of Economics (I have a friend there studying Economics and she loves it), which is a really good school. Other than that, use the search on UCAS to find other schools that may fit your bill.

Also, note that when you apply with UCAS you only get to choose 5 (or 6?) schools that you want to apply to. The universities will then either give you an offer or not. If they give you an offer it will either be an unconditional offer (which rarely happens) - or a conditional offer, as in, they will tell you what they want your final IB score to be (e.g 35). Sometimes they will specify what you should get on a specific topic (e.g a 5 in Higher Level Math, 6 in English, etc). Additionally you can only apply to either Oxford or Cambridge - not both.
posted by carmel at 4:47 PM on April 20, 2010

You should be aware that us universities require general education while most uk students take the required courses in their major and related fields and nothing else. The uk k12 system aims towards this and the us one does not.
posted by Fiery Jack at 5:49 PM on April 20, 2010

Best answer: 1. If you have an offer of admission, proper documentation, and a bank account (or loan offer) with enough money to cover the tuition, you will get a student visa.

2. You're correct here. Difficult, not impossible. Some switches can probably be done without repeating too much coursework, but it's generally much more regimented than in the US. As long as you make up your mind by the end of 1st year, you'll be fine.

3. Oxbridge (Cambridge/Oxford) are, of course, the two most well-known schools in the UK. Numerous people will tell you they're stuck up because of this. I don't know... Like the rankings in the US, the league tables are a good place to start out, but by no means offer a full or accurate picture of any particular university. Also, foreign admission seems like a bit of a crapshot in terms of your likelihood to be accepted. From your GPA/IB record, it's plausible that you could get into any UK Uni, but not guaranteed at any (annoying, right?).

4. Others will be able to answer this for you better than I can. I'd recommend checking out Edinburgh. There are various perks/pitfalls of going to a city school. For one, your cost of living will be much higher (be it in NYC or London), and your housing options will largely depend on what you want to spend (on campus or not). Virtually all UK cities tend to have a concentrated town center (much akin to a "college town" in the US), which makes small towns a whole lot more tolerable.

5. Depends on the school. IB is not particularly popular in the UK. This will likely vary from one uni to the next. You may be given a tentative admission offer, based upon the outcome of your exams (you won't get your results til the summer). I don't know of any university where an IB diploma is a guarantee of admission.

6. You've got it mostly right. There are some scholarships. Don't enter this process expecting to receive any aid. Also remember that although tuition is likely going to be a bit less than the US equivalent, housing is going to cost a lot more, and your cost of living will likely be higher all-round.

7. Others have answered this.

8. You'll be fine, especially if you did IB. If you go to uni in Scotland, you'll actually be a year older than the rest of their 1st-years, which gives you a leg up in some regards (not factoring in the gap year, etc). The rigor/quality/paradigm(?) of UK secondary schools varies heavily based upon geography, size, and whether or not the school was public or private*

*I'm using the US definitions of these words. A public school in the US would be called a state school in the UK, whereas a private school in the US would be called a public school in the UK. Confused? Me too

9. This could be an entire AskMe... Generally, a much heavier emphasis is placed on final exams, with 33% or less of your final grade devoted to "continuous assessment," which can range from anything between papers, midterms, or graded homework assignments. I found that there was far less "busywork" given than at a US college, which was a bit of a curse and a blessing, because you had to be extra diligent about studying on your own, and preparing for your exam.

10. Depends on the university (for both questions). The dynamic of university accommodation is generally quite different from what you'd experience in the US. Centralized dining halls are rare, and individual residence halls are generally "catered" or "non-catered" (with the latter usually having public kitchens).

11. As long as you make your intentions known, this is fine. Gap years are incredibly common in Europe and the UK (and are even becoming the norm in certain social strata)

How I know this: I attended college in the US, spent a semester in the UK. Liked it a lot, extended the semester to a full year. Liked that too, applied to transfer to graduating status. Got accepted, but got cold feet, and remained in the US thanks to some patently bad advice from my academic advisor. Was also an IB victim back in the day. YMMV

PS. Good job avoiding American colloquialisms in this post. You've skipped the obvious ones like "college" and "dorm." Also drop "campus," because virtually no UK universities have them, especially those in cities. The university are very often seamlessly interwoven (but not in an NYU sort of way)

posted by schmod at 6:12 PM on April 20, 2010

One of my friends from America went to college in Britain.
Admissions was solely based off of his IB scores. He went to Birmingham, and they accepted applicants with a minimum of 32 cumulative points [including exams, TOK paper, CAS notebook, etc]. Things like extracurriculars weren't factored into the decisions. SATs definitely won't matter. I'd say your best bet is to first research colleges that have the programs/ majors you're interested in, in the locations you'd like. Then email the admissions people to ask about minimum IB scores to gauge the difficulty of acceptance.
posted by estlin at 6:24 PM on April 20, 2010

Isn't 32 the minimum passing grade for IB?
posted by schmod at 7:36 PM on April 20, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all for your answers! I'll be checking out those links to the sutdent room, etc., and yall have done an amazing job answering my questions. I suspect this will not be my last questions in the process, but everything has been really helpful.

And schmod, it depends. There are a few ways to pass IB, and they depend on your number of HLs, your individual/lowest scores, etc. I believe that at the bare minimum, you need 24, but that's absolute minimum - mostly people get at least over a 30.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:08 PM on April 20, 2010

Best answer: Schmod is incorrect on the campus front, lots of universities have campuses. I'd say the majority of town universities in fact. Birmingham, UEA (Norwich), Essex, Sussex, Nottingham just to name a few. They do sometimes have a big campus with a few smaller offshoot campuses (like Nottingham). Think about what physical environment you want to be in. The central London universities are obviously not campus based, even if they call it that, but a lot of other universities are on a green campus. So think about whether you want to be slap bang in the city amongst the buildings or in a total student environment. I think there are definitely advantages either way. Housing is definitely easier to get at campus universities away from London, and cheaper as you go north. in Nottingham it is plentiful, they don't advertise it, but if you really wanted it is entirely possible to stay in halls your entire time there. the vast majority move out in their second and third years however and live in shared houses or flats together.

I am English, and have studied in both the UK and the US, and I would say think carefully about why you want to study in the UK. Universities here get far less funding than do US universities, and so have far less resources. Housing was comparable in quality between the two places I studied (Nottingham and UVA; I did a year abroad at UVA) however. I wouldn't say the quality in teaching was different, just in terms of library and journal resources, and of course not quite so plush environments in which to study.

Depending on what you want to study, students here have not necessarily been studying that subject since the age of 13 like people say; you want to study economics; all I can say is look at the schools you are interested in, and see what their specific subject requirements are. There aren't many schools that would offer that subject itself pre-18, but would obviously offer maths, and probably business studies. So I would not see that as a barrier in your case (I'd say differently if you wanted to study something like History or English). For example, I did law, all I needed was general education with specific grades in what I had chosen to study.

There is next to no funding for scholarships I'm afraid. I'd say doing the IB will help you, as a lot of british kids are now doing the IB as well or instead of A levels, because too many kids get top grades at A Level for whatever reason, so the IB is seen as slightly better. So if you do well in that I would say you're golden.

As far as classes, it depends what you are doing, and where you are doing it. Economics at Nottingham is mostly a mix of lectures, tutorials and seminars (lectures you are expected to do the required reading, tutorials you have to prepare for, and are usually no more than 8 people, seminars are anything from 10-20, and again, you have to prepare for. Assessment is by way of either final exam or coursework or a mix. Attendance is usually mandatory for tutorials and seminars, but not for lectures ( but check with where you want to go!).

Food, again, depends on the institution, but is generally a mix of self-catered, full-catered, or somewhere in between. When I was at Nottingham my hall was fully catered, so you went back there for all meals (they'd give you a packed lunch if you couldn't get back for it), but now I think it's changed to only breakfast and dinner, and I think you get some kind of meal card for lunch to eat on campus in one of the dining areas.

Hope that helps, give me a shout if you have any specific questions.
posted by nunoidia at 11:08 PM on April 20, 2010

Response by poster: PS: I have not studied economics since 13, but I doubt many UK kids have either. I am already studying it in an IB setting, though, and will be taking HL Economics - so 2 years - before I graduate from high school. So I may be a teensy bit more prepared than other peers when it comes to this.

I have no problem with a London school that is very integrated into the city. Having a campus, student-geared businesses, etc. is not important to me (I've lived a mile away from a huge state university my whole life, so I've gotten a taste of that.) My first choice US school is Barnard, which is somewhat similar in that respect to what I imagine you guys are describing about UK schools, though perhaps to a lesser extreme.

Nunoidia, thanks for the reality check about why I want to go to a UK school. I don't think I've given that question nearly as much weight as I should. I guess I like the idea of studying somewhere with different ideology, and having a broad range of experiences - I studied at a Norwegian IB school for 2.5 months and loved it. I'm looking to have a more immersive experience than a year abroad. I would like to live in a Really Big City and NYC only has a few options that appeal to me, so I thought London or similar would be another good option, given that I'm not too talented at learning new languages.

Also, cheesy, and not at all a big factor, but it just feels 'right' to return to the country where I was born for an extended period of time.
posted by R a c h e l at 11:38 PM on April 20, 2010

Something that no-one else has said - Scottish universities, especially in 'arts' subjects have a different system and may be a better fit for you. They have a four year degree structure, which gives an extra year of courses and so extra flexibility. Most of my friends at uni changed their degree while they were there (it was difficult to change schools - so if you started off in arts, you'd end up in arts unless you did an awful lot of work, but within that I knew people who started off in languages and graduated in English lit, media studies to history and so on).

I knew quite a few people with the IB and they did absolutely fine. Most Scottish universities pitch their first year at people finishing Highers - ie a year less study than in England (in practice most people come to uni after doing Advanced Highers, but a sizable minority still come straight from Highers), which flattens the learning curve a little.

The only problem - no really big cities. Glasgow and Edinburgh are as big as it gets.
posted by Coobeastie at 1:49 AM on April 21, 2010

Best answer: Warning: I was an undergrad and postgrad at Oxford, so take all this with a pinch of salt.

1. No. Get a place and you get a visa : )

2. It's not impossible to switch, but it is difficult, and it often costs time. (And at most universities you can't finish a degree any time of year other than June, so if you fall back, that's a full year, not a semester.) Of course it depends on the old and new subjects, as other people have pointed out. My basic recommendation is: if you want to try subjects or you're expecting to change majors then perhaps England and Wales are not for you (Scotland is more modular, and different.) The one exception are broad courses like Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford, or Natural Sciences at Cambridge. In both of these you drill down over the three (or four, respectively) years. There are courses like these at other universities.

3. Post here! Given your background, you should start with the "Russell Group", which are the top 20, and cross reference that with newspaper league tables/books that discuss the social aspects. Universities outside that group have pockets of excellence, particularly at graduate level, and should not be dismissed, but that's as good a place as any to start.

4. If you want to be in a world city like New York then of course London is your only option, and LSE is the best place to do hard humanities like economics in London. My impression is that, (i) LSE is a very international school (ii) LSE is a sometimes characterized as a graduate school with an undergraduate school attached (iii) London is crazy expensive. Other London options include UCL and Kings. Imperial College is a top London school, but it's a science university. Edinburgh (and its University) is great, but I don't know the education system there. Manchester and Birmingham are the big English cities outside London. Smaller English/Welsh cities with good unis include Sheffield, Cardiff, Leeds, Bristol, and Brighton. Bear in mind that an English city with a population of, say, 500,000 has a very different character to a US city of the same size. You should really visit these places if you're considering applying, as they are unlike anywhere in the US. Finally, while LSE has a strong reputation in your particular subject at undergrad, I think the Oxford has the strongest reputation of all, thanks to it's PPE course, which I think is perfect for you given your broader/undetermined interests. It's 50 minutes from London by train. It's a very unusual town, and students there lead much more university-oriented social lives than anywhere else in the UK, especially London, which may not be what you're looking for though.

5+8. I don't think the UK's reputation for an extremely challenging undergraduate system is deserved, to be honest. I have interviewed US undergrads for admission to Oxford in physics. True, the kind of 17 year old who shows the initiative to apply to university in another hemisphere is probably not representative of the general population of 17 year olds, but put it like this: all the ones I interviewed got places, and they were among the strongest applicants I have ever spoken to. IBs are generally considered more rigorous too, which won't hurt your chances. Your IB background will not be a problem, and will be familiar to most Russell Group admissions offices. So here's my advice: if it wouldn't be a waste of time for you to apply to Ivy League schools, Columbia, Stanford, UC Berkeley, or the top liberal arts colleges, then the top 10 universities in the UK, including Oxford and Cambridge are certainly not beyond your reach.

Re: economics, not all secondary schools in the UK offer this as an A level (= AP). This means economics departments don't usually require it in their admissions process, and they don't assume it in their first year. They teach it from scratch. A good way of assessing whether this is going to be a problem is to look at the course you are interested, and see what, if any, A levels they insist on for someone coming from a UK background.

6. UK universities love Non-E.U. students because they pay full fees (£5-20k/pa, depending on university, subject, etc.), and are a big part of what keeps the UK higher education system solvent! Because of this, very few universities will waive fees, never mind pay them on your behalf. Only the very richest institutions offer scholarships at undergraduate level for non-E.U. students: Oxford, Cambridge. Visit their websites. LSE, which others have mentioned, is a very international school, so they may have some too. You may be able to find private or Governmental scholarships too. The Fullbright Commission is an example. I know Oxford Admissions keeps databases of these, so you could send them an email or give them a call.

7. UCAS is the organization with which you place your application. You fill in one application for, which you can submit to up to six universities (you cannot apply to both Oxford and Cambridge, and there are some other restrictions depending on subject, but that's the basic idea.) They pass it on to the universities, and most of the later correspondence regarding offers/rejections will go through them. Some universities ask for additional testing, or like to interview candidates (likely a phone/Skype interview in your case), in which case they will be in touch directly. But as far as your concerned, UCAS is a form you fill in and an address you get emails from.

9. They are very different, but then US undergrad classes are very different to US high school classes. And colleges in the US differ greatly in their approaches in the US, never mind comparing continents! In general, the approach in the UK is more consistent among universities, and in terms of lectures and smaller classes, not unlike the US approach (putting aside the fact that you "declare your major" at 17, and are not as free to design your own course). The exceptions are, as ever, Oxford and Cambridge, which emphasize the "tutorial approach". Here's an article on the tutorial approach at Williams College, MA, which explains the idea in US English ; )

10. Yes, for freshman everywhere. "Halls of residence" are either catered or uncatered. Up to you. The usual exception: Oxford and Cambridge halls are pretty much all catered, and students there often (but are not obliged to) live in college accommodation for the full 3 or 4 years.

11. Yes, you can take a gap year. Demonstrating you plan to do something constructive with it (and, ideally, relevant to your degree) is important though.

Feel free to email me if you have more questions, especially about the Oxford/Cambridge application/admissions process.
posted by caek at 2:54 AM on April 21, 2010

This isn't directly relevent to your questions but I would advise you to take a good hard look at class time and course requirements you will get in your prospective degree program. Some English universities offer very abbreviated terms (10 weeks) with hardly any hours per week and have absurdly easy exam setups (weeks of study time before final exams - re-sits for failure).

It's great if you want an easy degree but not so great if you want a competitive degree particularly if you want to work in a country other than England. Grade inflation is also pretty crazy here so your degree qualification will not provide much in the way of discriminant information - you will have to go well beyond what is formally asked of you by your program of study if want to get into a good graduate program elsewhere.
posted by srboisvert at 5:22 AM on April 21, 2010

As always, league tables are dubious at best, but the UK has several universities at/near the top of the international ones. A short term is not, per se, a sign of an easy course. If that were true, Oxford and Cambridge would be the easiest degrees in the world.

Grade inflation is a problem, but the more serious problem from the point-of-view of someone considering a graduate degree, especially outside of the UK, is the lack of granularity with with grades are assigned (basically "Excellent", "Good" and "OK" are the three possibilities). Universities have become more cooperative in providing more detailed transcripts in recent years. If you spend your time well at somewhere like Oxbridge or LSE, I would not anticipate problems getting into a graduate program in the U.S. "You will have to go well beyond what is formally asked of you by your program of study if want to get into a good graduate program elsewhere" is good advice wherever you end up. Many of the best universities will not lead you to water and make you drink when it comes to excelling in your preparation for graduate school, but the best -- and that includes several in the UK -- provide the opportunities for an international-calibre preparation. In fact, at least in the sciences, it is probably easier to go from UK undergrad to a US grad school, rather than the other way around. Many UK departments are (wrongly!) concerned about what they see as a lack of focus and depth in a US major.

Unless you really are an Anglophile, I would not necessarily recommend Birmingham over Harvard, for example, but there are benefits to going somewhere else for undergrad, where ever you go. You demonstrate initiative and gain experience, contacts and broadened horizons that employers (and graduate programs) welcome.
posted by caek at 6:44 AM on April 21, 2010

2. I think that in the UK, as in a lot of Europe, you enter a specific degree program and are expect to stick with that."

Not all of them - Lancaster for one suggests students choose three subjects in first year and then specialise afterward. But yes, this is true of most universities here. You can change course but this can be difficult due to missing out on required modules/papers that happen in the first year. Many universities offer joint honours or 'combined studies' which are more flexible.

Oxford is not the be all and end all, and if you want to do non-traditional subjects it will be no good to you anyway - though if you choose economics you could do a lot worse. London School of Economics would be great for you, and has an excellent reputation, but bear in mind that living in London is very expensive (i wanted to apply to LSE until I started thinking about how I'd actually *live*). I moved here after university to work, I'm on a reasonable salary, but I still have to think about what I spend and even as a city person I find the urban sprawl a little overwhelming sometimes. Definitely try and visit anywhere you're seriously considering so you can get a feel for the city - after all, the city is your home as much as your school.

I went to Manchester, an excellent university in a large city (Glasgow and Manchester are the largest cities outside London with the advantage of being cheaper to live in) which has so much for students to do - I knew a few American students there as they're part of the Fulbright program. I can't tell you much about the economics programme (you should be able to read up on any courses on university websites) but I took courses in the same faculty and they have some excellent, well-reknowned tutors. Generally in the UK, the equivalent to the Ivy League is the Russell Group, which are seen as 'the best' universities, but there is some degree of snobbery around that, particularly as they concentrate on traditionally academic courses which is not what everybody wants or needs from higher education.They tend to be oversubscribed. Given the choice again I would go to Manchester, but Edinburgh is a gorgeous city too.

I don't understand SAT/GPAs so afraid I can't advise there. UCAS is how UK students apply to university but I don't know how this applies overseas.

Schooling - in the UK our equivalent of 'seniors' don't take the whole class programme you would but concentrate on three or four subjects for 'A-level'. You may find you have a more rounded but less specialised education, but the jump from school to degree is not going to feel any more challenging. If you're genuinely interested in your subject you will do fine.

Housing - students move into halls of residence, which can either be on-campus or further out. Second and third years tend to share accommodation with friends (iona says most people live in college - this is an Oxford/Cambridge thing. I much preferred having my own house, cooking my own food, feeling like an adult and part of the city. Some like to not worry about that and get on with studying.) Some halls are catered, some are not but will have a kitchen (you will need to get your own plates etc). Beware private halls as these are very expensive. When I was a student (2000-2003) internet connection was a fixed annual fee in halls but this has probably changed now with wifi being common. Halls are great places ot make friends, but miserable if
you don't get on with your flatmates.

Remember drinking is legal from 18 here so a lot of the student lifestyle revolves around drinking- good way to break the ice, but can be dispiriting if you're not into it. (Many UKers start drinking when underage so most have got the binge-drinking thing out of their system by 18.) We don't have sororities or fraternities here. Nobody cares about college sports except for the people who play them. A depressing proportion of students don't really care that much about their course and only about doing the minimum work possible to get A Degree on their resume, but perhaps I was a grumpy person as a student - and I'm sure the same applies in the US too.

I think the biggest problem for you will be the same you will find when moving country at any time - you won't be familiar with your surroundings and may end up spending more on things than you need to, say. Expect things to be more expensive, even in familiar stores (Gap, for example, take the dollar sign off their prices and replace it with a pound.). In large university towns you will be able to find plenty of things geared for students and student budgets - nights out, bookstores with used sections, etc.

There's a website called The Student Room which is a forum for UK entrants - could be worth looking at.

"It's great if you want an easy degree but not so great if you want a competitive degree particularly if you want to work in a country other than England."

This is complete rubbish. Many of my contemporaries are now working overseas - some at Fortune 500 companies, some even in Scotland. I had twenty hours a week class time in my final year, plus a part time job (necessary), which is a lot when outside class time is factored in. Your degree is what you put into it.
posted by mippy at 7:11 AM on April 21, 2010

Schmod is incorrect on the campus front, lots of universities have campuses. I'd say the majority of town universities in fact. Birmingham, UEA (Norwich), Essex, Sussex, Nottingham just to name a few.

My apologies, and thanks for the correction -- my experiences with UK Unis are somewhat narrow. I guess the point I had is to not expect a campus, like you would of an American University. I went to St Andrews, which had several "campuses" dispersed throughout the town (as well as a number of standalone buildings). The word "campus" was never used.

Seconded on mippy's job advice. I stayed in the US primarily to have better job and graduate school prospects, based upon the advice of a faculty adviser. Based upon the American UK graduates that I know, I can say that this advice was flat-out wrong -- this advice is admittedly anecdotal, but there is the important caveat that a degree from a UK university provides you access to one of the easier paths to getting a visa to work in the UK, should you choose to do that after graduation.
posted by schmod at 12:10 PM on April 21, 2010

Yale vs. Oxford
posted by oceano at 9:00 AM on April 25, 2010

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