A Guide To Studying In The US For UK Students

Posted by Sarah Heys on

America is often referred to as ‘the land of opportunity’ and is also regarded as one of the finest education providers in the world. So, if you’ve decided that you want to shake up your education and spend some time overseas, you might be considering the US as your destination of choice.

And coming from the UK, America can be the ideal place to study as there will be no language barriers but a whole load of opportunity with 50 states to choose from!

But before you go, there are several things you need to know about studying in the US - which is exactly why we have put together this guide. Below, we’re going to take a look at all the important information you need to make an informed decision about your next step in your educational career.

Read on to find out more.


The US education system at a glance

Before we get into the more technical stuff, let’s first look at why you might be considering the US as a place to study and ultimately live during this time. Did you know:

  • The US is made up of 50 states and spans six time zones
  • The United States is the world’s most popular destination for international students
  • It has one of the largest education systems across the globe
  • It is home to five of the world’s top 10 universities
  • Some of the most popular cities for studying include Boston, Chicago, LA, New York City and San Francisco

If you do decide to study in the US, you’ll have your pick of thousands of great universities and courses. The hard part is narrowing down where you want to go, what you want to study and how you’re going to make the move! And of course, you’ll get to experience the American campus life, plus this will look great on your CV for years to come.


The different American universities

As we’ve mentioned, the US has a huge education system, and it is estimated that there are around 4,000 institutions. When in America, the terminology is a little different and universities are actually referred to as colleges, of which there are two main types:

Public colleges

These are large, state-funded institutions that require lower tuition fees. However, they do have more students than private universities, and international students will still need to pay slightly higher fees to attend.

Private colleges

These colleges are smaller and are funded by private donations, tuition fees and grants. So, though they have higher fees, they also have fewer students and international students are required to pay the same fees as state residents.

There are eight colleges that make up the American Ivy League. This is a group of prestigious institutions, and this includes:

  • Brown University (Rhode Island)
  • Columbia University (New York)
  • Cornell University (New York)
  • Dartmouth College (New Hampshire)
  • Harvard University (Massachusetts)
  • University of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania)
  • Princeton University (New Jersey)
  • Yale University (Connecticut)

And as we have said, five of the world’s top ten universities are in the US and these are:

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1st)
  • Stanford University (3rd)
  • Harvard University (5th)
  • California Institute of Technology (6th)
  • University of Chicago (10th)

It’s also worth knowing that the academic calendar in America is split into two semesters. These are the fall (autumn) semester which runs from mid-August to December, and spring which runs from January to May.


The different types of degrees

As with the different types of universities, there are also different types of undergraduate degrees on offer and these are:

Associate degrees

These take two years to complete and are typically studied at technical, community or junior colleges. Students who choose an associate qualification can then transfer to a Bachelors programme to complete an additional two years of study should they wish to.

Bachelors degrees

These take four years to complete, and they differ from UK undergraduate degrees in that students study a variety of subjects rather than just one. They then choose what to focus on in the final two years; this is known as their ‘major’.

In order to get enrolled in a Bachelors degree, you’ll need at least five GCSE passes and two A-levels, though you need to double-check that your chosen university recognises your qualifications first. 

Masters degrees

In the UK, we have Masters degrees, but in the US, these are often known as ‘graduate degrees’.

There are two types of graduate degrees: academic/research or professional. Most courses take two or three years to complete, and you will need a minimum of a 2:2 undergraduate degree from a recognised institution in order to sign up for a Masters.


The highest level of qualification you can get is a doctorate, and these typically take four to six years to complete. And to be awarded a PhD, you must pass a comprehensive exam and produce an original research piece, usually in the form of a dissertation.


University fees in America

Studying in the US is expensive, so if you are thinking about studying there, you should not make this decision lightly.

Tuition fees for undergraduates can range from $5,000 (£3,000) to $50,000 (£36,000) per year, depending on which university you choose to study at. Plus, you’ll need to take living costs into account as well.

If you’re lucky enough to be accepted for an exchange program, this can cut the costs drastically, but these are often subject to terms and conditions, and the number of people accepted for these programs is a lot lower.


Getting funding and the correct documents

There is some good news; international students can receive a significant amount of financial help depending on the university they attend.

Some provide scholarships that will cover the entire cost of study, while others contribute somewhat towards the tuition fees. Before you settle on which university you would like to attend, take a look at what scholarship programs they have on offer, as well as any other financial help that might be available.

Student visas

You’ll also need to make sure that you get approved for a student visa, and these can vary, but the most common type is the F-1 non-immigrant visa.

You must be accepted by the university and enrolled on the course before you can apply for one, and you will then have to register with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS. This costs around $350 (£253).

And finally, before getting excited about your new adventure, you will need to have a visa interview with the US embassy in the UK.