UK vs USA: Where Should You Study?

Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford, Princeton…Many of these famous and elite universities are found in the United States of America (US/USA) or the United Kingdom (UK). Both destinations are world-renowned for top universities and exceptional graduates. The US and UK both consistently top the list of best destinations for students to study abroad…but which one should you choose?

Here are some key differences, pros, and cons between the US and the UK!

UK vs USA: Similarities

The UK and USA have similar historical roots: the USA actually began its history as a British colony before it broke free to form an independent nation. They both have similar cultural influences of Christianity–particularly Protestantism–literature, the English language, and a cultural history beginning in Greece and Rome. Yet the paths of these two nations differed widely.

In both locations, international students can be sure to obtain a globally valuable, English-language, high-caliber education. Universities in the US and the UK are among the world’s best. Degrees from the US or the UK can help you work in the country, or set you up for great career prospects at home!

UK vs USA: 6 Key Differences

Language

While English is spoken in both the US and the UK, the accents are very different. Depending on whether you learned British English or American English in school, you may find it hard to adapt to the accents.

There are also differences in the vocabulary of both countries:

British English American English
chips French fries
chemist’s shop pharmacy
lorry truck
barrister attorney/lawyer
dustbin trash can

 

Size and Climate

The United States is a huge country. Its population is over 331 million people, and is the fourth largest country in the world. You can choose to study in practically any climate in the US, from the dry deserts and red rock mountains of Arizona to cool, forested hills of Vermont…from a sunny university in Florida to cloudy Seattle. If you study in the US, you will have plenty of unique and diverse travel destinations right inside the country!

The UK is much smaller. With a population of about 68.5 million, the UK has a more consistent climate. The UK has lowlands in the south and mountains/hills to the north, and generally cool temperatures with plenty of rainfall. The stunning landscapes and city life in the UK have inspired some of the most influential works of literature in the world, from Shakespeare to Harry Potter.

Despite its small size, the UK is close to European countries and often has cheap direct flights. Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and France are amazing travel destinations just a few hours away.

Politics

The US is a collection of 50 states and other territories that are not states, such as Washington DC and Puerto Rico. In the United States, each state is free to set their own laws about a variety of issues. This means that laws in Florida are different from laws in New York City. If you plan to study in the US, it’s a good idea to read a bit about the states you want to study in.

As the US is a democracy, Americans are very active in politics. Though it’s considered impolite to talk about politics on first meetings, dates, or formal events, many Americans will still be active in political discussions with friends.

You may find American students on your campuses leading rallies, joining protests, or organizing politics-themed clubs. The United States has freedom of speech, so it’s not uncommon for Americans to wear T-shirts or flags with political meanings.

A peaceful rally in Washington, DC.

You may have heard a lot about the Queen of England and the British Prime Minister–who is in charge of the country? While the UK does have a Queen, the Queen is only the head of state, not the head of government. The Prime Minster and other elected officials are responsible for decisions about how the government and country are run.

Like Americans, Brits take a strong interest in their national politics! Keeping up with news from the UK is a great way for you to understand more about the country and also start conversations with new UK friends.

Queen Elizabeth II attends a service for the Order of the British Empire at St Paul’s Cathedral on March 7, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Geoff Pugh – WPA Pool /Getty Images)

Student Life at University

What does life look like for international students in the US? US campuses are often large with plenty of opportunities to join clubs and student societies around a huge variety of topics. From law club to theater groups, it is easy for international students to find ways to make friends and enjoy a thriving student life on campus. You’ll also definitely be able to make friends with students from your own country or region–the US is incredibly diverse.

What is international student life in the UK like? In cities in the UK, it’s quite easy to get around without a car. You may find that pubs are a favorite destination for students to relax and grab a drink. The US prohibits drinking under 21 years of age, but in the UK it’s 18! Universities in the UK also have many clubs, events, and organizations for students of all nationalities to join. This is a great way to make British and international friends and make connections in your university.

Manners

The US and UK have different standards for manners as well!

In the US, “small talk” is very popular. When someone on the street asks you “How are you?” they don’t really expect a detailed answer…It’s just a way to give a polite greeting in the US. Topics such as religion, politics, health, money, or sexuality are not polite topics for “small talk” or first meeting with new American friends.

In the US, you should never use a curse word/slang term for someone’s race, religion, nationality, gender, or sexuality. These are extremely offensive.

Polite Small Talk Impolite Statements
What are your weekend plans? Are you unemployed?
What are you studying? What is your family like?
Wow, the weather is bad/amazing/weird today… Why are you so fat?
Where are you from? Are you single or married?
I like your shirt! Is that your real hair/eye color?

 

Americans are also very direct. It’s okay to say exactly what you mean. Americans will assume you are being honest, and if you are being “indirect” that may be interpreted as being a liar or sneaky. (But remember to avoid the impolite topics listed above!)

In the UK, politeness is very important. Saying “please,” “sorry,” and waiting your turn in the queue are crucial. Brits also have a deadpan sense of humor, using sarcasm, and mocking/”roasting” humor. This can be very confusing for international students who may not understand the joke. If you want to study in the UK, try watching some British comedy shows to get used to the British sense of humor.

Don’t crowd to the front or jump in front of others…rules to be polite in public in the UK!

Safety

In both countries, you should watch out for pickpockets and scams. Going out alone at night, especially to bars or nightlife areas, is more dangerous. Though the US and UK are generally very safe countries for women and minorities, taking basic safety precautions for safety is important. Many women in the US carry pepper spray–small amounts are easy and legal to carry in your purse in case of emergency.

The biggest safety issue in the United States is gun violence. Guns are legal to own in the US, and some states have laws that make it easy for anyone to buy and carry a gun anywhere, including stores and restaurants. Given the mass shootings that have occurred in schools, stores, movie theaters, and other locations, this is a major political issue in the US right now.

American students are trained on how to avoid shooters in school. International students are usually surprised by this fact, and by the general prevalence of guns in American society.

Students studying in the US should be aware and cautious of the risks of gun violence in the US.

Study in the UK

How can you study in the UK? It’s easy on Global Admissions–just find your program and click “Apply Now!”

Find universities in the UK here.

Study in the US

Do you want to find universities and study in America? Find universities in the US here.