UK and US University Applications: The Main Differences

The United States and the United Kingdom remain the most desired destinations for international students. London and other UK cities have managed to retain their global appeal through the pandemic-ridden years, while the U.S. has renewed its commitment to international students.

In addition to cultural and socio-economic variations affecting the learning process, the university application process is different in the two countries too. If you are weighing up the pros and cons of each system, have a look at the key differences to make an informed decision.

–  Starting your application process

In the UK, applicants use the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) to submit their application at a fee of £25. UCAS is a charity that manages the application process. You can pick up to five places at a time, and each university will get the same application. So, you pick your areas of academic interest rather than the universities necessarily. You also add a personal statement and reference letters to the application.

In the United States, you choose a college rather than a degree program. You can apply to as many universities as you want and leave it to a later stage to pick your major. Applicants use the Common Application, a single application form used by almost 1,000 colleges in the U.S. and beyond. You will be charged for each place you apply for.

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–  Academic year


Most universities in Britain use the semester system except for some opting for trimesters or quarters. The academic year usually starts in late August or early September. In the U.S., the start of the academic year varies from state to state and from college to college. It includes the fall and spring semesters, each spanning from 14 to 20 weeks. There is an additional summer block that can go up to 12 weeks.

– Selecting degrees

Another key difference is in the way students choose their majors. Students enrolled in U.S. colleges have time to pick one until the end of their sophomore year. For many students, this is a big advantage since it provides lots of flexibility for deliberation, experimenting, and final selection. The majority of students change their majors at least once during their college years. They are required to take compulsory courses in addition to the majors.

The UK universities require students to pick their degree program during the application process, so they get no leeway in terms of changing their decision when the academic year starts. If you are not sure about the major you want to pick, you will be better off choosing a U.S. college.

– Late applications

If you miss the UCAS deadlines, you can still apply until the date for late submissions specified on the UCAS website. The point to remember is late submissions are not given equal consideration. You can also find colleges that accept late application in the U.S., but it is always more judicious to submit before the deadline.

– Decision-making

In Britain, applications are scrutinized by the individual academic departments of the universities you chose. The teaching staff assesses applicant eligibility and suitability to the requirements of the selected course. Applicants are expected to demonstrate their academic prowess and potential through their personal statements and supporting documents and information.

It is also common for British universities to make conditional offers to students. This means that student admission is contingent upon the final year grades students get later than the end of their final year of school. If your grades fail to pass muster, the university reserves the right to rescind the contingent offer.

The U.S. colleges designate specific staff, i.e., admission officers, to assess applications. There is no concept of contingent offers in the States. While academic suitability is an important factor, admission officers tend to be appraising the aggregate value of accepted applications in terms of creating a balanced and diverse student body. In view of this important consideration, you need to make sure you clearly explain what value you will be adding to the college and student community.

– Extracurricular activities

Applicants to UK universities do not get any brownie points for willingness to participate in extracurricular activities unless they are directly related to the chosen academic programs. We don’t advise focusing on them in your personal statement. Instead, concentrate on your academic performance and skills.

By contrast, extracurricular activities are a significant factor in decision-making in the U.S. Discuss them in your statement and do not be shy to mention both achievements and aspirations to showcase your non-academic qualities. If you are not sure about how to structure your paperwork, take a look at the essay services reviews to identify professional writers who can help you with top-quality writing.

– The cost of education

Costs vary between the two countries. There is a limit to how much British universities can charge UK students per year. The cap is set at £9,000, but it does not apply to international students who are charged far more.

In the U.S. system, college administrations have the upper hand in setting their rates. This means the individual college rates may be higher, the same, or lower than the maximum UK threshold. Obviously, private universities charge more, with an average cost of around $30,000 a year.

Final Thoughts

The UK and U.S. education systems are different. So are the application processes. If you are sure about the academic field you want to focus on throughout your college education, you’d be better off choosing a UK college. If undecided, the U.S. college application system gives you more flexibility in choosing a college while deferring your decision about a major to a later date.