College in the UK, Part 2 — Picking Between the US and the UK for Uni
I applied to the V100 History program at University College London (UCL) in March 2006. As a dual national (US/UK), I seriously considered attending college in the States, which my parents had done. However, I ultimately chose to stay in London, as the tuition fees are much cheaper and UCL consistently makes the top five in national and international rankings of the best universities. My experience at interview was another deciding factor, as it was an informal chat about my educational interests – which wasn’t intimidating at all!
I graduated in the summer of 2009 and can honestly say my years here were exactly what I wanted out of a college experience. Living in central London is amazing; we have at least five major libraries within walking distance from campus, including the British Library, which stocks virtually every book ever printed. I also had the time to get actively involved in student societies. In my third year, I co-edited UCL’s magazine, Pi, with another historian.
The vast majority of the courses I took were related 18th and 19th century cultural and social history within Britain and America. I was able to pinpoint an area of interest by my second year because we were given such flexibility with our course choices, and I was drawn to certain lecturers early on. Unlike in the American system, it is not necessary for humanities students to take a course in science or math. If you have a specific area of interest, it is possible to only opt for courses related to that field. I graduated knowing a great deal about a certain period, rather than having received an introduction to every academic subject. If your interests are more far-reaching and general, you will have the opportunity to take courses outside of the department or within any of the University of London colleges. I never did, as there were more than enough courses that interested me within the department, with 15-20 options every year.
I obtained a first-class degree in 2009, the equivalent of highest honours. The way your grade is assessed is extremely fair, as it’s done via a median rather than mean system. In practice, this means that if you were given one particularly bad mark, it wasn’t reflected in your final grade. There was also less weight given to your first year grades so that every student could have the chance to learn from their mistakes and improve. My final year made the difference, as by that time, I’d managed to perfect my essay writing and exam technique. I was proud of my 10,000-word dissertation in my final year, which was the largest and most time-consuming piece of writing I’ve done.
At the end of my third and final year, I opted to stay on at UCL as a master’s student. I have found it extremely enjoyable so far. The students in the course are from extremely diverse backgrounds. This year, for the first time, I took a unit outside of the department at Royal Holloway, another University of London college known for their particularly strong American history department. Although I hope to become a journalist, I stayed at UCL for another year because I couldn’t bring myself to leave the department just yet!
MA student, History
University College London
“College in the UK” is a series of op-ed articles written by guest contributors about academics, social life and what is unique about colleges and universities in the United Kingdom compared to American schools. As part of the first installment of this occasional special series, we invited contributions from university professors and students at UCL (University College London). The 2011 UCAS application deadline, which includes applications to UCL, is January 15th.
Read part 1 of this series.