College in the UK, Part 5 — “When a Man is Tired of London…”
Coming to London from rural Yorkshire (think: Wuthering Heights) could be perceived as being as big of a step as coming over to Britain from the U.S. to study for an undergraduate degree. However, I would definitely say it’s worth the effort, as London is a fantastic city, and UCL is a fantastic university.
In my years here so far, I have studied a huge variety of subjects: the history of political thought from Socrates to Rousseau to Nietzsche; Latin American modern political, intellectual and cultural history; the age of Modernity in Europe; the history of modern violence; and the conceptual history of rationality…
Apart from a couple of essential units in the first year, the direction of your degree is completely up to you; you pick all of the modules. These courses are taught on a timetable of weekly lectures and seminars of around 12 people, but most of your week is spent doing reading and research on the topics for that week.
Talking to Americans that I know who study here, the difference in the UK system is that you are given a lot more freedom to read what you want (and read widely, rather than covering a set text in lots of detail). This can perhaps seem a bit daunting, but I think it allows me to really develop my own independent viewpoint and be challenged by the literature. The courses are assessed by coursework essays for each module every semester and exams at the end of the year.
London itself is incredible. With 2.8 million residents in the centre of the city, it could seem as if it would be a huge anonymous mass, but nothing could be further from the truth. I think it feels like a lot of small towns all joined together, each with their own distinctive look and feel. You never feel like a small fish in a big sea; it is more like lots of little fish bowls.
UCL is not spread over the city. Rather, it is in quite a small area, so you can walk around central London and bump into loads of your friends on the street–a rare thing indeed. There are huge expanses of parkland right in the middle of London and so many famous landmarks that you really feel that you are living somewhere important and special. And there is always something to do–usually too many things! Almost all of the world-famous museums are free to visit, there are loads of great markets, and there is always an event of some sort going on. For the evening, UCL is located by the West End, the main theatre district in London, with thousands of great restaurants, bars and pubs. The clubs are some of the best in the world. UCL Union also runs countless clubs and societies. I am involved with the university newspaper; I play squash and tennis; I practice French through the Francophone society; and I go walking in the countryside (which is surprisingly close to the city) with the hiking club.
All in all, I genuinely couldn’t be happier than spending my university years at UCL.
BA student, History
“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.