I’m currently doing a study abroad year at a college in Louisiana. It is a small Jesuit Liberal Arts School, so I won’t claim that I can speak on behalf of all colleges in the USA or universities in the UK, as they are all very different!
Some of the central ideas to the Jesuit philosophy are:
• A commitment to a faith that does justice – an awareness of the needs of others, and a readiness to place one’s talents at their service
• A personal concern for the whole life of each student
• A development of a broad liberal education
• An emphasis on critical thinking and effective communication
• Striving for excellence
• A philosophy that emphasizes actions rather than words
I was a bit worried about going to a Catholic college, as I do not practice any religion, however people of any religion (or no religion) are also welcomed here and not forced to go to any religious services or anything like that.
Some of the things I’ve learned about the differences in higher education from attending a British university and American college.
For arts and humanities students, there are very few contact hours in the UK.
At my school in the USA, you have to do a minimum of twelve hours a week and you often have the same class twice or even three times a week, with the same professor. Having more contact time can be good for people who struggle to motivate themselves in terms of independent learning (like me!)
2. In the USA you call most of the lecturers ‘Professor’ or ‘Dr’ and their surname, instead of calling them by their first name like in the UK.
The lecturers want to spend to getting to know you at small Liberal Arts Schools, they know your name and may even ask you to fill out a form with information about yourself so that they have a better understanding of your character.
3. In the UK you go to university, in the USA it’s ‘college’ or ‘school’.
4. You get a lot more homework in the USA!
There is homework after every single class and often there are reading quizzes and little tests. At first I thought this was a much fairer system of testing a student’s knowledge, rather than just having one exam at the end of the year, like some modules do in British universities. However, after being asked to read the introduction to a book and being told I will be quizzed on it, I’m not sure if this is the best way for me. It seems like you’re blindly memorizing specific facts about what you’ve read, and it doesn’t really matter what subject you study. It’s not the same as properly testing your skills by asking you to write a critical response to what you’ve read or outline the argument of the essay. If anything, it just seems to be a test to prove you’ve done the reading, rather than whether you’ve actually gained anything from reading it than can help you develop your skills. These kind of tests are in addition to critical essays though, as opposed to replacing them.
5. There are no lectures in my timetable in Louisiana, however there are occasionally guest speakers that come from different colleges across the country to give specialist lectures. The seminars have around twenty students and are quite like sixth form classes. In the UK, you have lectures every week, with around 200-300 students in, for certain subjects.
6. Most Americans will not understand you if you ask them ‘what modules are you taking?’ In the States, they call them ‘classes’.
7. In North America, they have fraternities and sororities. I am not going to join one, so I can’t talk too much about them, but I was surprised to discover that some of them do a lot of volunteering and community service, and raise awareness about particular issues, such as domestic violence. In some colleges they live in houses together and in other colleges they are split up and can live with whoever they want.