USA vs Scotland

Corrine McAndrews, an American film student at Edinburgh Napier, explains the main differences between university in Scotland and college in the USA.

Going to college is an exciting experience that can sometimes seem overwhelming. The decision to attend university in the UK can seem even more overwhelming than applying to American universities. Going abroad to gain a degree is certainly worth it, but there a few differences between UK and US schools that make the choice look daunting. I’m here to hopefully clear up the confusion. 

In the States, colleges are either two or four years. In Scotland, a bachelors degree takes take the same four years as it does back home. However, most postgraduate courses will only take a year which is beneficial to the students who maybe can’t afford to attend a full masters course in the States. 


In that last paragraph I used the word “course”. This is just another way of saying “major” in the UK. I think we’ve all experienced that one uncle who we only see at Thanksgiving ask us either: A) “What major do you want to study in college?” or: B) “What major are you again?” In the UK they switch the words around, so now it reads: “What course are you on again?” Here, some universities at least, will only have you focus on your course without the need for general education classes. At Edinburgh Napier, for example, students take three modules (classes) at a time. All of those modules relate directly to your course. There is no Math 101 or Science 102 to take, unless of course you are studying either of those subjects. 

Corrine from the USA

"What I love about Edinburgh Napier are the facilities available to my course. I appreciate the camera gear and studios available."

Only taking three modules a semester (trimesters at Edinburgh Napier) also changes the amount of time students are in the classroom. Students aren’t in the classroom for hours on end or for the entire day. Edinburgh Napier encourages independent study over time spent in the classroom. There are more personal meetings with lecturers that are called tutorials. You’ll most likely attend these in addition to lectures just to see how your independent work is coming along. This allows for a better relationship between you and your lecturer than in the US.

Although there are only three modules per semester at Edinburgh Napier, workloads amount to the equivalent of five (maybe six if you were an overachiever like me) classes in the States. Assessments work a bit differently though. You probably won’t have weekly assignments or quizzes. You’ll instead have an essay or exam due during midterms and finals week. Lectures should prepare you for these heavily-weighted essays or exams. So, please, make sure to show up to all classes! In most modules, these couple of essays or exam will be your only assessment.

After you hand in your essays or complete your exams don’t worry too much about the number you receive as a result. Grading is another thing done differently in the UK. In Scotland, a 70% or above is an A. Anything below a 40% is a fail. I freaked out when I received a 68% on an essay before realizing that the grade I received wasn’t a D but really a B+! 

One last thing to add, Edinburgh Napier is similar to most other UK universities in that there are social differences. The dorms (called halls here) are all single beds so you won’t need to share a room or bathroom with someone else. There are also no fraternities or sororities. In their place, however, are an array of societies, clubs and sports teams to join. Don’t worry though! There may not be a “Greek Week” but there’s tons of functions to attend so you can meet new people. There’s also a thing called Freshers Week, taking place a week before classes commence, which gives students the chance to join clubs, go out to night clubs and organize other meetings for “First Years” or Freshmen.