Lili's Travel Diary #6: School


As you read this, I am completing my second week of school here in London. I can say it is vastly different from back home for a variety of reasons. I have spoken to some few UK friends that attend other uni's and they say that everyone's experience is a bit different depending on the school, so this is mostly comparing the University of Westminster to what I have experienced back home in NYC. I am constantly drawing comparisons in my mind and trying to explain the differences to curious European residents, so I thought it would be interesting to get my thoughts down on paper.

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1. Schooling in General
Uni is only 3 years here in the UK, so even though I am graduating early in 3.5 years back home, I am graduating late in their eyes. Year one is full of level 4 courses, year two is level 5, and year three is level 6. I am dominantly in level four and five courses because of how they transfer, but I am in one level six course and I see the intensity of it in comparison to non-final year courses for sure. It is the class I am most worried about.

2. Scheduling
Here, a computer schedules for you. You make a list of about 10 modules (not courses/classes as it is in the states) with your priorities closer to the top. When making this list you do not know when the classes are offered or who they are taught by, just that you have an interest in them and what level they are. Some classes are like my Brands and Branding class where they only meet once a week, so you get that time slot no matter what. Other classes like my Shakespeare and His Contemporaries class meet at two different times on Monday, once on Thursday, and twice on Friday. Which module you get put into depends on where your other priorities lay and how many people are already placed in each class. So you're pretty much helpless to a computer's algorithms. From what I understand, I am very fortunate to have Wednesdays and Fridays off because of this.

However, I seriously miss NYC scheduling where I create my exact schedule with days, times, and professors I want. I am learning to appreciate The Hunger Games that is NYC scheduling...but it makes my life so much easier! Definitely less stress once you have a schedule made.

Plus, someone seriously has to introduce Rate My Professor here. It is so under the radar that I pity these poor unfortunate souls that could easily avoid a terror of a prof.

3. Classes
I am also noticing that classes are a bit different here. They only meet once a week, whereas they meet twice a week back home typically. Humanities courses are just two hours straight, and since I am used to 90 minute classes back home I truly feel that extra half hour even though a class that meets once a week for 2 hours is significantly shorter in the grand scheme of things than a class that meets twice a week for 90 minutes a pop. These classes are small seminars where you just speak to your professor about the assigned readings/projects as you would in any typical American classroom.

I am noticing the business courses function differently. The business courses are back-to-back (except not always! I am lucky in that regard) 90 minute lectures and 90 minute seminars. The lecture is typically huge; I have one with 230 students for my Advertising module, and then they split into smaller groups for the 90 minute seminar that follows. It is in the seminar that you review the lecture (which becomes mind-numbing and repetitive) and do any group work. This is also where you present group work and hand in any essays.

When I have two business classes back to back on Tuesdays, I literally do not like to talk to people because I am so exhausted afterwards.

4. Professors
Every teacher here is on a first name basis with the class because apparently they have not achieved the rank of professor yet. It's crazy to think about! They are simply lecturers, and are often referred to as tutors which has an entirely different meaning in the states. This explains why some of the lecturers look so young because you can become a lecturer immediately after leaving uni. My friend Ray who is a regular Londoner did that for biology, after all. I asked someone why they don't like to be called professors, and they told me it is because professors typically teach postgraduate school (graduate school for Americans) and most uni tutors have not earned the title.

In America, if you are teaching at a college you are a Professor because you have earned the title as part of your preparation for the job. Sure, a lot of profs have PHDs and like to be called Doctor, but many are okay with Professor. In America I have only ever had two professors prefer to be called by their first name. One was the best professor ever who was heavily into Shakespeare and so chill it just made sense, and one was from India...so I suppose this makes sense.

In the UK there is also a huge diversity among professors. Back home, the only diversity in professors I had was my public speaking professor being from India. My Italian professor was even American! Here I have 6 professors...one is American, one is Italian, one is German, one is Welsh, and two are British (though one mumbles and speaks so fast I have trouble understanding him). It's nice to have such diversity, though it leads to language barriers and lots of opinions that are a bit challenging to accept at times. Americans are often made fun of in many of my classes and I just try to slide down in the back awkwardly willing nobody to look my way or ask me to open my mouth.

5. Grading
Grades are so different here! When they first talked about them I nearly choked on my water. It is very hard to get an A here. An A, from what I understand, is above a 70...and a lot of teachers won't even give 80's at all. A 60-69 is still a very good grade, 50-59 a fair grade, and 40-49 is in need of help. However, a 40 is still passing here because it is the equivalent of a D-. In order for all my courses to transfer home I need a D in each, so I am unsure if that is an American D or a British D. Either way, this system throws me off so much. When I heard someone bragging about getting a 68 my eyebrows went into my hairline.

6. Coursework
They break down your coursework for you as you pick your modules so there will be no surprises. One of my classes is two 1,500 word essays popping in at 50% of my grade each. Another class is a 25% presentation of 10 minutes, 25% 3,500 word report, and a 50% exam. One class is a 1,500 word essay for 30% and then an in-depth 3,500 word report for the other 70%. The last one is just 50% group advertising project and 50% individual analysis and report. How crazy is that? So much of your grade rides on something so little...with ridiculously small word counts! Back home I am used to 10+ page papers, and here we are talking 2-5 page papers max because if I go over the word count I am deducted points. I have to learn to be as concise as possible.

While some people think that this would make their lives easier, it is stressing me out beyond belief because there is so little room for error. I can't believe I am saying this, but give me homework and more projects and essays to better balance my grade! And on top of it all I have to learn Harvard Referencing and brush up on my King's English. AHHHHHHHHHHH

7. Breaks and Exams
There are only 12 weeks of classes here and each class has 1 if not 2 study weeks at a time of the teacher's choosing, so it's more like 10/11 weeks of classes, which is significantly shorter than the 15 week semesters in the US. 

On top of that, whereas the US has one week of Spring break, I have all but five days off in April for Spring break. And then the entire month of May (May 3 - May 27) are for exams! I am fortunate to only have one exam, so that's a lot of travel time for me. But, you know, the negative of exams here is that they don't give them in the Fall semester. While that is great for everyone who chooses to study abroad in the Fall, it's terrible for full-time students because if the class has an exam, it happens months later in May! I feel like I would forget everything important by then.

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I think there are both positives and negatives to UK and American schooling, and perhaps I am clinging to American schooling because it is familiar to me and what I've spent the past 3 years learning. I like how the semesters here are shorter, and I love their breaks and faculty diversity, but when it comes to scheduling, classes, and grading I find myself yearning for home.

What was your uni experience like? Which way of teaching do you enjoy more? Comment below with your thoughts and, as always, your comments are appreciated. <3

6 comments:

  1. I guess every uni must do scheduling a little differently because what you mentioned under #2 isn't how it was done at my uni. At least not for my major.

    I picked my major, obviously, but then I didn't pick any classes at all. There was a pre-made schedule. So when picking my major, I could see what all my classes would be for the entire 3 years I went to uni. I knew all that info ahead of time.

    That's actually something I LOVED about the system here. I could see all my classes for the entire 3 years and know them in advance before deciding on my major. Plus, I just had some annoying experiences with classes in the US. I also spent two years at a university in California and since you had to fight to pick your classes, I quite often had to settle for classes that were 1) irrelevant to me, or 2) were part of a category I'd already fulfilled all my requirements for. So again, the classes were useless.

    I like how you referred to it as a Hunger Games, because that's totally accurate, haha.

    And LOL at #5. That's such a mind boggle, isn't it? It took me SO LONG to get used to seeing a 70 as a very good grade. I was so accustomed to that being kind of a bad grade (at a C-). That definitely took a long time to get used to.

    Regarding #7, I LOVED how my course handled final exams. I know this is because of the nature of my major (digital art) and not all are like this.. But I actually only had ONE SINGLE final exam in all the 3 years I spent at uni. That's because my course was an art course so we just had final projects instead. So the last project might be to build a website or something like that. I loved it! It felt so relevant.

    Plus, it meant I often had a longer summer break than everyone else since I could just finish my project early then be done at the beginning of May.

    I personally really appreciate that uni is only 3 years in the UK. I guess this will depend on a person's learning experience and interests, but in the US degrees are 4 years because of "general education". You're required to take x credits in language, or x credits in history, or whatever, even if it's totally irrelevant to your major. I always hated taking classes I had zero interest in.

    But in the UK, "general education" isn't a thing. I think that's why they can get away with 3 years instead of 4 -- you actually have to take fewer classes.

    I'm a very selective learner though so I guess that's why I prefer the UK system. If someone super hungry for knowledge in tons of different areas, then I can see why they'd prefer the US system.

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    1. When scheduling comes around I am always like WELCOME TO THE HUNGER GAMES!!!! hahaha

      I like how it is 3 years in the UK because I do not think it is necessary for me to take courses like painting, a science lab, math as an English major, random history courses I have no interest in. The only two courses I have been required to take that I genuinely think will help me in like are public speaking and intro to computing where we learn basic HTML that can help in the workplace.

      With that in mind, I still prefer the US. But again it is because it is what I know, you know?

      Thank you for this comment! It was super eye opening <3

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  2. It's quite interesting to hear about the differences between school in the US and the UK! I'm so glad you decided to share your thoughts on this Lili, as I thought it was quite eye-opening.

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  3. The grading does depend on the course/uni - I have friends in business or digital courses who regularly get 80s but in English courses it tends to not be given because that means it is good enough to be published. A first at Oxford is 80 I think and with the Open University (study at home) it was 85, so when I transferred into my current uni I thought a 70 was terrible!

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    1. Huh. I mean back in the US every uni differs in the sense some think the cut of between an A/A- is 93 while others a 95, but they're all the same general framework in 60s being D's, C's being 70's, 80's B's etc. So this is very fascinating for sure!

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