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Why I crossed the pond...


Hello, my name is Conall Hirsch and I’m an international ambassador for the Link to Leeds program at the University of Leeds. As an American who chose to study full time in the U.K. after beginning my degree in the U.S., I thought it would be helpful to write a blog about why I chose to study here as opposed to staying in America (You can also read about me in my Ambassador page’s bio. I’ll be separating this blog into two parts- financial and academic. All of the following is based on my personal experience as both a former American university student and as a current U.K. student. I hope by writing this I can help answer the same questions for future students that I had when I was considering coming to Leeds.

In short, I’ve found that the value of an elite university education is much greater in the U.K. than in the U.S. Leeds is part of the Russel Group, a league of universities in the U.K. which are renowned for their research output, but are also ubiquitously considered the best in the U.K. and among the best in the world. As it was explained to me initially, they are the equivalent of the Ivy League in America; the gold standard of higher education. And while these schools both offer world class educations, the contrast lies in the finances.

As a former junior Ivy student, I can attest that elite schools in America seldom, if ever, award financial aid or scholarships. The majority of students, including myself, will spend about 240,000$ on a bachelor’s degree at a prestigious institution. In addition to this, because most student loans are privatised in America, they rely on predatory interest rates to make profits from students years after they complete their degrees. In contrast, the public international rate for universities in the U.K. ranges from £18,500 to £24,000, or about $23,000-$30,000. Not only is the tuition almost a third of the rate for those in the U.K., but most undergraduate degrees here are only three years instead of four. Therefore I will pay just under 100,000$ for my entire undergraduate education, as opposed to 240,000$.

Not only that, but I will be finished with school a full year earlier, giving me time to either pursue my master’s degree or join the workforce a faster than my American counterparts. It is also worth noting that while it is very rare to find scholarships in the U.K., Americans are allowed to apply for loans in Britain. Because the loans are regulated by the government, they charge very little interest in comparison to the private American system.

It is here that I must clarify that one can receive a very good education in the U.S. at other schools, particularly at certain state schools. However this arithmetic strictly applies to those who are seeking a globally elite education, and if this is your ambition then I cannot stress enough how much more advantageous it is to study across the pond. The financial apparatus in the U.K. alone is reason enough to come here, but I also had a strong academic incentive as well.

So while it is fiscally it is more beneficial in the UK, what about the actual university life? Here I’ll give a quick insight into my student experience in Leeds contrasted to my earlier time at American university, and why I decided to make the switch. I had one predominant reason for doing so: my academic preferences. I’ll also attempt to answer the questions I had about the academic system employed in the UK when I was a prospective student.

The academic system employed by UK universities is, in my opinion, much more efficient and beneficial to its students than its American counterpart. It allows for much more individual study, as well as independent thought, which I’ve found to be critical to my development as a humanities student. As an American student I was required to be in a classroom for over twenty-five hours a week, and only half of that time I spent actually studying subjects that related to my course. In addition to this American universities expect the student to churn out a 2-3 page papers religiously each week, in almost every one of your classes (which usually number 4-5 each semester). As a former member of this system, I can say definitively that is is inferior for the student compared to its counterpart utilised in the UK.

My course at Leeds is tailored to what I want to study, and gives me the freedom to dive deeper into the subjects critical to my course. In Leeds, I typically only have 8-10 “contact” hours a week- these are the hours in which I am required to be in either a lecture or seminar. While it seems like a remarkably low amount of time to be “working,” in reality most of my learning comes from my coursework. I’ll typically have anywhere from 30-100 pages of reading a week for either 3 or 4 modules. My objective as a humanities student is to consume the material, understand it independently through my own volition, and then be prepared to discuss it in my seminar with my tutor. In the United States, I was taught by a professor spieling in the front of a lecture, and my only requirement for achieving a high grade was my ability to regurgitate whatever came my way. However in the UK, I’m allowed to manage my learning my way.

My seminars, which were virtually non-existent in America, are a critical part of my course in Leeds. I’m able to discuss the material legitimately with my tutor and fellow students, which is where my actual learning occurs, instead of simply cramming facts inside my head to restate on a later test. Seminars are particularly important to myself as I study philosophy, but I can say definitively that if you are any kind of Humanities student, they will significantly add to your learning and university experience.

Another particularly large difference between the UK and US comes with assessment style. As I previously stated, the US system expects its students to frequently produce small pieces of work on a weekly basis. While I complete coursework each week as well in the UK, I’m usually only assessed on two pieces of work for the entire module. Initially I found this very daunting, as I feared I would have no room for error. In reality, I found I actually preferred this system. Instead of rushing out a small paper each week, I could use anywhere from four to six weeks to truly sink my teeth into the material. This extended period gives me the time to thoroughly research the subject I’m studying, and thus makes my writing not only better but allows me to produce a piece of work I am truly proud of. I often felt like a hamster on a wheel in the American system- constantly chasing after a reward instead of legitimately delving into what I’d come to university to study. In my course at Leeds, I feel that I’m not just consuming knowledge, but helping create it as well.

In closing, I wrote this blog specifically to outline why I made the choice to study in the UK, and hopefully address the questions of a prospective student who finds themselves in the position I occupied two years ago. If you have any further questions concerning coming to Leeds, my email is located on my ambassador profile in the Link to Leeds website, where myself and fellow ambassadors are more than happy to address any queries. I’ve yet to regret even for a second choosing to study at Leeds, and I hope this blog has helped you determine if it may be the right fit for you.