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I'm starting an MA program in international affairs at a very competitive uni in the US, and (I know that this is impostor syndrome!) I'm concerned that it's going to be too much of a challenge for me.

A few people have told me that UK and Australian Bachelor's degrees are more rigorous than those in the US, and that our Honours degrees in particular (final year is pure research, culminating in two 8000 word articles and a 17-20,000 word thesis) cover a lot of what would be postgrad level stuff over there.

Does anyone feel qualified to tell me if this is in fact the case? If it were I'd feel much, much better. I'd have no qualms signing up for a similar program here (Australia), because I know the lie of the land. I'm probably just being paranoid, but I am terrified that I'll get there and everyone'll be lightyears ahead of me and the workload will give me a nervous breakdown!

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Hi there!

I'm actually from the UK, studying in the US. I spent a bit of time thinking about this, and I'll tell you my observations.

The UK A Level system is pretty good and produces very specialised students (at age 18), who have skills to go on to study a specialised degree at university without extra training. I was surprised that it is possible to get to a US university without ever having seen any calculus or linear algebra. (I know this isn't common, but it is possible). Where as in the UK if you want to do science/engineering, you had better have taken A level Maths and your subject. So that's bascially the first year of the US bachelors degree. Picking up the tools you need to do degree level work, which isn't necessary in the UK. That and a lot of what I call 'busy work'. E.g, unnecessarily long homework sets and short deadlines. I often marvel at the undergrads, seeing them working on a problem set at 2am in the morning or something(!)

I think by the end of the bachelors degree the two systems (UK vs US) produce approximately equivalently qualified people. Where there is a difference, it's most likely in the breadth of courses/modules encountered. In the US, a bachelor degree tends to have a number of extra requirements (e.g. a "science requirement" or a "math requirement"), whereas in the UK, studying Physics, that's all you'll do from day one, unless you were a bit curious.

You can say a similar thing about the graduate research degrees (MA/MPhil/PhD) too. Typically in the UK there is no formal coursework; instead you are set a problem and go about working on it on your own/with your advisor. Whereas, in the US it's typical to take a number of courses before even starting on your research. This is where the US has the advantage. It's great to be able to study a decent set of graduate level courses, across departments and pick up some useful things for research.

When I arrived at my institution, I was worried that the students would be "light years" ahead of me too. But in fact, I found them to be pretty much in the same boat as me, same worries, same concerns, some deficiencies somewhere.

But don't be worried. Make the most of it! The US is a great place to study, and the institutions are funded much more heavily than they are in the UK (and probably Australia). I find that the facilities are excellent, and so are the faculty and other staff.

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Thanks for that thoughtful reply. I think we're starting to move towards a US-style model here -- Melbourne University has slashed the number of Bachelor's degrees and now requires 'breadth' courses...

You're welcome. Good luck :-)

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  • 4 weeks later...
I was surprised that it is possible to get to a US university without ever having seen any calculus or linear algebra. (I know this isn't common, but it is possible).

I apologize for quoting an old thread, but this piqued my interest (I studied at Leicester Uni for a year, so I always click on everything UK-school related I see).

Personally, with the exception of my friends who went into computer science/math, I did not know anyone who DID have calculus or linear algebra before heading off to university studies. Unless "linear algebra" in your parlance refers to what I just understood as "algebra" (though not likely, since we study that when ~14). I still have not had any calculus or linear algebra, and have a master's degree.

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Personally, with the exception of my friends who went into computer science/math, I did not know anyone who DID have calculus or linear algebra before heading off to university studies. Unless "linear algebra" in your parlance refers to what I just understood as "algebra" (though not likely, since we study that when ~14). I still have not had any calculus or linear algebra, and have a master's degree.

Sorry, I should have qualified this. I was referring to students who study engineering or science. Even in these fields one can enter a US uni without having seen such topics. Whereas, I'm sure it's still the case that if you want to go and study engineering or sciences in England, A Level Maths is a prerequisite, and that means they don't need to assume its the first time you've seen basic calculus. (Before I get corrected more, I am aware that many US students will take AP Calculus in high school, but it is not a formal pre-req for science/engineering as it is in England )

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Sorry, I should have qualified this. I was referring to students who study engineering or science. Even in these fields one can enter a US uni without having seen such topics. Whereas, I'm sure it's still the case that if you want to go and study engineering or sciences in England, A Level Maths is a prerequisite, and that means they don't need to assume its the first time you've seen basic calculus. (Before I get corrected more, I am aware that many US students will take AP Calculus in high school, but it is not a formal pre-req for science/engineering as it is in England )

Gotcha. Yeah, that makes sense, and sounds about right. The English system really is fascinating to me; it makes more sense in so many ways, but also seems fundamentally incompatible with the average college student's disinterest in learning. Now, maybe the English system thus makes students more interested as well, and they realize that when your whole grade is based on one paper that you had better learn something.

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American education has a different focus, though, at the undergrad level (and the high school level, really). Despite the constant push from industry to professionalize early, academia has stuck to its guns in attempting to offer a liberal education, rather than a four year version of the technical degree. The graduate degrees are where you specialize; the bachelor should receive a well-rounded education in as many disciplines as possible. Thus the extra post-baccalaureate coursework, I suppose. While UK students have received four years of training in their field (and little training in anything else) by the end of their BA/S, American students have received 2-3. However, they are more well-rounded.

It's all a matter of what's important to you, though. My time studying in England was a wonderful experience, and I love the college system there -- it's much more personal and you really feel like you're part of a community. However, I think my interdisciplinary graduate work would have failed without the varied background I received in the U.S.

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  • 2 months later...

Hi all,

I am planning on doing an International relations Masters in the UK or Australia. Well I preffer the UK. I had a look for programs, but its becoming a lot of work. I found one site www.gradschoolsabroad.com and while it has a fair no of unis listed, I wasnt able to find exactly what I needed. Do you know of any good schools that teach International Relations but where I can also do half coursework and half thesis studies...

I know I am taking the easy route here, but I thought I would ask...

thanks

Elcha

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The best IR school in Australia is the Australian National University. Hands down, tops for IR/policy/politics. I'm pretty sure they have an 18 month coursework + thesis MA. Also look into University of Melbourne, Monash University, Uni of Queensland, Uni of Sydney, Uni of New South Wales, Uni of Western Australia. These are the top seven Aus unis. Others worth considering are Macquarie, Swinburne, Deakin, LaTrobe. PM me if you have questions.

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  • 9 months later...

Sorry, I should have qualified this. I was referring to students who study engineering or science. Even in these fields one can enter a US uni without having seen such topics. Whereas, I'm sure it's still the case that if you want to go and study engineering or sciences in England, A Level Maths is a prerequisite, and that means they don't need to assume its the first time you've seen basic calculus. (Before I get corrected more, I am aware that many US students will take AP Calculus in high school, but it is not a formal pre-req for science/engineering as it is in England )

Most of the people I went to school with had calculus but not linear algebra when starting our degrees. Many of us had to take calculus again anyway due to the inconsistency in counting AP test credits across schools. So we got to do that busy work twice. I've never really heard of anyone taking linear algebra in high school.

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I'm actually a thesis-writing final-year student in one of the Ivys right now, and I can tell you that my friends who are writing theses in your sort of area are writing one single 15,000-20,000 word thesis, so you are already way ahead in terms of research. I think that if you've been accepted and have strong research experience, you will do just dandy.

I personally consider UK degrees to be more rigorous, and I'm only really studying in the US because A-levels had pushed me into the wrong area and I wanted a liberal arts program to help me transition into a different discipline! If I'd have stuck with mathematics, however, I'd have had a much more rigorous degree experience in Imperial College than where I am now (because here one could start in the mathematics department without even having seen a differential equation or even an integral sign, as others have noted!).

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