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UK Academic culture

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Hi all,

Im new here but have been lurking for a while. I was hoping if someone could provide some insights regarding the UK academic culture.  I've completed my post bacc at an American ivy for the classics and have gained MA admission to UCL's ancient history program.  I've only experienced American programs and the uk programs are so different from what I've been reading.  


UCL's Ancient history program requires 1 year FT, 180 credits.  I believe they have 3 semesters vs. American 2 semesters.  While some courses vary in credit amounts,  how many classes do Ft students generally take or rather,  for how many classes make up the 60 credit course load? Do the courses generally run 2-3x a week? I think I read somewhere that classes in the uk are usually 1x a week, but longer class times. 


Any insight would be appreciated.  Im trying to picture what my schedule could look like so I can plan my finances (I'll be placing my newborn baby in daycare--surprise!). 


Thank you so much for your help or any uk advice!

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Hello! I did my MA in Archaeology at UCL a few years ago. I'm pretty sure they are structured the same, or at least similar enough.

Basically, the year is split into four quarters. In the first two quarters, you take three classes at a time. My classes each met just once a week for I think 2.5 or 3 hours each. There were some pretty substantial differences between the US and the UK systems, though, most notably that your entire grade is dependent on writing assignments, and you usually only get two essays per class. So each essay basically makes up half of your grade. The other difference is that these writing assignments are usually not due until a month or two after the course is even over, in order to give you time to really synthesize the course material.

The upsides of this system, in my view, were:

  • The first quarter was relatively relaxed, as I only had a couple of assignments due and they were all towards the end of the term
  • Pushing the deadlines back so far makes sure that you really understand the material and have time to formulate an excellent essay
  • Because your entire grade rides solely on your writing, it forces you into becoming a VERY good writer.

The downsides:

  • The second quarter was rough, because you are working on essays for your first quarter classes and doing readings for your second quarter ones. Got a bit confusing.
  • There is very little margin for error. If you do poorly on an assignment, that's half your grade for the course.
  • I found the expectations for the way that essays were graded to be different from what I was used to in the US. My professors wanted essays that got straight to the point without any flowery or stylistic writing. I also had another issue with most of the essay prompts coming in the form of questions. It took me a while to realize that they really wanted that exact question answered, not just an essay about some of the topics that the question raised. One of my first essays I did poorly on, and the feedback was basically "this is a really well-written essay, but you didn't answer the question so I have to mark you down ten points."

The third quarter you are writing your essays from second quarter classes and starting to think about your dissertation, and then fourth quarter (the summer) you're just writing your dissertation. So the last two quarters your schedule will be more free in terms of actual obligations during the day, but you'll still be kept PLENTY busy in the library!

Best of luck, and feel free to reach out if you want more info!!

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Thank you so much! This was exactly what I was looking for.  Its crazy how different the systems are,  but your insight was extremely helpful.  The essay part is terrifying, but hopefully the professors are willing to work with you.   Did you find there was a difficult transition back to us school curriculum and expectations? 


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Well I haven't started my PhD program yet--I've been working for the past few years, and will begin this fall. So that remains to be seen! I do think that the skills I picked up in reading comprehension and academic writing will definitely serve me well in my next program, and we'll just have to see about the rest. 😊

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