There are plenty of differences between studying in the UK and studying at home in the US. Perhaps one of the most striking is the academic calendar and semester structure. Academic years in the UK typically begin in October and span until June (September if you are completing a dissertation). As a new student, it is likely that you will arrive in Guildford in mid-September to allow time for both your program and international orientations. My past summer at home, situated between my transition from undergraduate to postgraduate study, was great because I benefitted from a May 2016 graduation (US) and a mid-September academic start (UK). The extra time home gave me more time with friends and family and to work a summer job that allowed me to save money before I moved to the other side of the Atlantic.
But here’s the catch – a later semester start necessitates a later semester end. Unlike most two-semester systems in the US, the first semester of the UK academic year extends until late January/early February. To be honest, when I first realized this I felt a bit disappointed. When I was an undergraduate at home I loved the feeling of completing all of my assignments and final exams before I went home for the holiday and being able to enjoy the break academic-obligation free until I returned in January and did it all over again. Now I have two exams at the end of January and a project due upon my return to Guildford following the break. I’m sure you are probably thinking that this system sounds unappealing – I did too. But lately I have begun to not only appreciate, but kind of like it too.
Taking final exams and submitting assignments after the break removes the necessity of cramming end-of-semester content and rushing the completion of projects and assignments. During undergrad I remember learning material in a class four days before our final exam. A brave classmate would ask the teacher if the new material would be tested on the exam to which the professor would respond “yes” and assure us that they’d post their PowerPoint online for us to review. For me, I never really learned that material. Instead, I memorized it the best that I could, immediately darted to those questions on the exam so that I could fill in my answers before I forgot them, and then completely forget about it. By having exams and assignments due after the break, you have three weeks to dedicate enough time to actually understand and learn the content. Personally, it also helps curb my procrastination because I know that in order to enjoy my time at home, I need to be proactive about my assignments by preparing and beginning to study before the break. This feeds into my overall idea that studying in the UK isn’t about the easy method, but rather the most impactful one.
Another perk of the UK’s academic structure is that there is a large spring break that spans nearly the entire month of April. Whether you choose to spend the break in the UK enjoying the off-season tourism, travelling Europe, or working a placement or job (unrestricted hours, I might add), is completely up to you and is promising either way. I know that this upcoming year I plan on going to a new country over the break and the following year my friend from the UK and I want to do a coast-to-coast American road trip. The break is a great way to re-energize.
To conclude, academic calendars in the UK are kind of weird and take some getting used to. But once you actually begin your course it takes little time to understand the reasoning behind them. Who knows, maybe you will even end up preferring them. That’s all for now!