Some of my clients and many of my past colleagues know that I spent 5 years working at a boarding school in the UK.  Much of what comes into people’s minds are things like winding country lanes, stone buildings with slate roofs, uniforms, cricket and rugby matches, and the rest that were very much part of my daily existence.  At that job, I learned a lot about the UK educational system and part of my role was working with eleventh and twelfth graders as they navigated the UK application process.

While there are several similarities between the UK and US application processes and school experiences, there are also some differences.  As students and families look into this, there are certain things to be aware of and I will also be offering the path that most students looking to study in the UK ultimately follow.

Let’s start with the easy things:

College in the US:

Duration- 4 years for an undergraduate degree.

Tuition cost-(sticker price) $2,000-5,000 per year for junior/community college to over $50,000 for a private college.

Course of study- Varies.  Most majors will be between 25-60% of required classes, the remainder are core requirements and electives.

Number of applications possible- No limit.

Level and cost of student amenities- Very high.  American universities have become de facto homes away from home and most campuses strive to keep students busy, engaged and active around the clock.  With multiple housing and dining options, rec centers, climbing walls, numerous Greek and service organizations along with multiple levels of athletics (recreational to D1), most US students assume they will be kept very busy on campus.

University in the UK:

Duration- 3 years for a typical undergraduate course (4-5 for more specialized fields, engineering, medicine, law, etc.).

Tuition costs- For international students, basic arts and sciences courses cost $31,000 and more specialized courses (engineering, medicine, etc.) up to $49,000.

Courses of study– Many are available. Understand that all of your coursework will be in your field of study., which is different than studying in the US.   For example, if you are accepted into a Biology course, all of your coursework will be Biology.  There are no outside electives, nor can you take courses outside of your bio study.

Number of applications possible– Using UCAS (the UK university admissions portal), a maximum of 5.

Level and cost of student amenities– Low.  UK schools are a mixed bag.  There are some ‘Campus Universities’ which follow the US vision of the campus being the center of things.  Student housing is available, but typically more spread out than at a US school, and the level of amenities will be lower than what most US students expect to see on a US Campus.

Details about attending school in the UK:

Things to keep in mind for university courses in the UK include application requirements and application styles.  The UK education system is very different from that in the US, especially once students enter eleventh and twelfth grades.  In the UK, most students will be taking A-Level classes.  These are two-year classes that follow a student’s interest.  A typical eleventh grader will start with 4 A-Levels and drop down to 3 for their final year (as a majority of UK courses require 3 A-Levels for admission).  Also, keep in mind that university-bound UK students are taking A-Levels or they are in an IB school.  In either case, they are part of a larger nationalized (or universalizing) curriculum and these count for their admission.  Yes, students at Eton are taking the same classes as at a local secondary school.  In addition, UK universities use UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Services) for their applications.  The process is very different than the Common Application and students apply to a maximum of 5 universities.

US students looking at UK universities will need to be in either an IB or AP school.  In most cases, a typical high school transcript is meaningless in the UK application process, because in the US, all education is administered on a state-by-state basis and outside of APs and IB classes, there is no standardization.  For most US students, in terms of gaining acceptance to a UK school, students should plan on a heavy slate of AP classes with AP scores of 4s or 5s.

If all of this sounds very complicated, it is.  If a family is very interested in pursuing this, please be in touch and we can set up a personal consultation.

And now the less complicated versions:

There are a handful of UK universities that use the Common Application.  In this way, they will consider your US transcript, SAT or ACT scores, and you could be offered admission at a UK university.  For a majority of these schools, the caveats spelled out above about courses and campuses remain.  In addition, because students coming from the US are considered international students, the fees are higher, there is no financial aid available and the costs of going back and forth can be considerable.

For 99% of students and families looking to study in the UK, the most popular version remains finding (and enrolling) in a US school with robust links to UK universities with extensive semester or year abroad options over there.  Several US schools operate their own ‘Centers’ in the UK and are affiliated with UK universities.  Typically, these have a mix of US and UK-style classes.  In addition, because you are going through your school, things like credits transferring and staying on track for graduation are built into the equation.  The final piece is that outside of transportation, costs are typically no different than the tuition and fees one is paying at home and in most cases, whatever grants (and loans) also will slot in well.

There are excellent reasons to consider studying in the UK.  It is a country rich in heritage and culture with many student opportunities.  The shared language makes this an easier fit for most and students who have taken this step universally praise the experience.   Give us a call- we know the United Kingdom application process and can help you find success across the pond.


Austin Curwen brings over three decades of experience to Annapolis College Consulting.  A dedicated boarding school faculty member, Austin has spent time at boarding schools in California, the UK and most recently Pennsylvania.  Since 2010, Austin has managed all aspects of college counseling from being a program director, test coordinator, registrar and college counselor.  He is well-versed in financial aid, athletic and arts admissions and international universities.  While Austin has guided his students to some of the most selective schools in the country, what is most satisfying to him is working with and empowering students to find their best fit.