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Samantha Strom

January 8, 2016
Travel Article #1
The Education Gap
One of my favorite YouTube personalities, Evan Edinger, has a series on his
channel called British vs. American. In it, he will take a category such as childhood TV
shows, cereals, or ___ and compare the British and American experiences with one of
his British friends, often his flatmate, Dodie. One of the subjects they covered was
schooling. I found this topic really interesting, so when I met a student who has lived in
London her entire life, I thought I would ask about her experiences.
The education systems in the US and UK are drastically different. This can be
seen in both testing practices and students experiences. It can also be seen in the
effect it has on students sense of self and identity. While both systems have children
start school between the ages three and five, they diverge around ages eleven to
thirteen. At this time, American students continue their education as they had been, but
British students take Common Entrance Examinations to get into selective secondary
schools. When students in the US are entering high school, students in the UK are
choosing their GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) subjects. Two years
later, they take the GCSEs and choose their A-Level subjects. A-Level exams are a
requirement to graduate in the UK, but also serve as an entrance exam for University
(12). This is kind of similar to how the SAT and ACT exams are part of the application
process for American Universities.
The environment in the classroom can be very different. Isabella Rapp, a British
student, explained that if students get into one of the more prestigious secondary
schools, classes get as small as four students in the last two years. This allows for
individualized attention. The smallest class I ever took was of thirteen students, and that
was about half the size of the average. At her school, each student got individual subject
tutors. However, Rapp emphasized that nothing was spoon-fed to them. British students
become mature very early.
This changes the experience when students go off to University as well. Rapp
explained that University has more of an academic focus, rather than the academic and
social balance that American seek to maintain. Going to University isnt a freedom as it
is for Americans, because British students have been given the freedoms at an early
age that Americans dont get until college (Rapp). Additionally, British Universities tend

to have three-year programs rather than Americas four. In the UK, Universities test
classes from both semesters at once, at the end of the year in May after a month off to
revise (Rapp). Revision is a time period to study. In the US, students are tested after
each semester. The revision period varies from school to school and are called different
things; Bradley University offers a day called Study Day, while Northwestern University
offers a week called Reading Week.
When students get to University, the subject matter can be vastly different as
well. UK degrees focus on one subject, while US degrees require a background in many
subjects (Rapp, 12). We have general education requirements. This may cause
problems if a student in the UK decides to apply for a masters degree in the US. Rapp,
one such student, complained that for US graduate schools, you have to take the GRE.
She exclaimed I havent done maths since I was sixteen! In the UK, the application
process consists of turning in some writing samples and hoping for the best. The board
doesnt care about your extracurricular activities. They want to know about what books
youre reading and what sort of work experience youve gotten (Rapp).
The expectation in the US seems to be that your undergraduate degree will be
related to what sort of work your planning to do. This is not so if you are applying for a
masters in the UK. As long as your A-levels match with your masters program and
undergraduate degree, then your undergraduate degree and masters program do not
have to match. Rapp, for example, is studying History at Kings College, but is applying
to NYU, Northwestern, and Berkeley for a masters in Arts and Cultural Journalism. She
said that an undergraduate Journalism degree isnt considered a good degree, so she
went with her academic interest.
I wonder how the school system effects students identity and perception of
themselves. If they dont get into a good secondary school, they wont be getting the
education necessary to do well on their GCSEs and A-levels, so they wont get into a
University. They would be told from age eleven on that theyre not good enough, not
smart enough, not cut out for University. Can you imagine being one of those students?
If you hear something like that often enough, eventually youll start to believe it.
What about the students on the other side? For students that were always top of
their class, got top marks on their exams, etc., wouldnt they be told the opposite? Would
their egos grow too large? Would they think they are better than the students who were
always told they were inferior?
I know I didnt have a typical American education either, as I went to a rather
posh public school where if you werent one of the best, you felt like you had failed. I
thought I wasnt particularly smart because the school threatened to take me out of the
honors program every year since I was struggling so hard to keep up. I feel as if this

was a much milder version of what British students go through.

I do think the British way of schooling does encourage a higher maturity earlier,
as Rapp mentioned. Children are forced to think about their futures in practical terms at
such a young age. They know they have to make it happen for themselves by doing well
on all the tests, so they take on the responsibility of studying with the weight of their
future on their shoulders. This fosters a maturity and independence in European
students significantly earlier than in their American peers. Rapp said that she had
friends who went to American colleges and all of the friends they made were European.
She said that they feel that they need to find a family of sorts, but the maturity gap is just
so prevalent, that the Americans arent part of it.
"12 Years a Student: Studying in the US and UK." Kaplan International Colleges
University Foundation and Preparation. Kaplan, 05 Aug. 2014. Web. 08 Jan.
Rapp, Isabella. Personal Interview. 06 Jan. 2016.