I grew up watching those classic teen films based around American high school and college. The sororities and frat houses always looked so much fun and the politics of American college always baffled us Brits. Whilst we were getting hammered whilst living in our crappy, overpriced halls whist surviving on pot noodles, the Americans were studying hard, living in huge, glamorous houses and basically one upping us at every turn.
I have teamed up with the lovely Alyssa from ‘Living in Full Bloom’ to challenge some of the misconceptions of American college.
Z: At university in Britain, we usually end up at our students union, hammered on cheap vodka, we stumble back to our student housing and drag ourselves to a nine o clock lecture. I always imagined that parties at American colleges would be: extravagant, loud and a lot classier than our British debacles. I pictured huge houses with music blasting; there isn’t much heavy drinking because everyone’s having way too much fun.
A: American parties are equally as unglamorous. They usually entail tipsy freshman wandering around neighborhoods and walking into random parties. Most people get drunk in their dorm rooms before going to parties – because usually the only alcohol at the parties is cheap beer. Although most parties happen on Friday and Saturday, Thirsty Thursday is a thing, so there are often many students hungover or missing in Friday classes. On my campus, the parties are usually small, dark, and gross – there is usually music blasting and people dancing, but there is also a lot of heavy drinking (and usually drug use) going on as well.
Z: In the UK, literally anyone can go to college. Got low grades and no IQ? Fear not there will be a university out there for you! My impression of college in the states is that it is so much harder to get in, you have to hold a high level of intelligence to even be considered, basically colleges only accept the cream of the crop making the job market that bit more accessible for new graduates. Unlike here in the UK, where a degree is basically as useless as a GCSE in sociology.
A: Honestly, while some US colleges are prestigious (think Harvard, Yale, and similar schools), it is pretty easy to get into most state schools. Moreover, if all else fails, community colleges never turn anyone down. However, once you’re in school, if you don’t (or can’t) do your work, you will flunk out and not get a degree. While a degree isn’t useless here, the job market can still be really tough for new graduates, especially in certain fields.
Z: The good thing about British education is that we can go to college no matter our financial background. Yes, we have to pay it back but the government is on hand with thousands of pounds worth of loans and grants to get you your degree. I imagine it to be a lot harder for people from low-income backgrounds in America to go to college; on TV it always seems as though families have to save from the day their child is born to even have a chance of them going to college.
A: Honestly affording school can be a huge issue here. There are loans and scholarships available, but for many students, even that isn’t enough. It’s also common for students to have to work right out of high school to support their family. There are many ways our system could be better about supporting and helping America’s neediest students attend college.
4. Sororities and Frats.
Z: It could have been the result of watching way too many American teen films but I definitely assumed that almost everyone belonged to one of these societies. Sororities and Frats are often portrayed quite badly in film, as shallow, exclusionary groups that seek success through either their wealthy backgrounds of ‘popular’ status. We Brits don’t get them, the closest thing we have is the option to join one of the many university societies that our colleges offer: ‘The Tea appreciation society’ anyone? That was an actual thing at my college…
A: Although I personally am not in a sorority, I know many amazing people who are. Although it depends on the school, the number of students who are a part of Greek life is actually not that many. Some schools don’t have sororities or fraternities at all. Although portrayed badly in film, I believe Greek life can often be much more positive than negative. Certain groups give it a bad reputation, but the majority of sororities and frats do a lot of volunteer work, provide students with a great networking tool, and help students develop beyond their schoolwork! I may not be a part of one, but I definitely encourage anyone who is interested to check it out for yourself!
5. Majors and minors.
Z: As someone that studied a music related course, these two words have very specific meanings to me however; at American colleges, they seem to mean something else entirely. In Britain, we pick one subject and we study the ins and outs of it for 3-5 years, we leave hopefully being an expert in that field. It always seems as if the American way of doing it is perhaps more even, they leave college with more options whereas we have only one subject to essentially fall back on.
A: I never realized this concept was uniquely American! Honestly, most students just have one subject area they study and focus on while in school. That is their major, and what they are most prepared to do when the leave school. Some students, however, choose to have a minor. A minor is a subject area they also master, but at a lower level. Minors are usually used to supplement majors so you are more employable. For example, my major is Social Studies Education, which prepares me to teach high school history. I also have a minor in Spanish, which will allow me to teach Spanish. Some students also double-major, which means they study two subject areas equally as thoroughly and become employable in both!
Perhaps there aren’t as many differences after all. Whether you’re at college in America or University in England, it’s an exciting, challenging and life changing time. My best advice would be to soak it all in and enjoy it while you can, it goes so quickly and you’ll be in the ‘real’ world before you know it with jobs to find and bills to pay.
Check out Alyssa’s blog at: Living In Full Bloom for more about American college and lifestyle.
Stay Strong xoxoxo