British vs American Education systems: Which is Better?

The US and the UK both have education systems that are highly regarded worldwide. In some ways, they are similar. They both focus on teaching children how to read, write and do math at a young age. They teach many of the same subjects in school (English, history, science). And they each require students to pass standardized tests before graduating from high school or college.

However there are significant differences between the two countries’ educational systems as well.

In this article we look at some of the differences between studying at American and European education systems. This is not an exhaustive list but it does cover some of the most significant differences:

The Education System In The UK


The GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) is one of the most important exams in England and Wales, it is an official English certificate. It consists of two parts: 4 general subjects (English Language, Mathematics, Science and a foreign language) and 3 or 4 optional subjects. The GCSE is structured in grades from A to G that define qualification level for each subject.


The A-Level examination is administered by Edexcel (the Cambridge Assessment International Education group). The courses consist of 2 years’ duration taught by teachers leading to AS and A2 level results obtained after a first year (AS Level) in which students specialise in three or four different subjects plus a fourth study area as their General Studies course. Students normally choose from 200 separate subjects including creative arts, languages, humanities, social sciences.

A-Levels are England’s standardized university entrance examinations which provide an internationally recognized qualification (as a measure of intellectual ability). The AS level is taken at the end of first year and A2 is the second year equivalent. When you apply for a degree course in England most universities will want to see either 3 or 4 subjects A Levels with grades C(6) and above. It is recommended that students take English Language and Maths as their two mandatory subjects with one science subject plus a third option from any other available subjects. After this it is advisable to consider taking one or two additional subjects such as foreign language, further maths or something creative like photography, graphic design or art & design.


The IGCSEs are taken at the end of year 11 (14 – 15 years old). Results are available in summer. They are Edexcel International GCSE qualifications which sit outside of the national curriculum and are therefore unregulated by any government body. Schools offer IGCSEs in many subjects however there will be a limited number of options on offer within certain subjects where they do not ordinarily teach those particular IGCSES e.g. A-Level Music is not offered but an IGCSE music course may be. The content of each syllabus is different from the specifications issued by exam boards for their national curricular equivalents, and so it can usually be assumed that an award of one or more IGCSEs implies a greater depth of understanding than would be indicated by the same number of GCSEs (or an A-Level at C grade).

Education in USA

What is the difference between UK and US schools?
Higher education is very popular in the United States. In fact, many students from outside America and Europe apply for this country. Universities and colleges provide various degrees such as certificate, Associate’s Degree, Bachelor’s degree and more. The most recognized way to enter universities is SAT exam which is a standardized test that helps universities evaluate applicants’ eligibility for admission based on a set of required subjects.

Basic: Elementary school (K – Grade 5)

This is the first level in the US education system. The actual grades you get in elementary school will be your base-line for all future educational and work opportunities, starting from middle school to university and eventually jobs/careers.

High School

This is where most of the teenagers are as well as those who didn’t pass exams at earlier level eg SATs (test you need to take after 8th grade if you wish to go to college), students who finished elementary school early or they skipped one or two years due to various reasons like misbehavior/academically not very advanced etc.


This is the top level in secondary education followed by Graduate & Postgraduate programs that everyone applies for after graduating from high school. College is between 18 – 22 years of age and you can choose to attend on a full time basis (going to classes during the day & sometimes at night) or part time basis which means going to classes only once per week, for example Tuesday-Thursday every week.


After graduating from college you are eligible to attend university but not everyone does so if you want to get ahead then this is where you need to go. The education system in Australia/Canada isn’t much different than the UK since they all use British as their primary language and it’s very similar academically but there is one difference: University fees in Canada and Australia are quite low compared to England where it costs around 10

Academic Terms in the US vs UK

Americans have a different way of understanding the words Quarter, Semester and Year. The first quarter (also called semestral year) ends after three months and then you have 3-4 months off to relax before returning back for another four month period. When it comes to other words like Quarter/Semester, Year etc things get even more confusing because Americans use those terms in a completely different way compared to English speakers.

For example: In America what we call ‘Quarter’ is what Americans call a ‘Semester’, meaning that it is a 4 month academic year (like Semester 1, 2 and 3). The word ‘Term’ means ‘Intermittent or the amount of time between terms (semester) while Quarter/Semester simply refers to how many months in one school year.

Academic Year

A typical academic year is the same as our summer vacation period (June, July and August). This means that you will probably be just returning home with your trunk filled with new books all over again. In America university students have a longer summer break than England since most Americans are on holiday during July until September/October depending on where they live. People also tend to spend more money during this time which is why there are huge sales going on all-year round if not even more so at Christmas in comparison to their European counterparts who might only have two weeks or less of holidays followed by short breaks before Christmas.


An academic semester is just that, a period of time which lasts for only two to three months depending on your university system. Most Universities in America have 5-8 semesters per year with summer holiday/break being the longest and Christmas break being very short (if there’s any).


In England the terms are called ‘Half Terms’ or ‘Quarter Terms’. The first one comes between Semester 1 and 2 while Quarter Term happens after half of the Academic Year (3rd term). Just like what I said earlier about Quarter/Semester things get really confusing when you try using them in their proper context. For example: If you’re an American student then how would you explain your two week winter break to your English friends if it’s the same as their Christmas holidays? How would they understand if you said that you just had a ‘Christmas Break’?

Units of Academic Measurement

For those who are English speakers, you will be thrilled to know that the units of measure for various subjects like Maths & Science are based on the Metric System i.e. 10cm = 1 inch which is exactly what we use in England but Americans still use Imperial (as they call it) where one inch equals 2.54 centimeters. This makes things confusing if not measured correctly which is why people like me tend to use the Metric System if for no other reason that my parents taught it to me and I’m used to using those measurements.

Homework and Grading System: US vs UK

The biggest difference between US and UK education systems is the grading system. In America you have a 4-point grading scale with A+ being the highest grade and F being the lowest (F, D, C-, D+, C, B- etc) while England use letter grades like A*, A, B+, B etc all the way to E which is just above failing.

Also, Americans give extra points to their harder subjects like Maths and Science depending on the level of difficulty while in England exams can be anytime as long as they are finished within the allowed time (also known as Open book exams). In America you have to write a personal letter explaining why your grades could have been better but it’s more than just an essay since you also need to include evidence/proof.

Cost of Schooling: US vs UK

American school system compared to UK
When it comes to tuition fees, the UK is a bit more expensive than America but not by much. For example:

Undergraduate Tuition Fees Per Year (US $12,320) – Public four-year institutions charge from $3,000-$7,000 per year in comparison to Secondary Education which costs between £5K-£35K for private schools and even Universities where it’s around $37K per year as of 2015.

This makes your average university student at least double if not triple the amount that you will pay for undergraduate studies unlike what happens in England which doesn’t have any tuition fees but instead they use Student Loans like all other developed nations. To put it into perspective, most Americans have Masters Degrees or equivalent while the English students are just entering university.

US vs UK Curriculum: Which is Better?

The choice can be difficult and, of course, it is entirely dependent upon personal preference. If you are considering studying in the US or UK, here are some things to consider before making your decision:

1.Education System
While both educational systems are considered among the best in the world, they do have significant variances. The biggest difference between them is that all state schools in England must provide free education for those aged five to sixteen years whereas in America most families will send their children to public school but never actually enroll them as students;   this leads us onto another important point:

In the U.S., when compared with other high income countries, per pupil spending on education by governments is the highest in the OECD. Although cost-effectiveness of public schooling in the USA is estimated to be higher than most other countries, this does not mean that it’s cheap – far from it.

In contrast, because private school fees are so high (a typical U.S family pays $14,000 a year and up), roughly 80% of American families send their children to local state schools; In England too, although all state schools must provide free education for those aged five to sixteen years (and university tuition), attending a private school or sending your child abroad will be very expensive;

3.The purpose of study
Some people want to get degrees that can lead to lucrative careers like medicine and law but others are more interested in fields that aren’t as lucrative, perhaps because they love the subject. There is a lot of debate about whether studying these subjects in English-speaking countries will provide students with an advantage once they return to work. This question has no definitive answer although it cannot be denied that prestigious degrees from places like Yale University or Cambridge University will look very good on a CV;

4.Academic Standards
Each country produces great students and both have outstanding reputation as education hubs worldwide. However there is one crucial difference which is worth considering: In America, all schools must administer standardized tests to check if their pupils meet national educational standards before graduating high school whereas this doesn’t apply in England;

Now it’s your turn to decide whether you want to study abroad in the US or UK. Just keep these things in mind and, who knows, maybe a decision will be easy to make!

The United States has more than 4,000 colleges and universities but on average they are much larger than their European counterparts; Oxford University in England – one of Europe’s oldest educational institutions – only has 15 colleges whereas Harvard University alone has more than 400 academic buildings with accommodation for approximately 6,600 undergraduate students plus another 8,000 graduate students;

When it comes to prestige, there’s no doubt that American universities are the most well-known and high profile across the globe. Due to this notoriety they are typically more expensive while also offering better employment opportunities for their graduates;

7.Level of English
To gain admission into a degree course in America, students must demonstrate an adequate level of English language proficiency beforehand (i.e. TOEFL score). In contrast, virtually all European higher education institutions use English as their language of instruction;   This means that for those living in Europe who don’t intend on studying abroad in America or Canada should feel free to choose any university that is best suited to them;

8.Studying Style
Because there are so many different universities, there are also many different ways of studying. Some students enjoy the atmosphere at very large colleges while others feel that they might be lost among tens of thousands of other students;

9.Course Availability
Many American universities offer their students the opportunity to take part in study abroad programs and as a result it’s possible for an undergraduate student to spend up to two years away from their home campus. On the other hand European higher education institutions don’t typically offer this option;

Wrapping Up

We hope that this article has answered all of your questions about the American and British education systems.

The U.S has few public schools but spends more money per pupil than any other country while in the UK all state schools must provide free education for pupils aged 5-16 years with charges for university tuition;             – While about 80% of American families send their kids to public school, most families in the UK pay for their children’s education.

The US has thousands of universities and colleges which often require high SAT or ACT scores to get in whereas there are just 130 universities in the UK and they have lower entry requirements.

In the US, all students must take standardized tests before graduating from high school but no such exams exist in the UK. There is also a greater political involvement with British schools because parents have more say on what happens at local level.

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