Don't Get Lost In Translation
Updated: Feb 13
What’s the difference between a course and a major? Or a Baccalaureate and a Bachelor’s? There is not only an ocean between the US and the UK, but the terms used in each country to describe similar elements of their educational systems differ widely. Here are those that students are most likely to confront as they begin their university research.
Year 13 vs. Grade 12
In the UK, the final year of high school is Year 13, whereas in the US it is 12th grade. Year 12 is equivalent to 11th grade, Year 11 to 10th grade, and so on. Be careful, since even admissions committees in the US get confused and mistakenly ask UK students to submit transcripts with their Year 9 grades, when they mean to request grades for Year 10.
Course vs. Major
In the UK, the area of study a student chooses to pursue at university is referred to as a course. This could be, for example, biochemistry, psychology, mechanical engineering, or history. It’s comparable to a major in the US, and there are hundreds, with the important procedural difference that students planning to study in the UK apply to a specific university course, like Economics at the University of Exeter, while applicants in the US typically apply first to a college, department, or university, like Reed College or Boston University, declaring their major in their second year.
Baccalaureate vs. Bachelor’s degrees
Students at international schools often participate in the International Baccalaureate Diploma program, or IB. This is a high school qualification, whereas the Bachelor’s degree (there is a Bachelor of Arts, or BA, a Bachelor of Fine Arts, or BFA, and a Bachelor of Science, or BSc) is the standard university qualification conferred on students who complete a full program of undergraduate study. Get the first, and then the second. (A Master’s and PhD would follow.) And did you know that most Bachelor degree programs in the UK are for three years, whereas their US equivalents are for four?
Supercurricular vs. Extracurricular
Extra-curricular activities are the hobbies, volunteer activities, groups, organizations, teams, and clubs that students participate in outside of the classroom, and which are often the marks of the ‘’well-rounded’’ student. These can include piano lessons, tennis club, or volunteering at a local community garden. By contrast, supercurricular activities are those that also take place outside the classroom, but demonstrate a student’s motivation to go beyond the taught curriculum and deepen engagement in a specific academic subject. For a biology student, for example, supercurricular activities could include reading a journal article about genetics, doing an internship at a local health clinic, or experimenting in the kitchen with things in petri dishes. UK universities value the ‘’super’’ over the ‘’extra,’’ but, increasingly, US universities do, too.
Bursary vs. Scholarship
A bursary is a financial award given to students primarily in the UK and Canada based on financial need or academic performance to assist with the cost of attending university. It is a grant and, like a scholarship in the US, does not need to be paid back.
No guide to terminology is complete without mentioning FERPA, an American acronym that is just too amusing to ignore (or pronounce). Actually, it refers to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which was designed by the US Congress to protect access to a student’s educational records. You’ll see it on the Common App, when you place a check (a tick, in the UK) next to the FERPA box. Your guidance counselor (counsellor, in the UK) can tell you more.
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