So with mid-terms approaching I thought now would be the perfect time to highlight academic differences between the University of Manchester (UoM) and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD). I have now been at UMD for almost 2 months and I can confidently say that there are huge academic differences between the US and the UK. Upon arrival at UMD the US academic system seemed really overwhelming at first. The first week of classes contained similarities with that of UoM as professors handed out syllabi and ran through the overall content of the class and discussed exams etc. However, there seemed to be so many more essays, tests, quizzes than what I was used to in Manchester. I was so worried. Obviously, my year abroad in the US is extremely important for my future education, but I also wanted to do a year abroad in order to travel and see more of the states. But how could I do that with so many assignments? I had images of myself sitting in the library every weekend.
But, as the weeks went on I realised the stress was very much all for nothing.
When the professors in my first week of classes were talking about doing 4 essays a semester I was picturing UoM standard essays, that take weeks to research and can range from anywhere between 1,500-3,000 words. However, in the US many of my essays have been 3 pages double spaced which is about (750 words). As well as the length of the essays, some of the essays don’t even required outside sources and are simply a reflection on a reading you have conducted, or could be your thoughts on a particular subject we discussed in class. This means that often I can get essays done in about 2-3 hours instead of in 2-3 weeks (leaving time for me to travel the states on my weekends). Also because there are so many assignments for each class each essay may only be worth 10% for example, this definitely takes the stress off when it comes to writing and submitting an essay. As, while in Manchester the strength of an essay can be the difference between a 2:2 and a 1st in the overall module grade, if you flunked an essay in the US you could easily make up for it in your other assignments.
While the essay side here at UMD seems slightly easier than UoM the reading workload is definitely heavier in the US and it really can’t be put off. I think we are all guilty in UoM of putting off reading until an exam or until an essay is due, but at UMD that really isn’t an option, as every class discusses the set reading. This puts pressure on you to do all the readings as the professors can choose you at anytime in class to share your thoughts on a particular reading. Also, pop quizzes are a regular occurrence in the US and are always about a set reading. Plus, in the US you get graded on participation which usually accounts for about 20% of your overall module grade. Therefore, if you never contribute in class and continually fail pop quizzes you could potentially come close to failing a class. While this might make UMD seem slightly daunting when it comes to reading DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT. Again, the readings are very different to the ones set at UoM. While at UoM most of the readings are strictly academic texts lots of the readings here are newspaper snippets, interviews with important people regarding the subject and journal articles. Also, sometimes readings may not be required and instead the professor might ask you to watch a movie or a documentary and the pop quiz will be questions on the movie. This means that I am able to get a lot of the readings done and still spend my weekends exploring the US, as it is really easy to do readings on buses, planes and trains meaning I can get all my work done and still have an amazing time on my year abroad.
Although the academic differences may seem overwhelming at first, I have found that with good time management skills and by making a schedule on my laptop (THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT) I am still able to travel most weekends and go out with friends at least once or twice a week. Ultimately, the academic side of the year abroad is a number one priority, but don’t let it bog you down. The year abroad is about meeting new people, exploring your new home and focusing on keeping yourself happy, and with good organisation you can do well both academically and socially.