I've witnessed firsthand the difference between British and American universities – The Telegraph

As record numbers of British students head to the US, one graduate discusses her fours years on a scholarship in South Carolina
Amid complaints that record numbers of privately educated British students are being snubbed for top universities, new stats have revealed that one in five teenagers educated in the private sector are exploring the opportunity of studying in the USA
However, the experience is not merely open to the elite. Numbers of British students studying abroad are soaring across the board, with a 45 percent increase in students applying to study in the US between 2008 and 2018. According to 2021 stats from UNESCO there are currently around 10,000 British students at American universities.
In 2016, Emma Hickson (now 24) from Poulton, Lancashire travelled to South Carolina to begin her four-year degree. Here she looks back on her experience of frat houses and study halls…  
‘On my first day on campus, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my new American university. Unlike most of my peers from back home in Preston, I’d crossed the pond to attend Limestone University in South Carolina on a soccer scholarship. 
The differences between American and UK universities were immediately apparent. The few other English and Irish girls on my team would often talk to each other about how American university felt like going back to high school. While our friends at British universities were taking the first step into adult freedom, in the US we were sometimes treated like a naughty school children. 
The most obvious difference is that the drinking age in America is 21. Mine was a ‘dry campus’ where alcohol is strictly forbidden so, if we were ever caught with booze, we’d be in huge trouble. Still, that didn’t stop us – I had a lot of fun. Just like you see in Legally Blonde or Pitch Perfect, house party culture is a massive thing.  And sororities, fraternities and red solo cups are absolutely real. 
On a dry campus you didn’t see some of the excesses that you see in the movies but, a few years into my degree on Thanksgiving, I visited Jacksonville near both the University Of Florida and Florida State. We went to fraternity row at about 10am and I’ve never seen anything like it – fraternities existed in these mansion houses. You’d walk in and there’d be hundreds of bottles of champagne, DJs, smoke machines and people drinking everywhere. It was mind-blowing, amazing fun. 
My experience of US university was as a student athlete, so in some ways the stricter atmosphere worked for me because I felt more like a professional. On a typical day I’d have a one-to-one practice session with my coach at 8am, back-to-back lectures for the rest of the morning, lunch on campus from a specific meal plan, maybe a visit to the physio room and then more lectures. You also had to go to ‘study hall’ which just meant a mandatory number of hours in the student library. 
If I ever skipped a lecture or didn’t complete enough hours in study hall I’d be punished, either by being made to do extra running on the field or having a fine added to my account. 
I first decided I wanted to study in America when I was 15 and my football team competed in the Dallas Cup, a huge international soccer tournament. We stayed with host families which gave me a taste of American life and I loved it. Football was always the draw; for women it is absolutely huge and it hit home that it might be possible for me to go out there to play. 
After getting back home, I started to research it. I’m glad I started early because there is so much paperwork to get through you can’t do it last minute. As a working-class teenager from the North West, I knew I’d need a scholarship, so I sought out agencies who specialise in recruitment and scholarships, and managed to get a few offers.
The scholarships would cover 80 percent of my fees and after that it was roughly similar to a UK university: about £8,000 or £9,000 per year, so I had a part-time job all the way through college and had to rely on my parents’ help too. 
But finding the funding was only the first step. Even though I was going as a student athlete, I still needed to prove myself academically, and for that I had to take the SAT. 
In the UK, GCSEs and A-Levels are the most important educational qualifications, but in America it all comes down to the SAT, this massive, rigorous exam which covers English, Maths, reading, comprehension, logic, everything. Your score on the SAT affects how much you’ll be offered on your scholarship and what universities you can get into. 
To prepare, I’d sit in the school library in all my free periods with this enormous book the size of the Yellow Pages which I had to memorise, in addition to completing my A-Levels. 
The exam is about three or four hours long and really does cover all bases. There was algebra, data sampling, writing, even an essay part to it (luckily for me they were more bothered about the maths and the literacy). Thankfully I got the grades I needed and was accepted onto the team at Limestone University.
When I finally got to university in the South, I quickly realised a lot of what we consider pretty moderate in Britain was seen as incredibly weird or left-wing. I witnessed a lot of casual racism and homophobia. I had to learn a lot of patience and how to bite my tongue.
I saw first-hand how insular the USA can be. Most Americans don’t have a passport so America is all they see and all they know. I remember getting some pounds out of my purse after I’d been back home and one of my friends asked, “What’s that?” When I told her it was money, she was stunned to learn we didn’t use the dollar. 
It’s odd because the American education system is set up to counter that insularity. In terms of life experience, life enrichment and cultural perspective I think it’s better out there. 
My degree was in history but I found myself doing Spanish classes or classes on serial killers (that was a fun one) and sometimes I’d think, “Wait, how does this relate to my degree?” I gained a broader experience although my friends who stayed in the UK definitely have a deeper knowledge. 
It was brilliant to be able to try a lot of different things. I’d always wanted to major in history, but I enjoyed psychology so I did a minor in that. I had lots of friends who were undecided for the first two years, or who swapped their major after six months when they decided it wasn’t for them. It’s nice that you don’t have to have it all figured out from day one. 
I struggled with missing home. There were some Sundays where I’d have died for a roast dinner. I missed Greggs, fish and chips, and Nando’s. I was lucky though; I was kept busy with training and had a good group of friends. My parents would send me care packages with Cadbury’s chocolates, sweets and crisps. It was funny because my American friends loved them as well – they’d definitely agree that our ‘candy’, as they’d call it, is ten times better! Maoams were a real favourite.
Overall, I absolutely loved my time in America. I made friends across the world and the doors and connections it opened up for me are endless. Studying abroad makes you adaptable and you become more well rounded for seeing different cultures and having respect for them.’
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