Is uni better in the UK or America? We settled the debate once and for all

In summary: they’re both pretty mad

University in the UK and America couldn’t be more different. The cultures, the people, the attitudes towards you know, the actual learning part. Look, they’re both pretty wild, but in very very different ways.

You’ve witnessed a taste of American uni life in all the films: American colleges, frat parties, keg stands, sports rallies – the lot. In the UK however, uni life may look very different: greasy takeaways, cocky rugby boys and SO. MANY. VKs.

But who’s to say which is better? Is it even possible to answer? Well, do not fret, we’re here to finally settle the debate for good. The Tab spoke a hefty sample of students who have experienced both UK and American uni life to determine the answer once and for all.

So, let’s start with the most important factor – nightlife. Which is better and why?

“The UK wins on nightlife, no doubt”, says Keaston Johnson, an American MSc student at the University of Nottingham, who did his undergrad at the University of Kentucky.

In America, the legal drinking age is 21. This means that for college students in America, only three out of their four years they can (legally) drink.

“There aren’t many huge club venues, like Rock City (which is big in Notts), for uni students in America at all, let alone 18+ clubs”, Keaston told The Tab. “Because obviously the universities can’t condone underage drinking, there’s way more house parties and people using fake IDs to get into bars and clubs – which is just stressful.”

Katie Mulder, a student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, who did a term abroad at the University of Nottingham in 2019 also agreed that nightlife is way better in the UK.

She told The Tab: “We don’t really have any clubs or special nights out in America. My collegetown has something called “the corner” which is where all of the bars and restaurants are, but there aren’t really set nights that everyone goes to a specific one. We also have frats and sororities that have date functions during the week and things like that, but I’d say most people at my school only go out on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

“I would say I definitely had more fun going drinking when I was in the UK, so I would say I had a better experience partying and going out just because we did it more often.”


Sports is a huge deal in America, whereas in the UK varsity is strictly a once-a-year thing. While you might pay lots of attention to sports players, very little thought is spared on the actual sports for the rest of the year.

Not so much in the US however, Keaston said. “It would be hard to beat sports seasons in the US. He said, “During the tournament season called March Madness, if my undergrad alma mater wins a sweet sixteen/elite eight/final four/NCAA championship, students will flood the streets all night long and party.

“The police are powerless to shut it down and usually have a blast as well. The cliché thing to do after a big win is burn a couch in the middle of the street…not necessarily proud of that, but it’s worth noting.”

However, Katie said that something she really liked about studying in the UK was that Wednesdays are “sports days” and most people don’t have class after a certain time. “In the US we don’t have anything like that”, she said.

“But it’s hard to beat sports season in the fall”, she continued. “Normally, we all tailgate (or drink in people’s yards/parking lots) before American football games. People will dress up in our school colours and get super drunk to go to the game, and then a lot of times people will ‘puke and rally’ and go out after the game.

“In the winter/early spring we do the same thing for basketball games. So that was something that I missed doing when I was in the UK, but because of the club nights I think I had just as much fun.”

What about the actual studying? *yawn*

Dan Goldstein, a student from the UK did a year abroad at Middlebury College in Vermont and said that the college he went to took their academic work “so seriously”.

He said, “I once walked into a seminar where the set reading was three books and jokingly alluded to the fact that obviously no one read all three. I just got a bunch of awkward pity laughs because they all had lol.”

Katie said that one of the main differences she noticed between teaching in the US and UK was that in the UK most people take three modules a term and in the US they take five.

She continued, “The course structure is also different because in the UK there’s a long break between exams, and in the US we don’t get any break, but have longer summer and winter breaks instead! We usually only get 2 reading days here between the last day of classes and the beginning of final exams. So because of that and the three years of school, I definitely liked uni in the UK better in terms of school itself.”

How does the social life compare?

Because students in America can’t drink or go clubbing until they’re 21, house parties are way more common. They also have fraternities and sororities which are basically really close-knit societies that live in a house together.

Dan told The Tab: “They take clubs and societies really seriously, like to the extent that people put their committee position in their email signature.”

Keaston said, “We gotta let loose too, and we can’t go out to the club to do it, so Americans put lots of effort into frat parties. They also have this thing in the US called ‘shotbook’ parties, aka when people (usually girls) turn 21. A party is thrown for them, they have 21-ish friends and acquaintances bring a photo and they have to take a shot of alcohol and the photo goes into a scrapbook they keep.”

Uni spirit and traditions

Apparently universities in the US have really fun traditions. Katie, for example, said at her college they go to Mardi Gras, a festival in New Orleans. “We go normally during our fourth year. It’s like a 14/15 hour drive or a three hour flight but a ton of people will go and get hotel rooms or houses. It’s really fun.”

There’s also a much bigger sense of community within a college than we have here, according to Dan: “like sure we celebrate varsity and take the mick out of other unis, but they see their college as their life. Literally the weirdest thing ever: when some people make their college decision, people basically buy thousands of dollars worth of college merchandise to plaster their friends room with it.”

So – overall, which is better?

“Overall I’d say uni is much more fun in the UK”, Keaston said. “It’s pretty even but if I had to pick, I’d pick the UK”.

Katie also said, “If I had to pick…I would say uni in the UK is better!!!”

“The UK is better I think”, Dan said. “America was amazing because it was so different. Really hard but rewarding work, really close-knit campus community and sense of culture and a really beautiful place.

“BUT it’s just a bit easier to exist at uni in the UK. Hard to really put into words, but I suppose it boils down to there being less intensity here. For us, uni is a departure from the graft of a-levels and from the forced enthusiasm for school generally, whereas there it’s like high school spirit on steroids. Which isn’t a bad thing at all – honestly it’s quite endearing – but I missed the easy-going-ness of being home.”

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The differences between UK and US uni culture which prove we are not the same

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• An American gives his perspective on British drinking culture