A complete guide to surviving Edinburgh University as an American student

Living in Edinburgh isn’t all about the Dark Academia aesthetic


So, you’re a first-year American student who decided to live out your best life in Scotland. Perhaps you want to become the main character of your family, perhaps it’s to escape your boring hometown, or perhaps it’s because you’re living out your dreams of exploring the world.

Whatever it is, congratulations – you’ve made it this far and you haven’t phoned home trying to escape! However, living in a foreign country is still a bit intimidating and overwhelming and you have questions about life here that need answers.

Well, this is where I come in as a practically geriatric third-year student at this school, unleashing my advice accumulated from my years of experience (and/or helpless confusion). 

Combat homesickness

So you’ve moved across the globe. Settling into university life is never easy, and while everything is exciting and new, the familiarity and comfort of home are distant to you now.

One of the things that helped by combat homesickness was doing things that reminded me of my life at home. Taco Bell and Five Guys were two places I never ate at back home but being here and instantly being met with the familiar smells of the chains, I felt a strange sense of comfort.

A hot girl walk always helps x

Whatever it is that makes you forget about how much you miss home, do it. It can be hard to balance mental health and the difficulty of being away from anything you’ve ever known, so doing some of these things will help push you through this challenge.

Join a society

Go out and meet people. Now, I don’t necessarily mean just going to pubs or club nights. Whilst pubs and clubs are great for meeting new people in drinking situations, it is most certainly possible to befriend people outside of these environments!

For example, societies are a fantastic way to meet people with like-minded interests on campus. The Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA), has a helpful page on their website dedicated to all kinds of societies and groups that could interest you

Immerse yourself

If none of the societies interest you, there are plenty of other ways to make friends. For example, get chatting to the people in your tutorials or lectures, and invite them for coffee (even if you’re not a big fan). The best time for platonic coffee dates is first year, when people are starting to experiment with different groups and finding their feet in a new city. Who knows – you may just become life-long friends.

Don’t push yourself too hard

On that note, pushing yourself to make friends and constantly cramming your social calendar can be quite exhausting. Don’t push yourself too much by over-committing and burning yourself out three weeks into the semester.

A self-care day strolling through the National Museum is a must

Planning a few meet-ups a week will pay off, and you will thank me for encouraging you to do this. It sets the stage for the rest of your university experience, as people with a wide variety of friendships or even a few reliable pals can always manoeuvre frustrating situations with ease.  

The marking system is different in the UK

Midterm season hits you with your first essays, you practically live in the library for a week and emerge with a finished essay. Then you get your marks back and it’s a lot lower than you expected but why? This isn’t as bad as it sounds! Whilst an A in the states is 90% or over, here it is anything above 70% – meaning that Bs are 60-69%, C’s are 50-59%, and D’s are 40-49%.

So don’t worry – you’re doing fine and you will not have to call your mum sobbing that you’ve failed your first assessment.


At Edinburgh, there tends to be three types of assessments: Midterms, finals, and exams. For exams, dates are often released by the end of November, and for essays, dates are typically released by the beginning of the semester. My advice is to always begin writing essays at least two weeks before the deadline, and plan all of your assessments, even if it’s just on your notes app.

The Law Library is a go-to

Make sure to do all of the essential readings so you’re prepared to discuss in tutorials. I understand that this is a difficult adjustment to different approaches, but planning your time out is the easiest way to smoothly transition into this completely new system.   

Social etiquette

Okay, so how do you become the mysterious and cool American and not the annoying “yee-haw” American? Simple – Look around and listen. Pay attention to the people and the locals around you, take note of their slang, their mannerisms, and most of all, do not make any assumptions about life or the people here. While your background could be fascinating to many people, it doesn’t mean you can waltz in and act like you know the place.

It’s so important to do your research about politics, food, sport, and traditions here. Everything around you in Edinburgh has a rich history, so immerse yourself in the city and you will fall in love with the city just like every American does. Just don’t be obnoxiously loud and make them believe the stereotypes already portrayed of us.

 The longterm and ‘sticking it out’

Most importantly, try and make living here the best experience possible. Instead of finding all the issues with living in Scotland, try to find the joy in new opportunities and journeys.

Of course, it will never be easy to move home, but there is so much to do here to combat the feelings of missing where you’ve lived for most of your life. Put yourself out there and enjoy as much of this part of your life as possible.

Make goals for yourself per semester, venture to exciting places with your newfound friends, go clubbing as much as you’d like, but most importantly, stick it out. You will find that if you do this, the time shortens and before you know it, first year has finished and you’ve truly lived life to the fullest.  

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