Let me start this blog post with a caveat: I don’t know which of the following differences are due to differences in the American and British educational systems, and which are due to differences between university and graduate school (put in as I am currently learning statistics, where the dependent variable is observed differences, X1 is the country, and X2 is the program type).
However, nearly two months into my Master of Public Administration programme, here’s what I think are the major differences between my undergraduate years in the US and graduate years in the UK.
1. There’s not as much reading
I know this doesn’t hold true for all courses, but for my core courses, at least compared to their undergrad equivalents, there is significantly less reading week to week. This is nice, as it is made clear that LSE values engaging with the content over rote memorization of it.
2. Application over memorization
LSE focuses more on understanding the material rather than memorizing it (though there is still plenty of memorizing). In undergrad we read knowing we were liable to get an exam question requiring we cite, including title and author, a minimum number of readings…sans a list (based on an informal poll of several friends, this is, in fact, very odd)!
While memorizing your reading lists may be the case for some programs, luckily, for the MPA, it’s not. My professors would rather we understand the concepts being applied than memorize all of the equations and rules that come with them (though it certainly does help).
3. Group work is more encouraged
In undergrad, group work was always ‘A Thing’. While we were always liable to have group projects, individual work was the bulk. Not so here. Group work is highly encouraged, even going so far as to have optional assigned study groups for some courses just so we all have someone to work with on problem sets. Though there is plenty of individual work, my programme makes it clear we are there to prepare for a career of working with others to solve great problems, not to go at it alone.
4. Fewer assignments
While not the case for all courses, there’s definitely not as many graded assignments in grad school in the UK (weekly problem sets notwithstanding). In some ways, this is preferable to my uni years in the US, as instead of rushing to write a 6 page essay due two weeks after it is assigned, I have time to really engage with the material. That being said, as there are fewer assignments, it means more pressure is put on each piece of work.
5. Time goes more quickly
The semesters (or terms, as they are known here) are more compressed in the UK than in the U.S. 11 weeks at LSE compared to 14-15 weeks in the U.S schools. This, combined with the higher level material we need to grasp, makes it a bit more stressful. But, with good friends and study buddies by your side, I know by the end of my time here, I’ll have learned some valuable skills in picking out the key material, being more comfortable with not getting everything right away, and working with others.