For the last few months, I had quite a few friends, bloggers, and classmates ask me questions about studying abroad. To help y’alls who are thinking about going to London on the IFSA-Butler program, here are my experiences applying and surviving life at University College London (UCL)!
1. When did you find out about the UCL IFSA-Butler program? What is the suggested timeline to apply?
I go to a very small liberal arts college that encourages students to study abroad so I applied at least 6+months ahead of the due date to make sure I at least had my application reviewed before starting my fall term (I applied for spring term). My application was accidentally sent to the European Studies department (instead of Political Science) and as a result, was initially rejected from the UCL program since they only allowed a small number of 4.0 GPA applicants to apply. I found out my rejection around Sept-Oct and immediately reapplied to the correct department. I heard of my acceptance around November. I would definitely look at the minimum requirements before applying to UCL so y’alls don’t make the same mistake I did.
So since UCL is on a rolling admissions basis, I would still recommend applying as soon as you can so if there are any issues, you can at least have some back up schools prepared (London area: Kings College, Mary College (?), Scotland: University of Edinburgh, etc.). If you are applying through IFSA-Butler, just follow their instructions online and they will take care of everything else (one of the great perks of IFSA!).
The later you apply to UCL, the later they will get back to you and I heard some people got their responses as late as December-ish… But most people should hear a confirmation/rejection around Oct-November. Hopefully, you’ll hear back before then but just be patient. Those UCL people get tons of applications!
2. Did you consider your academic experience difficult at UCL?
I found my program/UCL academic experience very easy… until essay time (around February and again at the end of March).
Overall, UCL is perceived as “difficult” to American students since it is operating in a different education system than what we are used to back at home. What I mean by that is a lot of classes only grade you on the work you turn in (exams, essays, projects). That means you receive no credit for showing up to class, participating in discussion, doing your homework, etc. UCL does this because in general, British universities put a lot of emphasis on self-study. They expect you to spend your down time or at least 1+ hour per class in the library researching additional information to the material covered in lecture. Sometimes more.
Many American students make the choice to slack off until the last-minute for which I STRONGLY advise against. I did procrastinate to an extent, but it never got to the point where I felt like I was drowning or anything. Don’t be that person since that kinda sucks when you are miles away from home and friends during those times.
Since I studied Political Science when I was at UCL, I found that the biggest challenge that humanities students face at UCL is writing essays to fit the British format and style. It took some getting used to for me, but it was something that I seemed to manage alright with little guidance. I think you should be able to find that kind of information on the UCL academic department website.
*All coursework is submitted through a plagiarism-checking program online! I hate that site with a burning passion, but it is a necessary evil at UCL.
* One thing I had to get used to was submitting my paperwork in the correct way, which can get very tricky. READ ALL DIRECTIONS before submitting anything.
You are supposed to receive tutors/counselors at UCL so they should help if you have any questions. IFSA-Butler personnel can also help you if necessary. To me, the best people to ask for help/advice are your fellow students and affiliate/foreign students since they are taking the same classes as you and know what is going on.
3. How are the grades converted from UCL to US schools?
For my Political Science courses, I had 2 essays per class, no exams, and my essays made up 50/50 or 40/60 proportion of my grade. I just received my final transcript in the mail from IFSA-Butler and managed to get A’s and B’s, which is a relief!
Link to the Grade Conversion scale from UCL to US
To my knowledge, UCL does not force classes to grade on a curve. Despite this, there still seems to be a curve since it is very rare to receive First Level scores (70-100 or A- to A) while it is more common to receive Second Level scores (50-69 or B- to B+) on assignments. It is not very common to receive Third Level scores, but try to avoid that as best as you can since it is pretty bleh. But don’t be sad if you receive Third Level scores… it happens.
While it sounds weird that First Level scores start at 70 out of 100 possible points, but I assure you it is difficult to get a score higher than a 70. I never heard anyone getting 80 or above on any assignment. Ever.
The way UCL’s grading system was described to me is that you start at a 0 (zero) and work your way to earn your points. In the US, we start at 100 percent and get penalized and rewarded depending on our work. I hope this analogy helps?
4. How manageable is the workload at UCL? Can I still travel and explore the city?
For me, the workload was very manageable. But that depends on you.
The workload is manageable as long as you keep up with it and don’t let it pile up until the very end. The good thing UCL does is that on the first day of class, you should receive a syllabus with ALL of the required reading, assignments, and due dates you’ll need to know. So you can start planning very early on in the semester.
Since I was only graded through essays, I often found myself with a lot of free time on my hands, which I tend to spend exploring the city and going on various adventures (as evident by my blog). I still squeezed time to read and catch up on information taught in lectures, but I did take the time to pick and choose my battles every day.
Ultimately, I could have spent more time stressing about coursework and academics, but I also found it important to be culturally integrated in London.
My advice is to do make sure you take the time to figure out what is important to you and what you want out of studying abroad. Do you like academics? traveling? clubbing? going to the theatre? hiking? sipping afternoon tea? shopping? I felt like I hit everything I wanted to do and achieve while abroad and I hope you do too!
5. What is the academic calendar like at UCL? How to exams work?
Full Length Exams are ONLY held during the Summer Term (April-June)
UCL academic terms are broken into Fall (September – December), Spring (January-March), and Summer (April-June). If you are taking courses in the Spring semester, then you MUST stay in London through the SUMMER term (March-June) until you finish your exams.
Classes are held ONLY during Fall and Spring terms.
There are NO classes offered in Summer term. Just exams. Thus, you spend your free time “studying” (traveling) or catching up on whatever work you need to do.
UCL exams are very similar to the SAT or AP tests in high school where you prepare for weeks/months for a 3+hour sit down exam that can make up 100% of your total grade in the class you took.
I did not have to take any exams, so I think I was pretty lucky. Ultimately, IFSA-Butler recommends you commit to stay in London from Jan-June so depending on your classes, you might be able to leave earlier.
Have more questions? Feel free to message me and you might just get them answered in the next FAQ!