Sunday, June 19, 2011

College - US style.


The Queenager is going to a college in Washington DC, and the whole process was a far cry from anything I've seen. Unlike her English cousin who is still doing his A levels, she has had the luxury of knowing where she was going before school even ended. None of this worrying till results come out in the middle of August. Last week she went on a three day orientation with the Ball & Chain. Three day orientation? I know I didn't have one of those back in the day, and I'm wondering if British soon-to-be-undergrads have those now? There were scheduled activities and talks for both parents and students, and they came back with a bag full of swag bearing the college's insignia. They taught the kids the "fight songs" which are to be sung at sports games and the like. I'm pretty sure Bristol Uni doesn't have a fight song, even though they've often done well in sports.

She starts on August 29th, so we're all going up in the previous week to help her settle in (ie. buy the stuff she needs). Again, none of that putting-her-on-a-train malarkey. We can  however, buy it all at our local shop and have the entire order shipped to her dorm. Once she has selected her courses, (oh yes, there's so much choice in what she takes that she had to go over a mock schedule with her advisor last week) she can oder her books on line, then they'll be boxed up and ready for collection when she arrives. Her computer will be ready and waiting, and any repairs needed are done by the on-site Mac shop at no cost. (OK, since laptops didn't even exist when I was at uni, I can't really make a comparison there.)

There's been a freshmen Facebook page up for a few months so she's "met" several kids already. Her dorm (hall of residence) and room mate have been allocated and the girls have been chatting away on FB too. When I went to Bristol I knew no one and had but a handful of people to look up. Any questions she has about what to take, what it will be like etc. are answered almost immediately by current students. Not that going to uni was traumatic for me, but how great that they have this much back up when they need it.

Oh yes, and then there's Parents' Weekend in October, which doesn't sound too optional to me, as everyone I know is going to their kids' version. In reality this is to keep the parents as connected as possible to the college; in other words, yet another opportunity to hit them up for a donation to its coffers. (Something I foresee happening more and more as British fees increase.)

The weirdest difference between American and British college campuses? No student union bars!


I didn't go to college, and the two of my sons who did went while I was living in Britain, so I am eminently unqualified to comment on this subject.  Toni, however, seems to have had enough experience for both of us.


  1. I seem to recall my Scottish friends who studied Highers rather than A-levels didn't have to worry as they already had their results. Also some friends who had been to public school had their A-levels structured more along a module format so had completed 50 - 70% of their exams before their final exams so had a better idea of what grade they were likely to get. By contrast, at my comp I did some small coursework modules but I think that only accounted for 20% of my final mark. It was all about those final exams and then waiting to see whether I was going to my first choice University or my insurance choice. Of course, a year or two after I sat my A-levels they moved to the current AS system, I have no idea how that works.

    Fighting songs I have written about before. As collegiate sports aren't really important in the UK we don't need them, and They're all rather silly. About as intimidating as Charles Hawtrey. Mostly sound like circus tunes.

  2. Toni, the college I attended in the 90's had a Student Union Bar but I'm sure they are mostly a thing of the past since campuses are appearing to be more concerned about binge drinking. As far as all the other things, she is going to GW which is a damn good school and well funded I'm sure so that helps. Some of those things won't be available for Ian at our local state school but getting to know some of your classmates on FB ahead of time is pretty cool. That would go a long way toward soothing some of my anxieties for sure. And yes, parents weekends are a college staple.

  3. As someone who lives in DC and has relatives working for GW, your daughter will have a great time at a well regarded school. There may not be a SU pub but there's a bar nearby (MacFadden's) which is the classic fratboy bar(think Girl's Gone Wild.)

    University has changed since I went there 15 years ago. We had orientation a few days before classes started. No laptops, Facebook friends and I thought my roommate was great because she brought a TV.:) As for fight songs, never cared for mine and can't even recall mine.

    As for donations, get ready for email and letters for the next 4 years and your daughter will received them afterwards every couple months. I sometimes think the colleges are worse than the PBS pledge drive folks.:)

    Congrats on your daughters graduation.

  4. Just been comparing notes with a friend in England who has a daughter at uni. While I seem to have forgotten that we all had to buy sheets, pillowcases and bedding, she was amused at how easy it is in the States. There are companies who do it all for you, and I'm not just talking about on-line shopping. No - this is a company called Residence Hall Linens. You can choose a variety of packages, but basically they supply all your linens, towels, drapes etc and ship them to your room so that they're ready when you get there. There's also a company selling under-the-bed heavy duty safes, and another one (Soapy Joe) selling laundry services exclusively to students. A captive market indeed!

  5. Gosh, I'm sure I just took bed linen etc that I already had. But then I did go to boarding school.
    I think they do a lot more in Britain now than they used to since my day (late 80s) - I was given my roommate's phone no. but never actually rang her.

    My niece who is in lower 6th/ year 12 / AS level year has been to a thing at Oxford that's like an 'experience uni' course, but then she's applying for medicine, so maybe other courses don't have as much.

    When it comes to Son going to uni in about 4 years I'd definitely consider the US if it weren't for what I'm guessing are astronomically high fees for overseas students? (Although they'll be £9000 a year here by then; not sure how that compares.)

  6. I have a feeling US fees are still going to be a lot higher. At the moment, if you're not going to the university in your state, the fees range from $20,000 to over $50,000 per year, and it's a 4 year gig!! (The average fees are about $30-35 thousand.)

  7. @Mrsbaum Probably an Oxbridge thing more than medicine. I know my Cambridge college kept in close touch with my old comprehensive once I was admitted and used to invite some of the brighter lower 6th students down to stay and experience the college. It was a smart way of demistifying Cambridge for the 6th form students, and perhaps more importantly for the teachers of my old school who become a little overawed when dealing with Oxbridge.

  8. I certainly didn't know anything before starting at Bristol in the early 90s, having only been there for the interview. My parents dropped me off, but just left me there knowing no-one on the first evening. Being a boarding school brat, I probably knew what to do more than most, but it must have been pretty intimidating if you hadn't lived away from home before. Having said that, maybe it instilled independence? I can see that having it all done for you must be a little like an extension of summer camp.

    I am not surprised that they have orientations in the US though - here you have an orientation (or two) for everything, whether it's preschool, camp or work. The Doctor had about 4 different orientations before starting work - he was amused because he said not once ever in the NHS had he done an orientation, and he changed jobs about 6 times in as many years.

  9. Another ex-Bristol girl here! And one who also did time at a US Uni in DC (American). 2 very different experiences. I did feel my US time was more an extension of school, whereas Bristol was a step up to Uni. But then again that might reflect more on the impact the drinking age had on the social side of things.

    Not that Uni was all about the booze of course....

  10. Ha - coincidence. DO you know (getting slightly off topic) that I didn't go into a pub until my 3rd year at Bristol? We used to have a lot of dinner parties and non-pub events (which obviously revolved around alcohol) but it wasn't until I rented a flat on Kingsdowne Parade and the lads nearby used to hang out in the local that I did the pub thing.

  11. @Expat Mum What?! Of course, I sometimes wrote my essays in the pub rather than the library.


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