Choosing Subjects

Posted on 12th November 2021

Choosing Subjects

US colleges are well-known for allowing students flexibility with choosing a course of study: you don’t normally need to know what course you want to do when you apply, because you apply to universities, not courses. But US colleges aren’t just for those students who hope to explore their academic and career interests at university; they also offer lots of opportunities for those students who do have a sense of their chosen career path at the point of application.

When considering attending university in the US, one thing you will want to take into account is whether you are completely sure you want to study a certain subject. If you know you want to study law or medicine, for example, there is some important information about studying these in the US that you need to be aware of as early in the process as possible. There are also other subjects, like business and engineering, that are taught differently from other subjects at US colleges. So, if you know you want to take these courses, you should have in mind some factors to consider when looking at US business or engineering schools.

In the US, students don’t study medicine until graduate level. As undergraduates, students interested in studying medicine often take what is called a pre-med track, with lots of science courses. Then, they attend graduate-level medical school after completing their undergraduate degree. However, it is highly unlikely—nearly impossible!—for non-US citizens to gain acceptance to a US medical school. So, unless you hold a US passport (it’s fine for dual citizens to attend a US medical school), generally you shouldn’t apply to a US university if you want to study medicine: your time is most likely better spent targeting colleges in other countries and applying to medicine courses there. If you’re still keen to experience the US, you might consider looking at programmes like these that have a year, or a semester, in the US. Or, non-US students could still choose to do an undergraduate degree in the US, then study medicine at graduate level in the UK, though.

Generally, if you study law in the US, you should plan on eventually living in the US to practise law, as you must take a test (called the bar exam) in a particular US state after finishing law school, and practice law in that state. Like medical school, law school in the US is offered only at graduate level. At some universities, there is an undergraduate pre-law track; at others, there are majors that are tailored to students with an interest at law, like the Philosophy with a specialisation in Law and Society major at UC Irvine . At still others, students major in subjects useful for law, like classics, philosophy, or literature.

If you do a degree in the US or Europe, then want to practise law in the UK, instead of attending graduate law school in the US, you'll have to do a conversion course called the GDL. This one-year course gets students up to speed about British Law. It's the same conversion course that a UK student who studied something like Spanish or maths would take if they wanted to be a lawyer in the UK.

Once they do the GDL, students then go into a one-year course called the LPC, which is the equivalent to UK law school. The LPC is a requirement for everyone who wants to become a solicitor. Then, you find a two-year training contract, during which you are trained on the job. At this point, you haven’t qualified as a lawyer: it’s more like a paid internship. After you complete this, you become a qualified lawyer!

If you want to become a barrister (aka a litigator), the process is different and can be reliant on who you know. You have to a have a pupillage, which is hard to come by. As this process is quite reliant on connections (frequently built at undergraduate level in the UK), it is very difficult for someone with an international degree to take this route.

So, it is possible to attend college in the US if you want to eventually practise law in the UK, but it is not the most efficient route! You’ll want to consider if the experience of studying abroad is worth this extra work.

Many of our students express an interest in studying business , but you do not have to do an undergraduate business degree in order to become an entrepreneur or a successful businessperson! There are lots of different options that will teach you workplace skills and business acumen, like economics, marketing, finance, and accounting. Or, another route would be to study a humanities subject of your choice at undergraduate level, then do a graduate MBA. If you love art, you could do a fine arts degree undergrad, followed by an MBA, and go on to open your own art gallery! This is a course of study that would be difficult to come by elsewhere in the world.

If you do want to study business more formally at undergraduate, one thing to keep in mind is whether a college has a separate business school within its main structure, as this will give you an academic experience more focused on business studies. A famous example is the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania ; other excellent business schools include the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University and Ross at University of Michigan. One thing to keep in mind is that there may be prerequisites (high school courses you are required to take to gain admission) for undergraduate business schools. Usually, these are maths courses, but make sure to check the requirements of the specific business schools you’re targeting just to be sure.

Similar to business, engineering is often placed into a separate school at US colleges. If you want to study engineering, do your research to make sure that the colleges to which you’re applying offer the specific type of engineering that interests you (if you know this yet!). You’ll also want to have a look at the curriculum for the engineering school. Some, like MIT , will have heavier humanities subject requirements than others, so you’ll want to evaluate whether this will help you explore your academic interests, or hold you back from focusing on your desired area.

For both business and engineering (and other majors), when creating your college list, it’s a good idea to look at the strength of the programme vs. the strength of the college. For example, at the University of Texas at Austin , the overall college is ranked 38th in the US, but its engineering school is ranked 12th!

If you’re sure you want to study a subject like medicine, law, business, or engineering, keeping the above in mind at the outset of your college search process will guide you to make good decisions. For help exploring options in your particular subject area, UES’s college counselling team can help—contact us at info@ueseducation.com and book a free call with a director!

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