Jalilah Byrd | London, England | Post 3

Jalilah Byrd | London, England | Post 3

So, academics. That’s what I’m here for, right? Obviously—with no hint of sarcasm.

(No hint.)

I really didn’t think studying abroad would be that different from Vassar. To be honest, I thought it’d be exactly the same, just with easier assignments. Not really sure why I thought that, really, seeing as people here don’t even know which side of the road to drive on. (Sidenote: a friendly elderly man on the bus informed me that this was because of jousting, back before cars existed. Huh.)

But indeed, it was quite a culture shock. Right off the bat in the UK, you need to choose your major when you’re APPLYING to college. What?! You’re not even a person yet. How are you expected to make such a significant decision? Well, okay, fair enough. Look on the bright side—at least if you’re not fond of your major once you’re in it, you can take classes outside your major.

Oh wait, you can’t. Seems so natural that as an art student, I can still take a few psychology courses on the side—from what I’ve heard, it’s entirely out of the question here. You study law, you take law courses. Maybe you can add a bit of law on the side, and mix it up with a bit of LAW. Frankly, I’m not quite sure how every single one of these upperclassmen isn’t completely insane.

But there are advantages to this—did I mention a third of the year has no class? No, I’m not talking about summer. I’m talking about a third of the school year, from the end of March to June, there is NO CLASS. Granted, it’s reserved for exams—but I have, what, three exams this semester? From the descriptions given, they don’t seem to be much more injurious than those at home: some short answer, plus one or two essay questions. The only rationale I can come up with is that with no other courses to distract them, they get through the material they need to know for their major much quicker, and can thus afford far more free time to… study. Yeah, that’s what they do with those several months of break leading into several more months of break.

Also: grading. Now, lots of things in the UK, despite my fondness for “the way we do things back home,” just make more sense—free healthcare, paying for college only once you have a job, the like. Grading is not one of these things. A 70 is an A, or a “first.” Anything above that qualifies as excellent, going above and beyond, surpassing expectations. Basically, I haven’t met anyone who’s gotten an 80 or above–79 is the highest I’ve heard of, and they were ecstatic. Needless to say, I wonder at the purpose of the extra few dozen points that no one ever seems to achieve—they say it’s so that students are reminded that they can “always do better,” but I’m fairly sure that’s just an attempt at rationalizing something no one knows the purpose of.

Finally, essays. Certainly at the forefront of my mind at the moment, as all of mine were due this week. That’s the thing—absolutely no coursework over the course of the year, except for one or two essays that make up all or most of your grade, all due at the end of term. Needless to say the final week is a maelstrom of all-nighters, stress eating, and binge-watching shows you’d never choose to watch except to procrastinate, but boy, if the night out on the last day isn’t absolutely worth it.

London Top Tips #6-7

You’re not done yet: read essay submission guidelines carefully. Each department’s are different, and sometimes teachers within them differ as well. Generally, you’ll need two hard copies, due at 5 p.m. on the day of the deadline, with a copy due to Turnitin (the anti-plagiarism service) by midnight. Some departments don’t allow you to write your name on the essay for anonymous grading purposes, some have a 5 p.m. deadline for Turnitin as well, and I’m sure some require you to draw a tiny horse at the bottom of your bibliography so they can identify you by your drawing skills. Just pay attention.

Count ’em: word count guidelines are strict. Generally, if your essay surpasses the word limit within ten percent, you get a ten percent penalty on your essay’s grade.  Any more, and it’s an automatic zero. I’m not sure how strictly these rules are followed to be honest, but I’m certainly playing it safe…

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