My Experience of University in the USA vs. Ireland

Carly Harward Student Life Officer


February 28, 2020

As our Irish universities are approaching midterms, I think it’s safe to say that students are beginning to notice some differences between school back home and abroad. I remember when I was first preparing to come to Ireland to study, I didn’t think that it would be much different from home. I was still coming to study in an English speaking country so it couldn’t be that different, right?

Not entirely. I quickly learned that my lifelong experience in the US schooling system had definitely shaped my expectations and thoughts on what a semester might look like and consist of. I immediately had to throw everything I knew out of the window and embrace (sometimes not happily) this different system that I had gotten myself into. Below, I’ve listed the 5 biggest differences that I noticed between studying in an Irish University vs. in the US:

Living on Campus / Commuting

In the US it is more common at 4-year colleges for students to live on campus in their first year (sometimes even all four years) and then nearby in a shared house/apartment the following years. Students also may be miles away from their hometown so living at home simply wouldn’t be an option. In Ireland I found that this was not the case. The majority of Irish students that I met lived in their childhood home with their parents and commuted to school. They maybe grew up within walking distance or an hour’s drive or so away from college and would rather commute than fight to find accommodation. 


The Amount of Assignments

It isn’t uncommon to have several minor assignments due within the first couple of weeks of classes starting in the US. These smaller assignments continue throughout the semester and measure your progress so when you get to midterms/finals you have an idea of where you stand and what you need to work on. In Ireland I never had a graded assignment due before the midterm! In fact, more often than not, my entire success for the course was based off of my participation, midterm,  and final exam/assignment. This was very difficult to get used to as the professor never saw my writing/work until I had to submit an assignment that was worth 30%-70% of my grade!


The Grading Scale

Back home, 100% is what we strive to achieve. The typical ten-point grading scale is what most of us are used to (100-90 = A, 89-80 = B, etc.). Prior to coming to study in Ireland I had heard of the difference in point allocation. Receiving a 100% in Ireland is unheard of! An A would be classified 70 - 100. Though I new that these lower markes in my mind were good in Irish standards it was hard to wrap my head around viewing a mark in the 70 range as a success! I found in my particular course, however, that I didn’t even need to stress about this as I only received a letter grade on my assignment which to me just wasn’t as satisfying as seeing how many points out of 100 I received. 


College Expense

Higher education is much more affordable in Ireland than it is in the US. The thought of taking out a student loan to attend an undergraduate/graduate course is terrifying to an Irish person! Depending on the course, EU citizens will likely pay a small fee for their studies which makes it much more accessible! 


Wait Time for Receiving Results

After each semester in Ireland, I would have to wait six weeks before receiving my results for each course. This was much different than the 5-10 days I was used to from my undergrad in the US! After submitting my final thesis in Ireland for my MA I had to wait 2 months to learn if I would be graduating with my degree or not. This was such a foreign and painful experience for me - I much preferred the few days I had to wait when I was in undergrad!


For me, I found the fewer but larger weighted assignments in Ireland to be quite stress inducing. However, I’ve spoken to other Americans that much preferred this as they found it to be more manageable. We all learn and study differently so what I necessarily preferred or am used to may not work or be as such a transition to others. Though it was a different experience, having experience inside an international classroom is one of the most valuable opportunities that I’ve experienced!


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