Apart from the course content and approach, other academic features vary too. Term lengths, for instance. Some universities have ten-week terms, but Oxford and Cambridge only have eight-weekers (although they expect quite a lot from students during their hols). Most universities, however, now have terms of fifteen weeks — but then they only have two a year and they call them ‘semesters’.
The idea of having two semesters (running September to February and February to July) is that their exams are split between the end of each, rather than bunched up in the summer. For students, it doesn’t feel all that different because there are the usual breaks (slap bang in the middle of a semester) for Christmas and Easter and, when the first semester ends, usually on a Friday, the new one starts the next Monday.
Oxford and Cambridge also differ from most of the rest because they’re collegiate, and much of the teaching is done within the college where students also live, eat, sleep and drink. For more information about living in university colleges, click here..
Durham, Kent, Lancaster and York are also collegiate universities, but the teaching is done in departments as it is in most universities. We say ‘most’ but, in fact, many don’t have departments at all — they have schools, faculties, institutes and probably other things besides. Sometimes it’s just the names for things that change, but often they do represent a slightly different way of going about things.
Among the things that the exact nature of the department might influence is your ability to chop and change courses, for example. It is not unknown for some students to apply deliberately for a course they don’t want, but at a university that they do, in the hope or expectation that, once they’ve got a whole leg in the door, they’ll be able to switch to their preferred course.
It’s a dangerous game and only to be recommended at universities that explicitly state that they’ll let people change courses (for the first few weeks at least). Stirling, for example, runs four-year courses where, put simply, you hardly have to commit yourself to studying any particular course for the first year.
Some universities outlaw such indecision — if you want to switch, you have to drop out and reapply with no promises, no guarantees.