Studying in Edinburgh: A Compare and Contrast

So far on this blog, I have written about many different aspects of going on exchange, but I have not yet specifically written about what it’s like to study here at the University of Edinburgh. When you go on exchange, you often think of the places you will be visiting and all of the things you are excited to do and try. However, the reality is that most days are similar to my life in Toronto – I am just a student studying at a university.

Perhaps I have not written much about my experience at the university here because the University of Edinburgh shares a lot of similarities with the University of Toronto. The classes are structured similarly into tutorials and lectures, and I am taught by equally impressive professors. However, I have come up with some things to share about Edinburgh that are noteworthy and different.

One difference: the view from my tutorial room!
One difference: the view from my tutorial room!

First of all, a full course load here is 3 courses. There is generally more of a focus on self-learning, so each course is supposed to be a greater workload, but I find that it is definitely easier to keep up to date with the material in Edinburgh. This seems to lead to a lower stress level here. People definitely still get stressed over school work, but with a shorter semester and fewer courses, school work seems a bit more manageable. Since I feel less weighed down by my workload, I have enjoyed what I am learning much more. Additionally, the first two years of university here are pass/fail, so full time students have an opportunity to learn how to be a university student before they need to focus on their GPA.

Some of the study abroad students I have met find Edinburgh huge, but in comparison to the University of Toronto, it is noticeably smaller. I actually miss some elements of our huge school, like the huge number of study options, and the fact that we have a fairly large campus, despite being a city.

One of my favorite study spots on campus, all decorated for the holidays
One of my favorite study spots on campus, all decorated for the holidays

Toronto’s size also allows us to choose from an unreasonably large number of courses, that would be impossible for a school the size of the Edinburgh to offer. Degree students at Edinburgh have more mandatory courses for their major and less optional ones, and their degree is overall more structured. The choice that I have over electives and courses for my major is something that I greatly miss.

Overall, Edinburgh’s university system is not a shock coming from the Canadian education system. There are elements that I appreciate of both systems, and things that are quite similar. I think U of T could take a note from Edinburgh’s less overwhelming approach to class work, and Edinburgh could learn from the amount of choice that U of T students have over their courses. I wouldn’t necessarily choose one system over the other, but I have found it interesting over the course of my exchange, to note differences and similarities between the two university systems.


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