The Sunday Times: Water slides and breadth of study: the gulf between US and UK universities

My view of US college life before I got there was based on the 1978 film Animal House. I assumed everyone had sex with their professors; that sharing a joint was the best way to start a conversation; and that college football was a religion. It was only once I arrived on campus that I realised how times had changed: pot was for kids, college was about getting creative in the lab.

Photo courtesy of The University of Missouri

Photo courtesy of The University of Missouri

Yet even though Animal House is pushing 40, it’s still a useful guide for anyone thinking about going to America to study.

If you’re a girl you’ll be warned that university life can be a minefield of drunken gropings and sexual assaults. If you’re a boy you’ll learn that joining one of the roughly 5,500 fraternities throughout the country will mean being subjected to initiation rites — hazing, as it’s known — that wouldn’t be out of place in a category A prison. I’m not exaggerating: there have been dozens of hazing-related deaths in the past 15 years.

Leaving aside the pitfalls of unsupervised behaviour, Animal House hints at something else American students take for granted: a campus lifestyle that is jaw-droppingly luxurious. Believe me, it has only improved since 1978. The universities are locked into an amenities arms race. In 2013 almost $11bn (£7.2bn) was spent on upgrades and building projects.

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