What it’s Actually Like to do a Joint Degree

In February of last year, I was stopped at a red light in my small New Jersey town, when my phone buzzed. I briefly glanced at my phone and my heart tightened in my chest. It was from St Andrews: the preview of the email containing the word “Congratulations.”

After reading the email, I found that I’d been accepted into the BA International Honours Programme, something known from the American side as the “Joint Degree Program.” I had a general vague idea that it was prestigious and that my mum thought it was a great opportunity, but I had no idea what exactly I was in for.

The BA International Honours Programme is a degree structure where I effectively earn a diploma from two universities. At the completion of my studies, I will receive my diploma with the insignia of the University of St Andrews and the College of William & Mary. Throughout the course of my studies, I study 2 years in Scotland and 2 years in America. I am required to start my first year in my home university (for me that’s St Andrews, because I was accepted into the programme for that side) and the second year in the foreign university. I can choose where to go in third and fourth year, and I’ve decided to come back to St Andrews as soon as possible. 5 people in my year get into the programme for my subject on the St Andrews side. Somehow, I got lucky enough to be one of those 5.

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The programme is competitive and sets ambitious aims for us. An 11 keeps you off academic probation. We have breadth requirements we have to fulfil. We study at each university as if we are full-time students, not transfers or those studying abroad. We have many credits to complete in our 4 years.

This all looks extremely impressive and it feels pretty elitist to be a part of. We even have an official crest.

Moving to the UK has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I was born and raised in the same house for 18 years, having never been away from home without my parents for more than a few days. I fell in love with St Andrews at 16 and never really looked back.

When I made the decision to not only move to Scotland but also partake in the programme, I don’t think I completely realised just how difficult it would be. Flying home isn’t feasible more than two to three times a year. Flying back to Scotland when I’m at William & Mary will be too expensive. How does the NHS work? When will I learn to look left before crossing the street? The exchange rate makes me spend far too much money. A 20 point grading system doesn’t transfer well into American GPA. Having too much stuff in my room isn’t logical if I’m just going to be moving back to America next year. I’ll miss my friends. I’ll miss this quaint town.

The point of the programme is really to give us a world-class education and make us even more employable. It’s meant to teach us adaptability. It’s meant to make us experience the academic culture of both universities.

To put it frankly: my experience is uncomfortable. I’m not thrilled about effectively uprooting myself every year. I’m not used to the way things are run on the Scottish side. I’m still bad with the different values of coins. I consistently forget to bring my own bag to Tesco. I haven’t quite yet discovered how to stop spending all my money on cheap plane tickets to Amsterdam or Poland. Despite all of the inconveniences, despite being here and there in my 4 university years, I’m determined to make it work. I’m determined to survive this programme, both here in St Andrews and there in William & Mary.

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