The two basic options for study abroad programs are satellite and immersion. Satellite programs are offshoots of US-based colleges, like NYU in London, in which you take classes alongside other Americans. Immersion programs allow you to study at a UK university, like Cambridge, alongside UK natives.
A satellite program’s main advantage is usually its simplicity. If you’re attending your own university’s study abroad program in the UK, your classes will be university-approved and will automatically count for course credit toward graduation.
These programs also provide a sense social comfort. You’ll be living abroad, but with other Americans—and quite often with friends from your own school. In a satellite program, you get a taste of foreign culture but have some familiarity to fall back on.
Immersion programs can be enticing because they aren’t ready-made. Attending a UK university ensures that you’ll meet students who aren’t Americans—students who grew up in another country and have lifestyles and experiences different from your own. Instead of going to pubs with your friends from back home, you’ll go with your new friends (who probably know more about the best pubs in their cities, anyway). The professors, too, are more likely to be natives, since satellite schools sometimes send American professors to their UK offshoots.
You’re also likely to encounter more challenges if you choose an immersion program. You may have to do some hunting to find courses of study that will be approved by your home university and your major department. Since you won’t be surrounded by Americans, you’ll have to make new friends and join already-formed social circles. You’ll also want to be sure to get a grip on the cultural faux pas to avoid.
Of course you’ll also have a more authentically British experience in an immersion program. Rather than transplanting your American education to another part of the globe, immersion experiences offer a different form of learning. This doesn’t just mean different types of classes, though that’s likely (Oxford, for example, has one-on-one tutorials with professors). You’ll also be more likely to find out about foreign traditions and customs from the people around you.
If you’re interested in satellite programs in the UK, find out if your school offers them. If not, check with your study abroad office to find out if you can participate in other schools’ programs, like NYU’s or BU’s.
You may be able to apply to an immersion program directly through your school as well. (In exchange, the UK school you attend can send a student to study abroad at your college.) Penn has an extensive list of programs available at schools including Cambridge, Oxford, King’s College London, and University of Sussex in England; Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin in Ireland; University of Edinburgh and University of Glasgow in Scotland; and Cardiff University in Wales.