College: the very first stone of the academic pathway. Those two years represent perhaps the last two spent with our playground friends, the first steps into a rewarding career,or solely an emotional realization of the approaching responsibilities as an adult. This academic preparation differs from country to country, yet with an universal aim worldwide: procuring every prospective student with the appropriate knowledge and study skills, in order to shape a prepared and adequately qualified “uni fresher”. As an University student, originally from overseas, I considered it intriguing how my fellow students have been prepared to end up in the same boat as I currently find myself, and in how far the Luxembourgian “college” can be distinguished from the English one.

During my first weeks here in London, people around me kept interrogating each other about their “GCSE” and “A-levels”, words which could not sound more alien to my ears than any acquired super powers in a computer game. After I could associate these letters with their meaning, namely “General Certificate of Secondary Education” and “Advanced Level”, I began to wonder if the system itself should appear as exotic to my educational perception as its name.

A first striking difference lays in the length of the pre-university curriculum. In fact, I found myself to be one, if not two years older than the average of my fellow students, whereby I passed every year at the first attempt. Another significant distinction can be established in relation to the compulsory amount of courses: here, students take three or four exams for their A-levels, while I had to study for not less than eight exams. In order to gain a slight insight, I will establish how the Luxembourgian “college” is structured.
First thing to mention is that there exists no college at all. In fact, secondary school and college, or “sixth form” are generally included in one single school.

In other words, a Luxembourgian pupil usually remains in the same school for seven years, whereby he starts secondary school at the age of 12, and if alternate distractions do not overweight, he graduates at the age of 19. However, even though no one distinguishes between secondary school and college, students are not spared from choosing a more specific course for the last three years of studies. Thus, in the Luxembourgian “Lycée”, by definition the form of secondary school preparing students for further academic studies, at the age of 16, pupils have to choose between seven different kinds of orientations: languages and literature, maths and informatics, natural sciences and maths, economy and maths, arts, music, and finally humanities and social sciences. In that regard, students of both countries face a similar responsibility of choosing wisely their courses with a certain prospective view to their further academic route.

However, there persist two major content disparities in the overall structure of these orientations, compared to the English college courses. In fact, one specific orientation can be dissected into an average of eight different courses, yet with a concise and thorough specialisation on the orientation related courses. Thus for instance, a student from the natural science and maths class needs to take besides biology, chemistry, physics and maths also courses such as English, German and philosophy. Yet, the content and the depth of the latter are less promoted than the one of his natural science courses. After three years of orientated studies, the student has to demonstrate the acquired knowledge and understanding of all the studied courses in the final exams, nationally acknowledged as “Examen de Fin d’Etudes”.

After all, is it fair to declare any of both academic means of preparation inferior or superior to the other one? My critical eye questions the profoundness of the studied courses in the English colleges, especially when one is able to change their courses from AS-levels to A-levels. In other words, how much do pupils carry away from their courses if they are not necessarily forced to finish their A-levels with the same courses of their AS-levels? Especially, in regard to the Luxembourgian system, where changing from one orientation to another remains difficult once you have made your choice. However, the Luxembourgian system does maybe prevent those radical shifts, by its higher amount of subjects included in one orientation. On the other hand although, a large amount of subjects implies a large amount of exams, which might decrease the capacity of thoroughly focusing on one specific subject. Consequently, the changes of getting the required grade for a desirable university might decline.
All in all, I think no matter how effective and appealing one might classify those educational schemes, if the student’s future academic perceptions peter out in his mind, the length, structure or depth of any courses are insignificant. Every source of a prosperous career is to be traced back to a personal mindset, which remains accessible by no one – except oneself.

BY: Laury Schaack