Universities in the US aren’t exactly like what they seem on TV. Knowing about the collegiate culture of the country you will be studying in will help take away some of the shock that can occur when you become an international student.
The Academic Code
Succeeding in your classroom studies should be one of your top priorities when studying in the US, and it is your college’s priority to make sure you have what you need to succeed. Talk to your academic advisors if you need anything and use these insights to help you get started.
• Undecided: It can be a surprise to some international students that you don’t have to pick an area of study before you enroll in school. It is common for students at US colleges to not choose a major their first year, sometimes even through their third year. If you don’t know what you want to study yet, don’t worry. You can enroll as undecided, take a variety of classes, and decide later. You can also change your major if you find something you like better. Be sure to keep in mind the time you want to study, though, as waiting to solidify a major can extend your time in college. Also, during your visa interview process it always helps to know exactly what you want to do and have a solid plan.
• Grading scale: In the US you’ll be graded on an A – F scale. In most cases, if you get an A, B, or C, you pass the class, and if you get a D or F you fail and may have to take the class again. Your grades will then be calculated into your Grade Point Average (GPA). A 4.0 is a perfect GPA, meaning you received all As that term. Your school will have a certain GPA that you must keep to remain in good academic standing. Depending on the class, your grades will be calculated by scores you receive on your exams, papers, and projects. In the US, it is also common to be graded on participation in class. Your professor should give you a syllabus at the beginning of the semester with information on how you will be graded. Keep in mind that your final exams at the end of the semester are most important, so make sure you study throughout the semester so you can do well on those tests. Some classes may have a P/F grading scale for pass or fail instead of an A, B, C format, and if you drop out of the class early you may receive an I for incomplete.
• Professors: In the US, it is important to keep a positive relationship with your professors. They can help you find internships and jobs, write recommendation letters for career opportunities or future schooling, and can help you with questions you have concerning coursework or learning material. Your professors will have office hours that you can visit or some will let you schedule an appointment. It is encouraged in the US to ask your professors for help when you need it.
The Social Code
Social life is a big deal in the US, and students spend as much time focusing on this part of college as their academic responsibilities.
• School Spirit: Most US colleges will make a big deal out of being excited for your school. Be prepared to cheer and dress in school colors, especially at sporting events. US colleges love to see students enthusiastic and may hold rallies, parties, and tailgating events to stir up some positive energy. Think of it as being loyal to your community. It’s all in good fun, and is a great way to take a break from the stress of classes and let loose.
• Extra Activities: The US likes to frame education around holistic learning, so involving yourself in extra activities beyond your classroom studies will be heavily encouraged. There will be many options available for you and your school will most likely have an organization fair of some sort where you can see all of the activities your school has to offer. One popular activity is intramural sports which allows all students to participate in organized sports, another is the International Student Association which brings international students together, however, your school will more than likely have numerous other clubs and organizations specific to certain interests which can help you meet friends and career connections.
• Roommates: You’re most likely going to be living with another student on campus. This can seem scary to most students, but can actually be a fun and exciting experience. Make the most of your situation and be open to your new roommate. Most US students will be very friendly and welcoming to international students, and may be able to help you through the process. Don’t be afraid to ask your roommate how you can be a good roommate for them, as most students will be willing to compromise. You can also talk to your Residential Advisor if you need any help with campus life.
Studying in the US may be different than in your country, but you’ll learn the culture quickly and will have many resources on campus available to you if you need anything. Even students from the US are transitioning into something new, so you won’t be alone in learning the process of US universities.