U.S. Education System

Exchange students may find that the academic system in the U.S. is quite different from their home university.  Below is some information about common components of classes in the U.S. that may seem unusual or unique to international students.

  • Informality:  International students are often surprised by the informality of the American classroom.  Open discussion and critical questions are encouraged by most professors.  Students dress very casually; T-shirts, shorts, and sweatshirts are all common.
  • Class attendance:  This is considered very important by many U.S. professors.  Some professors take attendance at each class meeting, and failure to attend class regularly may result in a lower grade for the class.  The professor will usually announce the attendance policy during the first class meeting and include it in the class syllabus.
  • Class participation:  Actively participating in discussions and questioning the professor is usually encouraged and is often included as part of the overall class grade.  However, in large lectures students may be expected to sit quietly, and reserve questions and comments for smaller discussion components of the class.
  • Quizzes, tests, and short papers:  These are frequently given in most undergraduate classes.  It is not unusual to have some form of graded work every week or two for each class.  Reading assignments are also given in most classes each week.  It is rare to have an undergraduate class graded solely on one or two exams.
  • Requirements and grading systems:  This will usually be explained for each class by the professor during the first class meeting and on the class syllabus.  The final course grade may include class participation, attendance, tests, quizzes, papers, and a final examination.  Be sure to  understand how the final class grade is determined; Ask the professor if it’s unclear.
  • Help in class:  Students who require help in a class should approach the professors for assistance. Professors generally do not offer assistance unless first approached by a student. Most professors are very willing to meet with students outside of class hours.  All professors hold “office hours” – a specified time each week when they are available in their office to meet with students to discuss the class content, questions, expectations, etc.  Do not be shy about attending office hours; professors usually view a student with questions as a student who is interested in the class.

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