U.S. Education System

Exchange students may find that the academic system in the U.S. is quite different from that of their home university.


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 very common.

Class Attendance

Attendance is considered very important by many U.S. professors. Some will take attendance at each class meeting, and failure to attend class regularly may result in a lower (or failing) grade for the class. Professors will normally announce their attendance policy during the first class meeting and include it in the course syllabus.

Class Participation

Actively participating in discussions and questioning the professor is usually encouraged and is often included as a part of the class grade. In large lectures, however, you 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

These will usually be explained at the first class meeting and in the class syllabus. The final course grade may include class participation, attendance, tests, quizzes, papers, and a final examination. Students should be sure they understand how their grade will be determined.

Help in Class

If a student needs help in class, professors will generally wait to be approached rather than offering assistance. Most professors are very willing to meet with students outside of class hours. All professors hold “office hours” – specified times each week when they will be available to meet with students to discuss the class content, questions, expectations, etc. Students are encouraged to take advantage and attend office hours; professors usually view a student with questions as a student who is interested in the class.