7 Tips to Adjust to US Academic Culture
For many international students, adjusting to their new life isn’t just about what they learn. It’s also about how they learn. Academic culture in the USA can be very different from what you might be used to back home. Here are 7 tips to help you adapt and succeed while you study internationally!
Expect an adjustment period
US-style academics might be very different from your past school experiences. It’s natural to need time to discover how you can best learn in this situation. Give yourself a few months to adapt and don’t get angry at yourself while you adjust to a new approach to learning.
Tip: Talk to your international student friends about your shared experience, talk to American students about how they succeed with this style of education, and talk to your professors about what they expect from you.
Actively participate in class
Many professors in America make education a “two-way street,” with information and ideas flowing between professors and students. You need to be engaged, share ideas and ask questions in class, and take responsibility for learning.
Tip: Make sure you don’t cheat (get test answers from someone else) or plagiarize (submit someone else’s work as your own). These dishonest actions can have serious academic consequences.
Rely on yourself
American schools rely on you to be self-motivated and organized. Part of the American college experience is maturing and becoming a reliable adult. That means making sure you submit work on time, study for exams and don’t make excuses for poor behavior.
Tip: Tell your professor ahead of time if you can’t complete something on time. This shows you’re organized and take school seriously, and will make the professor more understanding if you have an emergency or other valid reason for needing more time.
Do work to prepare for the next class
Some cultures use homework to reinforce what you’ve already learned. At US universities, you need to be ahead of the game. Often the reading and work you do gives you a base for what’s coming – the homework Tuesday is what you’ll discuss in class on Wednesday.
Tip: Look through your class syllabus at the start of the semester. It’s an outline of what you’ll learn throughout the class, and can help you stay organized and prepared.
Accept things might be more informal
Students might dress informally or eat in class. Professors might sit on their desks while talking or ask students to call them by their first name. This doesn’t mean students don’t respect professors, or that professors aren’t professional and smart.
Tip: Keep in mind each professor’s teaching style is different, based on his or her own preferences – some might be more formal, some might be less.
Ask questions if you don’t understand
Taking initiative is important – professors rely on you to tell them if you don’t understand something. You won’t look silly or seem dumb. As the saying goes, “The only stupid question is the one that goes unasked.”
Tip: If you’re too nervous to ask questions during class, you can also ask them before or after class. Or visit your professor’s office hours, when students can visit the professor’s office to get help with course topics.
Learn about Grade Point Averages
Back home you might be used to receiving letter grades (A for excellent, for instance) or number grades. While you might receive letter or number grades on a particular test or project, your overall grade for a class is measured as a Grade Point Average, or GPA, which runs on a 0.0 to 4.0 scale.
Tip: To learn more about how letter grades, number scores and GPA are related, check out this conversion chart from collegeboard.com.
Got tips to help other international students? Leave a comment below.