The main reason you might be thinking of studying in the U.S. is for the degree. But the college experience means more: It’s a chance to be a leader in a close-knit community as you test yourself and plan for a possible future career in some kind of service to your community or even country.
Here are ways college students often cultivate leadership skills in the U.S.:
Be a resident adviser
The person to whom new students go when they have a problem is a resident adviser (sometimes called a resident assistant and almost always abbreviated to “RA”). RAs live with students younger than themselves in dormitories — usually one to a floor. They’re upper-level students who have been trained to help new students.
Iris Mustich is a resident adviser at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. RAs, she said, know where to send students, whatever their concerns may be: “Part of our training is really knowing the resources on campus and referring residents to those resources.” She helps dormitory residents acclimate to college life — adjudicating roommate disagreements, easing homesickness (“We call it ‘home-missing’ — it’s not a sickness,” said Mustich) or monitoring safety.
Teach someone something
Peer education programs are run by and for students to prevent sexual violence, encourage understanding among students from diverse backgrounds and protect mental health. The programs often include discussion groups, one-on-one counseling and anonymous chat rooms. Student mentors are trained to help their peers on these issues in multiple forums by a school’s health counselors.
Peer education offers you an opportunity to make a positive difference. Janelle Wilson, Southern Oregon University’s Queer Resource Center coordinator, said that with peer educators, “the ‘us-versus-them’ attitude dissipates as meaningful dialogue transpires in a safe, respectful, open-minded atmosphere.”
Live in a learning community
Many U.S. colleges offer living-learning communities to incoming freshmen. They are groups that live within the same residence hall and share special classes under the guidance of faculty members dedicated to that hall. “It’s a really great way to get connected immediately … to take a class with the people you live with,” said Nicole Davies, the coordinator of a living-learning group at American University in Washington. A large percentage of living-learning community members choose to room together well beyond that first year.
Many living-learning communities — such as those at Louisiana State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — focus on leadership and community service.
Trained undergraduate and graduate students staff writing centers, which help other students organize and structure their writing assignments and offer editing tips. Writing center tutors represent a variety of majors in order to match student clients with tutors in the same academic discipline.
Kathryn Valentine, who directs the writing center at San Diego State University in California, sees it as an important resource for international students. “About half of our appointments last fall were with students whose first language was not English,” Valentine said. The center’s staff includes international students as well.