In addition to adapting to a different culture, international students who come to study in the U.S. need to understand aspects of U.S. classrooms that can be very different from their home countries. There are lots of things that are common among schools in the United States and other countries, but it’s best to be prepared for the ones that are not.
“Universities in Bangladesh all have different rating scales,” said Ishaba Haque about her home country. “The grading system in the U.S. might come as a shock to some.”
Exams, papers and projects receive letter grades (A to D and F for failing). Different professors will give different weights to exams, attendance and class participation in your final grade. Each letter grade has a numeric value. The value of the final grade in a class is used to calculate a grade point average (GPA).
“It’s important for students to read up on university grading policies and pay special attention to how each professor assesses student work,” Haque said.
Speak up in class
Unlike many universities throughout the world, American colleges emphasize classroom discussion rather than lectures in which students listen and take notes. “Many of my friends found that classes in the U.S. require a lot of independent reading and learning,” said Patrick Wang from China, “and the professors encourage class participation and expressing individual points of view more than they do in Asia.”
Online course information
As in many parts of the world, U.S. colleges are using online resources to augment materials used in the classroom and in textbooks. Students shouldn’t be surprised if the syllabus, reading assignments and even videos of entire lectures are available online. If students don’t pay attention to what a professor puts online and how to access it, they will be at a disadvantage.
The online platform used at George Washington University “was a complete surprise to me,” said Júlia Cardoso from Brazil, “and I actually fell behind in the beginning of my freshman year because I had no idea of how it worked.”
Working in groups
Students used to working on their own and being graded individually on every assignment might be surprised to be part of a small team for a class assignment. As the ability to collaborate becomes an increasingly important part of the working world, college professors often emphasize it in the classroom.
“Professors in the U.S. really like group projects,” Wang said, “particularly in business schools. I think this is probably the best part of studying in the U.S. You get to know your classmates, learn communication customs and learn teamwork.”