7 things you need to know about colleges and universities in the USA

Americans often call the United States an “exceptional” nation – in other words, America is one of a kind. This is a sentiment that’s reflected in its university system, which is famous for being super flexible and decentralized. This has pushed American universities to acquire all sort of quirks (most of them good) that set them apart from their more traditional, exam-centric British and Australian peers.

So if you’re considering studying in the U.S. of A, it’s best to familiarize yourself with what you’re getting into. Here are some of the most notable differences we’ve discovered about U.S. colleges and universities:
1. You don’t really need to decide what to study before university starts
You’re young, and you’re not sure what you wanna do in life. Then U.S. education is perfect for you! For one, you’re not required to declare a major upon university admission. Thanks to the extremely flexible course system, you can pick and choose whatever you’d like learn until you figure out your life mission. Wanna study ballet, or better yet, the politics of Beyonce? Why not? Just make sure to pick your major eventually – preferably in your second or third year.

2. “School”, “College”, and “University” are used interexchangably
In most of the world, “school”, “college”, and “university” are separate things, describing ascending levels of educational institutions. In the land of Uncle Sam, they all refer the same thing. So when an American asks you “What school did you go to?”, he/she doesn’t mean your primary school.
Also, while it’s fashionable to refer to universities as “uni” in the UK and Australia, it would sound totally weird in the U.S. Don’t do it or risk turning into an outcast!

3. Class participation is totally worth it
You may be used to seeing the classroom as a brightly lit bedroom, but you better ditch that thought quickly in the U.S. It pays to well… pay attention in U.S. college classrooms. Why? You can easily earn EXTRA POINTS for answering questions in class, or getting involved in classroom debates. Most classes allocate a small portion of the total grade (say 10%) to classroom participation. So if you snooze, you lose!

4. You have learn to live with others
It’s time to come out of your shell and mingle with others, even to the point of staying with them. This is a financial necessity in the U.S. Single accomodation may be available but is often very costly. Your best bet is to share a dorm room with others. It may be difficult at first, but imagine all the new friends you’ll gain in the end.

5. You gotta get some school pride
Americans are as enthusiastic about their universities as they are about their country. Schools have their unique, individual chants which are loudly and proudly communicated by their students at sports games. Attending these events are almost mandatory rituals for any college student. Before long, your choice of clothing colors will evolve to match the triumphant shades of your university mascot. 

6. You’re graded on a 4.0 scale

The U.S. university system features a unique grading system that sets it apart in the English-speaking world. You’ll accumulate a grade point average (or GPA) during the course of your studies. This numerical figure represents the entirety of your academic performance thus far. You get a 4.00 for A grades, and 3.00 for Bs, and so on and so forth. So the better you perform, the closer your GPA is to 4.0 – the maximum attainable and reserved for pure geniuses. 

Upon completion of a degree, students may receive a formal distinction. While the UK system relies on first-class honours, second-class honours, and so on, the American honor system is divided into three ranks: (in ascending order) cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude. The GPA needed to achieve each of those distinctions may vary according to university, department, and even subject. 

7. You’ll learn lots outside the classroom

Historically and culturally, Americans have always embraced the tenets of a well-rounded education. Students are encouraged to learn a bit about everything and spend time outside the classroom gaining real-world experience. You’ll realize that internships, volunteering, extracurricular clubs, and sports are a huge part of the American educational experience, and the sooner you embrace that, the better – the friends, contacts, and experience you gain through these activities may have a huge impact on your future employment potential.

So those are the 7 things you need to know about U.S. universities. Did we miss any?

Image via Flickr.

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