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7 things you should know about U.S. universities

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Just as all of the movies from Hollywood accurately tell us, college life in the United States is tremendously different than college life in… pretty much everywhere else! Those cool lecture halls with half desks, stately, brick-adorned buildings, sexy professors who let you call them by their first names, and extra credit (WHAT? Free marks?!) are all perceived as staples of the American college experience.

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Whether or not we can confirm that the above are true, and not just ridiculous stereotypes, is yet to be determined…but we have conducted some pretty thorough and conclusive research (you know, watching American Pie, Old School, and Good Will Hunting), and have managed to uncover a number of surprising things about higher education in the U.S.

Prepare to be amazed…

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1. You don’t need to choose a specific subject before you start school

Not sure what you want to study? Don’t worry! In America, that’s perfectly okay, and is in fact the norm. When enrolling at a U.S. institution, you don’t need to declare a major upon admission. The majority of U.S. students begin college without a clue as to what they really want to study. Instead, students take courses from a variety of departments and fields, allowing them a taste of all the different subject areas. Students can continue on this path of indecisiveness all the way into their third year – and you’d be surprised how many do!

2. The words “school,” “university,” and “college”…all mean exactly the same thing

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When an American student approaches you and asks, “What school did you go to?”, don’t worry – they aren’t fishing for details of your Year 3 primary school experience…they’re actually referring to your university. Er, we mean college?

These three words are used more-or-less interchangeably, so it’s almost unreasonable to make a distinction between them.

One note: if you want to make a good first impression, do NOT under ANY circumstances refer to a university as “uni”; Americans find it weird and will probably label you a bit pretentious. Oh, but don’t worry! They are all super friendly – there’s just no need for this abbreviation when there’s a host of other words you can use!

3. Students have to participate in class

The horror!

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But in all seriousness, American college classrooms are not comprised of students imitating a zombie apocalypse…Students are expected to show up to class prepared and ready to contribute to the day’s lecture and discussion. In fact, your grade depends on it – if you are the back-of-the-classroom-hide-in-your-hoodie type, you can expect low marks come the end of semester.

4. You will have to share your dorm room

Go ahead and kiss your solo-living-lifestyle a bitter-sweet goodbye! In the U.S., the standard is to share your dorm room with another student at the university. Unless otherwise specifically requested, the default is to have a roommate – and typically they will be assigned to you at random.

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But there’s no need to stress! Sharing a room is honestly one of the best things about going to college – after all, this is your chance to truly taste good ol’ Yankee hospitality! Oh…and did we mention that your bathroom is also likely to be communal? It’s okay though, college just wouldn’t be the same without wads of slimey, suspicious-looking masses clogging up the drains…

But all joking aside, trust us when we say that sharing a room is half the fun!

5. School spirit: don’t have it? Get it!

One staple of the American college experience that the all the movies nail is that unashamedly-noble U.S. school spirit. You CHOSE to attend this school, and it’s therefore your DUTY to beam with pride at the slightest mention of your student status. Your closet will quickly change from normal, neutral colors to the bright shades of your university mascot, and you’re guaranteed to have at least 10 school chants memorized  in time for graduation!

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Don’t be too surprised if the other team tells you to “Eat @#$!” (and by “tell” we really mean “yell”)…it’s perfectly normal behaviour in the heat of really tense game. Just be sure to give back as good as you get in the true American spirit!

6. Grades are given A-F and on a 4.0 scale

The American grading system is unique to say the least. As we have previously alluded to, student participation and class attendance have a major part to play in terms of your final grade. Students also typically have mid-terms and final exams, as well as weekly writing assignments and quizzes throughout the semester. Generally speaking, the workload at an U.S. university is greater than at an average international university. The upside is that your work is worth less of a chunk to your total grade, which is good because if you have an off-day where you don’t do so well in one assignment (or two..), you won’t bomb the class overall.

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Students accumulate grades over the duration of the degree with a grade point average, or GPA, that maxes out at 4.00. The grades are given, from high to low, as A-B-C-D-F, with an F ultimately meaning “fail.” A 4.00 means an “A” average, 3.00 is “B,” and so on.

7. There is great emphasis on activities outside of the classroom

The U.S. university system prides itself on its holistic approach to learning. Not only in your college applications, but also in your future employability potential, the way you spend your time outside of the classroom is highly valued. Most American students will choose to fill their time with volunteering, internships, or extracurricular clubs that extend or complement their learning.

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So, there you have it – 7 facts about schools…we mean colleges…er-no! Universities, in the U.S. Did any take you by surprise?

Image via Shutterstock.

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