Top 5 Ways Academics in the US are Different

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Mohammed’s post yesterday about the amount of coursework assigned in American classes got me thinking about some other differences about studying in the States. Here are 5 of the biggest academic adjustments you might face, based on what I’ve heard students talk about:

1) Assignments are due throughout the semester

As Mohammed warned, course grades usually don’t depend on one final examination, but on a number of pieces of work submitted over an entire semester.

Some have papers that you have to write every week, others have group projects you have to work on with your classmates, presentations you do in the class, or research you do by yourself to prove a thesis you come up with.

So, instead of being stressed out all at once at the end of the semester, you get to be stressed out in little bits all the way through. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, as they say.

2) Participation matters

Read the rest of this entry »

Are you Competitive Enough to Make it in America?

by Mohammed Al-Suraih - Posts (5). Posted Monday, October 17th, 2011 at 8:47 am

There is an undeniable excitement about coming to study in the States – one reason why some international students do it – but it’s not all excitement.

Working in the GWU library

You're about to hear the truth about schoolwork in the States...

Yes, it is America. Yes, it is the land of freedom. Yes, it’s the place where different cultures clash…and live together in peace. However, you guys might agree with me, it’s not easy to leave home, to leave the security of being surrounded by the family, friends and people who loves and care about us.  And doing it raises some questions:

Is it worth it? Can you rise up to the expectation? And are you competitive enough to survive America?

You might be sitting in front of your computer watching a show or a documentary about America, which tells you about the breathtaking view of skyscrapers in the Big Apple, New York City, the beautiful warm weather in San Diego, and the huge parties along the beaches of the Sunshine State, Florida.

Just so you know, it’s all true and they did not lie to you. I remember I had an adrenaline rush the first time I visited Times Square in NYC. I can’t find any words in the dictionary to describe how I felt at that moment. Someday, when you get lucky and go there, you will know what I mean.

Beaches are the best. We do party and we do have lots of fun with friends.

Unfortunately, TV and movies never show the other side of what students have to do to survive America.

Read the rest of this entry »

New in the Glossary of Confusing Words: Doctor, Ph.D.

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Friday, October 14th, 2011 at 1:09 pm

dictionary and thesaurusIf you’re new to the blog, the Glossary of Confusing Words is where we help de-mystify some of the odd or baffling words you’ll see when researching or applying to American schools. You submit words that you’ve come across and struggled with, and we define them on the blog. Today the Glossary returns with a particularly confusing word – “Doctor.”  The person who submitted it asked:

I’m confus[ed] what’s the difference between Doctor degree and PhD. Could you help me? Thanks a lot!

You probably learned the word “doctor” as the name for a person you see when you’re ill or hurt.  A medical doctor has graduated medical school with an M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) degree, and is referred to formally as Dr. + last name (surname).

“I think I have the flu.  I’m going to make an appointment with Dr. Smith.”

However, the term “doctor” also describes a person who has received a Ph.D. (Doctorate), the highest academic degree awarded by universities.  These doctors are experts in a particular academic subject – any academic subject.  Most full-time professors hold Ph.D.s, and this is why you’ll often hear professors called Dr. + their last name.

“Are you taking English Literature with Dr. Jones this semester?”

Read the rest of this entry »

What Does it Mean to ‘Be American’ as a Chinese Student?

by Qian - Posts (7). Posted Thursday, October 13th, 2011 at 9:05 am

I’m Chinese, but kinda American.

Holding a Chinese flag in the Palestinian market located in the West Bank

Since August 16, 2008, the day I arrived in the United States, I have been asked thousands of times, “Where are you from?” For most Chinese students studying abroad, the automatic answer would be, “Yea, China of course!” However, for some, it is not as simple as the nationality presented on their red, Chinese passports.

This summer, a Chinese friend of mine from Syracuse University visited me in Beijing after spending a semester studying abroad in Europe with a few American students. “I enjoyed my stay in Spain so much last semester,” she told me, speaking in Mandarin Chinese interspersed with some English terms. She showed me pictures of various parties with other American students, and said, “The American culture I adopted last semester was more than what I had tried for the past three years. I feel I’m so American right now and I nearly forgot how to speak Chinese when I just came back to China from Spain.”

I felt happy for her for feeling comfortable “being so American.” However, her words left me in deep thought as well; do we, Chinese students studying in the US, have to “act like Americans” in order to live comfortably in this country?

My freshman year, I had a culture clash with my American roommate and felt very isolated from the American students in the dorm. The reason was simple: I didn’t party with them, nor did I talk to them often.

Read the rest of this entry »

New Websites Walk You Through Application Steps

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 at 4:21 pm

If you’ve been looking on U.S. government websites for information about how to study in America, but finding it confusing, two new websites are trying to help.

1) Study in the States

The Department of Homeland Security launched its Study in the States website this summer to streamline information about the visa process, including forms and regulations.  The site is part of a broader “Study in the States Initiative” that the DHS says will “examine the existing student visa and exchange visitor programs, as well as related programs for students after they have completed their course of study, to identify problem areas, and to consider possible improvements.”

2) Your 5 Steps to U.S. Study

EducationUSA also launched a new section of its website that aims to break down the admissions process into a step-by-step guide for applicants to follow.  The site suggests a timeline for when you should complete each step, and gives guidance specific to the type of study you want to pursue – undergraduate, graduate, short-term exchange or non-degree English.

Two new additions to our ever-growing list of useful websites (also check out our Resources page to see more helpful sites).

From Zimbabwe to America: Learning to Adapt and Overcome

by Simbarashe - Posts (7). Posted Tuesday, October 11th, 2011 at 9:00 am

“Remember to keep warm when you get there. America is a cold place. And to call us daily. Don’t forget us.”

Silliman Dining Hall - by Flickr user superfem

Brunch at an American dining hall (Creative Commons photo by Flickr user superfem)

These very words were the ultimate installment in a long series of many, many snippets of well-meaning advice from aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, cousins, passers-by, cousins of those passers-by, and anyone else who had caught wind of the fact that I was, indeed, going to America.

I had been warned about things such as the perceived perils of overeating when I got there, and it had been predicted that once I tasted that delicious American food, I would surely eat too much of it until I fell ill or exploded.

Would I cope with speaking in English all of the time? No, it was hypothesized that I would surely forget I was in North America and I would end up confusing my American friends by cracking jokes to them in my native language while still expecting them to laugh at those jokes.

And what of the cold? Would I survive? I would never cope with all that ice! After all, America is colder than the deep freezer! (an actual quote).

Read the rest of this entry »

How I Made Myself a Good Candidate for US Admissions (and Other Advice from a Successful Applicant)

by Anna Malinovskaya - Posts (17). Posted Monday, October 10th, 2011 at 9:10 am

In the summer of 2007 I, a high school graduate in Russia, spent hours on the Internet in search of a cheap summer school in the United States. I had been studying English for a couple of years, but I never had a chance to practice it with native speakers. Summer school seemed like a good opportunity, but the average cost was unimaginably high for my family.

I did not find a cheap summer school then, but I discovered something a hundred times more valuable. I learned about an exchange program called Global UGRAD, which offers students the chance to go to a university in the United States for one academic year, pursue an internship, and engage in community service – for free.

Preparing for Halloween at Southern Maine Community College

I applied in my first year of college, and after a few rounds of the competition, I was selected as one of the 20 finalists. I spent my year at Southern Maine Community College, located nicely on the beach.

The Global UGRAD Program also allows its applicants to choose any major, regardless of what they study at their home universities. I took advantage of this policy and picked something I was really passionate about but never had a chance to study – International Affairs.

When I came back to my home university, I knew I wanted to change my major from Marketing to International Affairs. Because of institutional bureaucracy it turned out to be practically impossible. Moreover, this exchange experience made me very sensitive to the differences in Russian and American education systems. I began to notice disadvantages of education in Russia that I didn’t notice before.

So I started to think about continuing my studies in the U.S.  But despite my academic experiences there, I still had very little knowledge about applying to American universities. I did not even know at that point in time that transferring from a university in Russia to a university in the United States was possible. I started my research from literally nothing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Battling with Language in the Far-Away Land of Minneapolis

by Promise Okeke - Posts (5). Posted Friday, October 7th, 2011 at 8:56 am

Am I the one? Am I the Promise who promised himself his Nigerian accent was not going to take a slip? I never would have believed I could so easily twist my tongue in an American twang.

But let’s go back to the beginning.

cat yawning


You might be asking, “How has the experience been so far?” I have been doing well – yawning like 50 times a day (not exaggerating). I haven’t slept for a total of 12 hours for the past three days I have been in Minneapolis. Could it be heat? The excitement? Maybe you can help me with that.

Tonight is one reason.

It’s 11:39 pm here, and I can picture you forming a question like, “Why is this dude not sleeping at this time?” Well, I have been asking myself that question too; but you’ll laugh when you find out why.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tips for Narrowing Down a School Search

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Thursday, October 6th, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Sometimes you guys ask really useful questions on our Facebook page.  I wanted to share this one, because I think a lot of you may want to know the answer…

…because of the number of University are so high, it really make difficult for me to find the one which may best suit to my situation as an International student. … When I open the list of all Universities, community [colleges] or other private [colleges] in US, it makes me confuse[d], discouraged and don’t know at all which ones to choose.

Honestly, it’s difficult for everyone, including Americans. But there are some tools you can use to help narrow down your search, and some strategies that can help you make sense of all the information.

The Princeton Review is one that I know many American students use to find a good match. They have a thing called the “best fit school search,” where you can narrow down colleges based on characteristics like their location, characteristics of campus life, and your own credentials.  College Board and Peterson’s are two other sites that let you search and filter schools, and I’m sure there are many more out there as well.

Read the rest of this entry »

Take a Tour Around my Typical American Dorm Room

by Dandan - Posts (11). Posted Wednesday, October 5th, 2011 at 9:22 am

Niskanen Hall hallwayWelcome to Niskanen Hall!

This is our living hall (or dormitory), and here’s the hallway that leads to my room. It has only two floors and girls and boys live in this same building.

It really shocked me initially, because the dormitories in my country are very tall and there are usually separate dormitory buildings for girls and boys.

The first day I arrived, I even felt frustrated because my neighbors were a bunch of boys! lol

Hanging on our door are these cute pictures. Each picture has a name, representing one of the girls in our dorm room. Try to find my name!

Photos on the dorm room door

Each living hall here has a student union or a student government in charge of our residence life. They have the responsibilities to supervise our housing facilities and enrich our residence life by planning activities for us. They are also responsible for the decoration of our environment—these marvelous pictures are designed and hung by them! Applaud them for their work, folks!

Read the rest of this entry »

Just Because You Passed the Test Doesn’t Mean it Will Be Easy

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 at 1:17 pm

In this video, by a student in San Diego, international students talk about their biggest struggles when they first arrived in the U.S. For most, it was keeping up with English.

If you like “kelzosaurus”‘s video, she has another on making friends, and one on culture as well.

How Grad School Differs From Undergrad

by Nareg Seferian - Posts (16). Posted Monday, October 3rd, 2011 at 9:52 am

The United States is diverse in many ways: it is a big country, with a few hundred million people, different kinds of geography and climate, regional accents alongside native speakers of probably hundreds of other languages, various customs, cuisines, and even styles of clothing. Education is unsurprisingly no exception.

great books

Before... (Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Austin Reid Manny)

I just graduated, in May, from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a very unique establishment of higher education, even for Americans. For four years, all we did was read and discuss “the great books” of the Western tradition in an all-required curriculum.

There was a lot of philosophy and literature, plus mathematics and science, music, logic, languages… a very “Renaissance” education. No exams, no tests, not even grades (they actually do give grades, to be frank, but they do not reveal them unless a student specifically makes the request; I never checked mine). We wrote a lot of papers and original essays, and had amazing conversations. That’s what a good old fashioned liberal arts degree is all about. Ask any American, and they’ll find that sort of college experience to be very extraordinary. And it was.

Now I am starting graduate school, a master’s program in politics and international affairs at a pretty prestigious institution. It’s not in New Mexico, but in New England. Different. Very, very different. The location itself has an atmosphere that does not compare to Santa Fe.

Read the rest of this entry »

Meet Mohammed, an Iraqi Pre-Med Student in Minnesota

by Mohammed Al-Suraih - Posts (5). Posted Friday, September 30th, 2011 at 9:03 am

mohammedName: Mohammed Al-Suraih

Home Country: Iraq

School: The College of St. Scholastica

Year: 2013

Major: Biochemistry/Pre-Med track

Why did you decide to study in the US?

I have always wanted to make it to the States since I was little kid. It was like a promise that I made to myself that I should come here. However, big part of it was because of unstable situation in my hometown. I would also say it’s because of big numbers of American shows I used to watch back in the time, and how the western culture got into my head. And also because I never liked the education system in my hometown.

What show do you think most informed your opinion on what the US would be like? Was it accurate?

Numbers of shows but they are all inaccurate! Shows only inform you about how much fun you are going to have in the States but never bring the hard work students do every single day.

Read the rest of this entry »

Who Else is Joining the Fun?

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Thursday, September 29th, 2011 at 9:47 am

We’re not the only ones on the interwebs talking about what it’s like to be an international student in the U.S. (although obviously we think we’re the best!). If you want to get even more perspectives, check out some of these blogs by current and former foreign students.

Berkeley College Life
José Navarro from Spain is studying at Berkeley College in New York and writes about his experiences at school and in the city. He also talks about what he’s learned that might help other international students.

Written by two former international students at Yale University (Huijia and Wilson), this blog mostly offers practical advice based on the students’ own experiences.

Read the rest of this entry »

On the Importance of Having Realistic Expectations, or Welcome to America!!!

by Olena - Posts (4). Posted Wednesday, September 28th, 2011 at 9:36 am

“America is a dream country full of great opportunities!” This is what many of you have probably heard from all sorts of people around you. It’s really amazing how eagerly some people make judgments about things and events they have very little understanding of. And how eagerly we, in turn, are inclined to believe whatever we are told without even spending a short time for critical evaluation of the information that has been fed to us.

fancy car

The myth (Creative Commons by Flickr user feldpress)

Before I came to the U.S., I also fell in this trap of thinking that life in the U.S. is a paradise, and all you need to do is just enjoy it.

This is not surprising, since the vast majority of people in Ukraine, where I come from, strongly believe that all Americans own beautiful houses and brand-new cars, have well-paid jobs and solid bank accounts, spend their vacations in Hawaii and go traveling around the world just after they retire.

They live happy lives and don’t worry about their future, because the future must be even better than the present. It’s a pretty weird perception if you just take a moment to think a little deeper. But it does exist, and perhaps not only in Ukraine.

However, once you are in the U.S. you face the reality and the pain of broken illusions.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Student Union is…

A place to hear stories about studying in the U.S. Our bloggers have come from all over the world to U.S. universities, and they'll be sharing their experiences, advice and more.

Learn more about this blog »

Share your own story!
Tell us about your experiences applying to the US, studying in America, or doing an exchange, and we may include it on the blog.


Glossary of Confusing Words

Find definitions of confusing words and terms about studying in the U.S. in our Glossary of Confusing Words.

All the words were submitted by YOU, so visit the glossary to see the words that have been defined already and to suggest your own.