So, you’re thinking about going to study at a university in the US? Great! It’s a fascinating and enormously varied country, with a proud history of top-notch higher education opportunities. There’s little doubt that being a student in America is a memorable and highly rewarding experience.
We’ve all seen those US college movies, thinking we have a pretty good idea of what to expect when we arrive. However, Hollywood isn’t always the best at reflecting reality – and considering how crazy some of those movies are, it probably isn’t such a bad thing in this case. Despite this, there’s no doubt that you’re in for a lot of fun, plenty of inspiring lectures, and the chance to meet some great people.
Here is a list of nine things that every student should know about studying in the US, just to clear up some of the misconceptions you may have picked up along the way.
1. University in the US is called ‘college’
In most countries, the word “college” is associated with vocational courses, post-16 education, or the place you go to pick up more free or work-based certifications. In the US, the word college is synonymous with university, which is well worth knowing if you want to avoid confusion.
2. You don’t have to decide what to study right away
In the US, students are expected to take about five subjects per semester and then declare a major (the main subject that you will graduate in). Often, those subjects may have little or nothing to do with your final major. It’s not surprising to find students majoring in robotics, but taking a “minor” course in German, English literature, mathematics or something completely different on the side. This ability to continue to study a variety of subjects is one of the most attractive things about going to university in the US.
3. The first week will be either heaven or hell
The first week of college at the vast majority of US colleges is a chance for students to get to know each other, sign up to clubs, societies and fraternities and attend parties and events held by your college. You’ll be in a whirlwind of disorientation; trying to remember people’s names, keeping up your energy levels and getting lost on campus. Love it or hate it, it’s a rite of passage that seemingly everyone has to go through.
4. Textbooks are crazily expensive
The people producing college textbooks and other reading materials in the US must be laughing all the way to the bank – those things cost an extraordinary amount of money. Luckily, social media groups dedicated to sharing or passing on second-hand textbooks are becoming more common, so you might be able to find some bargains.
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5. US college life is laid-back. Grading is not.
There seems to be a massive disparity in the US between the relatively relaxed nature of lectures, the vibe of the student community, and the tough grading structures employed by the colleges themselves. Making even the slightest error with citations or essay structure can be an instant fail, so make sure you check and double-check all the work that you submit.
6. There’s more to US colleges than just the Ivy League
The Ivy League colleges of America are renowned all over the world for their quality and prestige. However, they aren’t the only great universities in the US. Depending on what sort of course or experience you want, it might be well worth looking into one of the other 4,000 quality universities in the US. You might find something better suited to you and save yourself a whole load of money, too.
7. There’s more flexibility than you might expect
US colleges run a policy of high flexibility when it comes to changing your mind about the courses you’re taking and even the college you’re attending. You can change your major as many times as you like if you feel it doesn’t suit you, and you can even swap colleges using your credits without having to pay an extra dime.
8. It’s not as expensive as you might think
US colleges are notorious for being among the most expensive in the world, but this isn’t always the case. In reality, the cost of college in the US covers so much more than it does in other countries – the price is inclusive of medical insurance, accommodation, subsistence and so much more. It's also always worth checking what financial aid you are eligible for from your university, and any scholarships that you might be able to apply for.
9. College sports matter
If you’re from Europe or elsewhere in the world, it’s likely that your school or university sports teams won’t be that much of a big deal – just some friends meeting up to kick a ball around with the neighbouring university. In the US, however, college sports are a huge deal. You’ll be expected to support your university teams, go along to matches and stay updated on game results. It’s all part of the experience, and it can be a lot of fun to get involved in.
Read more: Best universities in the United States