Just as all of the movies from Hollywood accurately tell us, college life in the United States is tremendously different than college life in… just about everywhere else. Those cool lecture halls with half desks, stately, brick-adorned buildings, sexy professors who let you call them by their first name, and extra credit (WHAT? Free marks?) are all staples of the American college experience… right?
Whether or not we can confirm all of the above are in fact true (and not ridiculous stereotypes) is yet to be determined. But even despite completing our best research (you know, watching American Pie, Old School, and Good Will Hunting), we still found a number of surprising things about US colleges and universities when we moved there to study.
Read on and be amazed!
1. You don’t need to choose a specific subject before you start school
Not sure what you want to study? That is O-K! In the US, you will not need to declare a major upon admission to a university. In fact, many students enter university without a clue as to what they want to study. Students instead take courses from a variety of departments and fields to get a taste of different subject areas. Students can continue on this path of indecisiveness all the way into their third year - and some do.
2. The words “School,” “University,” and “College”... all mean the same thing
When an American approaches you and inquires, “What school did you go to?” they are not fishing for details about year 3 at your primary school. They mean your university. Er, college.
Really, these 3 words are used interchangeably so often it is almost unreasonable to make a distinction.
One note: do NOT under ANY circumstances refer to a university as “uni;” it’s just weird and makes you sound a bit pretentious.
3. You have to participate in class
In all seriousness, American college classrooms are not comprised of students imitating the zombie apocalypse. Students are expected to show up to class prepared and ready to contribute to the day’s discussion and lecture. 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 at the end of semester.
4. You will have to share your dorm room
You can go ahead and kiss your solo-living-lifestyle goodbye! In the US, 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 - one who is typically assigned to you at random.
Oh, and did we mention that your bathrooms will likely be communal? Strange hair caught in the drain, for the win!
5. School spirit: don’t have it? Get it!
One staple of the American college experience that the movies get right is the school spirit. You CHOSE to attend this school, and therefore MUST have intense pride to be a student there! Your closet will quickly change from normal, neutral colors to the bright shades of your university mascot; don’t be surprised if you’ve 10+ chants memorized by graduation.
It is perfectly normal to tell the other team to “Eat @#$!” (and by “tell” we really mean “yell at”).
6. Grades are given A-F and on a 4.0 scale
The grading system in the US is truly unique. As we have alluded to, student participation and class attendance play a key role in your final grades. Students will also typically have mid-terms, final exams, and weekly writing assignments and quizzes throughout the semester. Generally speaking, the workload at an American university is greater than at an average international university. The upside is that your work is worth less of a chunk of your final grade, so if you do poorly on an assignment (or two), you won’t bomb the class overall.
Students accumulate grades over the duration of the degree with a grade point average, or GPA, which 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 American university system prides itself in 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.
So, there you have it - 7 surprising facts we have come across about US colleges. What else caught you off guard?