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ColumnsHere is all you need to know about academic culture at US...

Here is all you need to know about academic culture at US varsities

Published: 31st Jul 2021 11:20 pm

We have been discussing EducationUSA’s 5-Steps to master’s programmes in the United States in this series, with the last few articles focusing on the final step – ‘Step 5: Prepare for Your Departure’.

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We have explored travel preparations, the process at the port-of-entry, what to expect upon arrival, and social and cultural adjustments to be made in the new environment. We also discussed the various support services available to international students on US university campuses. We continue the discussion today on Step 5 with a conversation about the academic culture at US colleges and universities.

While beginning their higher education at a US institution, international students should be aware of the academic environment and culture at US campuses before their arrival. A few defining characteristics of the US academic system include student-centric pedagogy, application and practice-oriented instructional systems, academic integrity, continuous evaluation and participatory learning methods.

Once students have enrolled in their programme of study, they will be assigned an academic adviser, either before or after their arrival on campus. If a student has not received communication-related to their adviser, they may approach their department regarding this. It is extremely important that students make it a priority to set up a meeting with their assigned adviser once they have reached campus. The agenda for the discussion may include conversations related to the student’s major/minor or specialisation, course selection and registration, research area, and other programme-related requirements. A student is expected to keep in regular touch with their adviser over the course of their programme of study.

Selecting and enrolling in courses is a responsibility that falls on the student, although in some cases the department may take up that role. Students should carefully choose courses and a certain number of credit hours for each semester in order to ensure that they take enough courses to maintain the ‘full-time’ enrolment status. Given the practice-based approach to learning, each course will require substantial input and effort on part of the student. So students should balance the number of credits they opt for in a semester, as enrolling in too many courses may not be advisable. In addition, depending on the courses that are being offered in a particular semester, students may choose a mix of introductory and advanced courses.

Within the classroom setting, students should take responsibility to attend classes regularly, contribute to class discussion, submit assignments on time, and ask appropriate questions. The course instructors share the syllabus for their respective course, along with the course plan, readings, and required/optional textbooks, at the beginning of the semester. The libraries on campus may not have multiple copies of the textbooks so, students may need to buy new or used books, depending on course requirement and price.

Lastly, but importantly, US higher education institutions are extremely strict about their honour code/code of conduct. All students are expected to follow university guidelines related to academic integrity/honesty, cheating and plagiarism. Students should visit their college/university website to read the honour code carefully before they start their programmes.

While on U.S. campuses, students should plan and work towards making their academic experience as enriching as possible through the right choice of coursework, hard work, class participation, integrity, and mentorship.


Q. I am currently in the 2nd year of a bachelor’s programme. What standardised test should I prepare for if I want to study in the US after completing my programme? – Ritesh Kumar

A. The US university application package includes one or more standardised tests, the scores of which are considered both for the admissions process and financial aid. Standardised tests for graduate (master’s/Ph.D.) applicants may include one or more of the following: Graduate Record Examination (GRE), GRE Subject Tests, and Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

The GRE General Test is required by prospective applicants of graduate programmes, including doctoral degree applicants. The applicants of graduate programmes in management or business studies take the GMAT. Some business schools may also accept the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT. In addition to the GRE General Test, some programmes require a GRE Subject Test.

The subject tests are available in the areas of biology, chemistry, literature in English, Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology. For specific requirements, a student should consult the department websites and admission offices of selected universities and check the application requirements for the programme to which they are applying to accordingly prepare and register for the standardised tests.

Q. When do bachelor’s programmes start at U.S. institutions? – Rajashekhar Reddy

A. Academic intake for undergraduate (bachelor’s) programmes in the US vary by institution. Fall and spring semesters are the two major academic intake periods. The fall semester starts in mid-August to September, at the beginning of the academic year, while the spring semester starts in January, in the middle of the academic year. A few universities only offer a fall semester intake while others offer both fall and spring semester intakes. It is important that you check the university website for admission periods offered and respective application deadlines before working on applications.

Please visit for more information.

(The author is the Regional Officer and EducationUSA Adviser at the United States-India Educational Foundation based at the US Consulate General Hyderabad)

Also read:

Study abroad: Adjusting to new environment in US

Things to keep in mind while travelling to the US for education

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