Keys to Academic Success
The American academic system differs from all others in the world. International students often comment that U.S. students are competitive but don’t seem to study very hard, and that beyond the informality of the classroom, the professors are very demanding.
Some of these apparent contradictions can be explained by the values inherent in the American education system. Creativity, tolerance and flexibility are, in general, valued above tradition and respect for authority in the United States. Doing the reading before attending class is a sure way to improve your comprehension of any class discussion. You may wish to record lectures on tape, especially if you are having trouble following spoken English during your first weeks of school; however, before doing so, you should confirm the individual professor’s consent. Antioch University New England classes include: classroom discussion, recitations, reading assignments, and periodic written assignments.
Students are expected to contribute to the discussion is the classroom. American professors want students to respect their knowledge and opinions, but they generally prefer discussion and debate to respectful silence. In some societies, it is disrespectful for students to question or challenge the teacher. By contrast, in the U.S. questioning or challenging a teacher is viewed as a healthy sign of interest, attention and independent thinking. If you sit in silence, it is likely to be assumed that you are not interested in what is being said in class, or that you do not understand it. Although most faculty members encourage critical thinking from students, the manner in which criticism is expressed is important. Show respect by acknowledging your professor’s point of view and then offering your own for consideration.
International students are sometimes dismayed by the amount of reading for their courses, especially if English is not their native language. It is crucial to understand the importance of reading assignments in any course. Research papers are another aspect of homework that may seem overwhelming.
Most professors will have scheduled office hours during which you can meet with them to ask direct questions about the course material, inquire about your progress in the course and discuss your performance on assignments. In general, the relationship between professors and students is more familiar in the U.S. than in other countries. A professor’s informal style of dress or speech must not be taken to mean that he or she has a relaxed attitude towards assignments, class attendance or the quality of your work. Informal attire and the omission of titles on interpersonal communication are common in the American educational system.
International students new to AUNE face tremendous cultural adjustment challenges and, in varying degrees experience culture shock. Even students who are fluent in English may not be familiar with the colloquial speech used in the American classroom. Some students are also limited in their ability to express themselves in academic terms, participate fully in discussions or understand explanations which are provided during the early part of the semester. Some students experiencing language difficulties may be more inclined to use the faculty member’s words, rather than feel comfortable using their own.
Plagiarism may also be an unfamiliar concept in some countries. Understanding AUNE’s academic honesty policy is crucial to your success here and may help you avoid academic discipline, which ranges from writing a paper or re-taking a course to expulsion from AUNE.
Expectations for graduate students
International Students have to make many adjustments when they begin graduate studies in the United States. In the U.S. graduate students:
- Have a large amount of work to do for the courses they take. This includes reading, written assignments, and, in many fields, laboratory or other practical work
- Need to begin studying at the beginning of the term, rather than waiting until later in the term
Students from other countries will notice that in graduate classes in the United States:
- Students are usually expected to speak up in class, offering their opinions or raising questions
- Students and teachers usually treat each other informally; Students sometimes call teachers by his or her first name
To succeed in graduate studies in the United States, students need to learn how to:
- Read or skim a large amount of written material, looking for the main points
- Analyze material from their courses and make their own judgments about what is right or wrong, more or less appropriate, or more or less helpful
- Synthesize (bring together and combine) material from many sources and produce their own ideas or evaluations
- Schedule their use of time in order to complete their assignments by the dates on which they are due
- Determine which teachers expect students to raise questions or challenges in class
- Handle laboratory equipment (in courses where laboratory work is required)
- Use computers (for most courses of study)
- Complete written papers in a limited amount of time
- Go to the teacher with questions or problems about a course. New graduate students from other countries will want to discuss these and other ideas with experienced graduate students in their own academic departments