In a few weeks it is going to be that time of the year when aspirants who want to study in the United States will be saying “I got into X university, it was my dream choice! I will be flying out in August and begin my programme in the fall semester!” The funny part is, this student did not know what ‘fall semester’ meant before he or she applied to the US. In fact, the person listening to the conversation still does not know! This, and many such things, form a part of the vocabulary once a student goes to the United States. Things that one is unaware of how to do, and then gets used to!
Making life adjustments in another country is a whole other story, but for now, we are focussing on adjusting to the curriculum and the way of teaching and learning here.
Semester system :
Although the semester and credit system has been introduced in India, here, we go by the year; for instance, first year, second year, etc. In the US, the programmes are divided into semesters and they are not linked to each other. So there are the two main semesters, named after the season they go on for – the Fall (Autumn) semester, which runs from August or September to December; and the Spring semester, which runs from January to May. The universities and colleges are closed from mid- December to mid-January for winter break and during the summer (from May to August) you can either opt for classes that are offered or take the summer off.
Courses and credits :
In the US, whatever programme you opt for, you have to choose what to study in each semester. The situation is very unlike ours in India, where for every programme, a fixed route is charted out for you and every year the same students are in the same class learning the same subjects. Here, you have to decide which subjects (called courses) you will study each semester, depending on your goal for the future. Of course, you will have an advisor. But be careful, he or she will be able to help you much only if you are clear. Forget not that every wrong course you choose, you lose a lot of money!
Be sure that you know what the required courses for your programme are and try to take in the first semester itself so that at least you know you are not making any wrong choices. Also remember that in the US, for every course, the instructor or the professor has a maximum limit for the number of students. Seats are usually available on first-come-first-serve basis, so make sure you login and register well in advance.
Another important aspect you have to be aware of is the credit system. Every course that you choose, or that is offered by a university, is for a certain number of credits. And the fees are directly related to the number of credits. As an international full time student, you are supposed to take a minimum number of credits (maybe 10 to 12 depending on the university) to maintain your status. So, for the first semester, research well, and choose wisely, even if it means researching before you go there! ’Cause once you’re there, you’ll be taking care of too many things in too little time. You will hardly have any time to research. Also, you will not have an internet connection till you figure out accommodation, etc. So it’s better you do it from here itself.
Every course has a description available on the college/ university website, and that can help you make a better choice. If you have any queries or doubts regarding any aspect of the course, be it content, class timings, evaluation, etc, you can always write to the faculty member without any hesitation. You will surely receive a reply.
In class :
The US system is much less formal in class as compared to India. Usually, students are on a first name basis with the faculty, and even in class, many sessions are interactive where students are encouraged to put forth their views. The more students talk, the more the class benefits. Another major difference is that predominantly, classes in the US are not monotonous one-way lectures but interactive sessions. This stems from the fact that the class is given readings (could be academic paper, a webpage, a chapter from a book, etc) in advance, and you are expected to have read them before you come to class. The class then is a natural discussion on topics that the readings generate and an exchange of thoughts and ideas about it. Needless to say, it is a great change from our system, where we have no readings, and we have ready reckoners available for every subject. The Indian student is not very well equipped to handle such readings, and one has to get into the mode well. It’s kind of obvious that if you show up without actually reading the material, you will be unable to contribute anything concrete to the class, and in turn, you won’t be able to gain much from it.
The Ascent of Success:
A Practical Guide for International Students in US Colleges by Eric Shiraev
This book is perfect for those who are new to studying in the US. From choosing the right college and programme to taking notes in class, how and where to talk to professors and getting the maximum from printed and visual information sources around, this book is a treasure trove of knowledge for students. It will also help to overcome myths and fears associated with studying abroad,
such as applying for a visa.
Must Read Book
The Ascent of Success: A Practical Guide for International Students in US Colleges by Eric Shiraev
This book is perfect for those who are new to studying in the US. From choosing the right college and programme to taking notes in class, how and where to talk to professors and getting the maximum from printed and visual information sources around, this book is a treasure trove of knowledge for students. It will also help to overcome myths and fears associated with studying abroad, such as applying for a visa.
Volume 1 , Issue 7