You’re planning to study in the USA — fantastic! You’ve probably already given a lot of thought to what you hope to accomplish during your studies, and what you might want to do when you're finished. These are important things to think about as you prepare for your US university experience.
Studying a degree takes a lot of time and energy – a US bachelor’s degree, for example, typically takes 4 years to complete. While that may seem like a long time, before you know it, you’ll be ready to graduate and head out into the “real world.” A master’s degree is finished in even less time.
So how do you make the most of this brief time? Here are a few ways to maximize your US university experience. [Hint: most of these take place outside the classroom and university library!]
1. Explore areas outside your subject
US universities are great places to expose yourself to ideas and areas outside your subject of focus. For one thing, they offer an incredible amount of flexibility and choice. Students can select classes from several options to build their degrees, and can even major or concentrate in more than one subject.
US bachelor’s degree programs usually include some sort of core curriculum, or general education requirements, where students take courses in a number of different subjects. So, even if you’re planning to major in chemistry, you may find yourself taking classes in music theory or American history. These can all enrich your study experience, and may help you discover a new passion.
2. Get involved in campus life
Since many American universities are residential (meaning that most students live on or near campus for at least part of their studies), students are usually highly active in events on campus. Whether it’s cheering for your school’s sports teams, joining one of the campus musical groups, or participating in various university traditions, these pastimes will often form some of your most cherished memories.
There are lots of ways to get involved on American campuses. One great way is to check out your university’s annual activities or organizations fair, where you can chat with different groups to learn about what they’re doing. These can range from the silly to the serious, and are a great way to meet other students. And if you don’t find a club you like, you can start your own!
3. Build up your résumé
US universities offer excellent career preparation during your studies. These departments are also dedicated to helping students get real work experience during their studies. Many universities help connect students with internships or co-operative education job placements, often several times during a student’s studies. International students are eligible for these same placements after their first 2 semesters.
You don’t have to go off-campus to gain useful skills or experience, though. On-campus jobs are a great way to get some early work experience and meet other students. Many graduate students also find opportunities carry out research alongside faculty, and at smaller universities it can even be possible for undergraduate students.
4. Gain useful skills
Participating in university life is not only fun, it also helps you build some great skills that will be useful for your future career. Almost all organizations are student-led, meaning that students are responsible for all prioritizing, planning and budgeting. Some clubs even hold elections, complete with campaigns, for key positions. These all offer incredible leadership experience.
It’s also a great way to build your own network of close friends and peers, who could be very useful contacts once you’re out in the real world. University alumni networks can provide very powerful links for career opportunities, so creating close connections while you’re on campus can give you an early start.
Dasom from KoreaStudying at Northeastern University
Before I came to Northeastern, I never thought I could be a leader. Since then, I’ve co-founded a women’s leadership group for international students, and even received an award for my accomplishments. I tell other international students to be bold; if I could do it, so can you!
5. Discover America… and beyond
Your time at university is a great chance to explore the USA, both next to campus and beyond. Your university will likely organize volunteer events in nearby towns or cities; a great way to learn about the local community. Semester breaks offer a chance to travel a bit further. The US is a vast country, and incredibly diverse. Seeing other regions will give you a deeper understanding of America and what makes it unique.
You can also take the opportunity to travel even further, on one of your university’s study abroad programs. International students can gain real global expertise by studying in a 2nd country as part of their studies. Some even decide to explore a 3rd country! All of these opportunities will enhance your cultural knowledge and help you put your US university experience in greater context. They’re also highly valued by employers.
As you can see, there are so many ways to get involved at American college campuses. Just putting in a little extra effort can make a huge impact on your student life, and help you to take full advantage of your US university experience.