It’s not an easy decision: studying abroad in the USA is a brave choice that involves uprooting your life, moving away from your home and immersing yourself in a whole new environment and culture.
Such a journey, however, can really pay off by providing unique opportunities for international students. In addition to improving your English, the degree you’ll earn will be well regarded all around the world.
But before deciding to move abroad, many students want to know what student life is actually like in America. Below, we take a look at some of the most important things to know about studying abroad in the USA.
1. You’re not alone
When you begin your journey of studying abroad in the USA, you can take comfort in knowing you are not alone. In fact, the USA is the most popular destinations for students who choose to pursue a degree abroad. Over 1.1 million international students currently live and study in America.
Given this, universities across the country have dedicated tremendous resources toward building and developing programs that support students from abroad. Larger schools like ASU and UConn have thousands of students on campus from hundreds of different countries.
From the day you arrive for orientation, you’ll meet fellow international students who are going through similar transitions to you. This helps many students build a community and support group right away.
international students living and studying in the USA
international students from 136 countries studying at ASU
international students from 110+ countries studying at UConn
2. You can create your unique degree with majors and minors
Firstly, one of the things students like most about studying abroad in the USA is the customization of its degrees. University students in the USA can choose a major — or two — to focus on.
Secondly, you can create your own unique university experience by adding minors to your degree. A “minor” is also known as a secondary area of study. So, if you major in Business, for example, you may choose to minor in another subject, such as Psychology or Music. In other words, you can customize your degrees with majors and minors that best suit your interests and goals.
Finally, you can focus your major in concentrations that increase the value of your degree by helping you develop skills in certain areas. For example, Pace University’s Bachelor of Business Administration program (BBA) offers 15 different concentrations from public accounting to sports marketing.
3. It’s OK to not know what you want to study right away
Many universities in the USA require undergraduates to complete a “general education” component of their bachelor’s degrees. Through the general education curriculum, students build a foundation of knowledge in disciplines spanning math, science, history and art.
General education requirements typically take about 1.5 years (or 3 semesters) to complete. It’s during this time that students can explore or change what field they would like to major in. So, while you may not know what you want to study the day you arrive for orientation, you can relax. Roughly 20 to 50% of students are also “undecided” on what degree they will earn.
The general education curriculum also gives students a bit of extra time to change their major should they choose to do so.
4. You’ll likely have time to travel and visit friends and family
Students studying abroad in the USA enjoy the country’s education system partly because of its generous schedule with built-in breaks. The average semester is 15 weeks long, which means on a two-semester calendar, students are only in the classroom for just over half a year.
Summer break, which typically stretches from May to August, provides students the opportunity to travel home to see friends and family, visit attractions around the USA or even take an internship and gain professional experience.
Students also have a month-long winter break, which typically runs from mid-December through mid-January, as well as a week-long fall break (around Thanksgiving) and a spring break (in March or April).
5. The weather is very different across the country
It may go without saying, but the USA is huge — it’s the 4th largest country in the world by land mass. Given its size, perhaps it’s no surprise that there are 10 different climate zones in the USA.
As an international student planning to study abroad in the USA, you may benefit from becoming familiar with the country’s major climate regions beforehand.
For example, the Northeast is characterized by a fairly diverse climate with very cold and snowy winters. Meanwhile, the American Southwest, where Arizona State University is located, is home to a hotter climate with dry and sunny weather year-round. Depending on where you want to study, you’ll have to pack your bags and clothes accordingly!
6. Enhance your university experience by joining clubs
Many international students studying abroad in the USA get the most out of their American college experience by joining student clubs on campus.
Universities often offer hundreds of clubs students can join, including those created with international students in mind. Joining a club is completely optional, but is recommended for international students.
When deciding which clubs might be a good fit for you, let your passions be your guide. Like to sing? Dance? Enjoy watching or drawing anime? Want to play Quidditch with fellow Harry Potter fans? Student clubs exist for any and all kinds of interests.
By joining clubs, students not only gain experience in something that interests them, they also network, build lifelong friendships and — most importantly — have fun!
7. Experience university sports and pride like never before
Larger universities in the USA often have impressive sports and athletics traditions. Take UConn, for example, whose women’s basketball team — the Huskies — is often ranked in the Top 10 in the USA and has won 11 national championships.
At a university like UConn, it’s common for students to get dressed up in school colors and attend matches against other universities. “Tail-gating” is especially common in the USA, which is an activity where students gather — often in parking lots — before matches to eat barbecue, play games and socialize.
School pride for UConn Huskies sports teams is so intense that fan-hood has taken on its own name around UConn campus: “Huskymania.” Whether sports are your thing or not, wearing clothing with a university’s colors, logo and mascot is popular in the USA.
8. Universities in the USA encourage student participation
Known as the “Socratic seminar,” teaching in the USA is often a collaborative experience between professors and students. Rather than lectures, where a professor does most or all of the talking, classes in US universities emphasize dialogue.
Students are encouraged to ask questions, brainstorm ideas, share reactions to readings and assignments, and give feedback.
This style of teaching supports the growth of a student’s self-confidence and improves their ability to speak publicly.
9. Your grade will never be determined by a single test
Just as teaching style is different, similarly, grading in US universities is holistic and looks at more than your scores on tests and exams. In some cases, this can be an adjustment for those studying abroad in the USA.
Often, participation — whether you share your ideas and speak up in class — is a factor in your overall grade. So, too, are things like class attendance, homework, written papers, presentations and group projects.
While your final grade for your class may be determined in part by how well you’ve scored on tests, these other aspects of your performance are considered very important as well.
10. You’ll have to share a dorm room in your freshman year
It’s normal to have your own bedroom as an international student in the UK, but in the USA you’re very likely to share a dorm room with at least one other person during your freshman year (first year). “Dorm life” in the USA can certainly be an adjustment for some students, and sharing your space comes with pros and cons.
On the one hand, you’ll have to communicate with your roommate(s) to make the most comfortable learning and living environment. You’ll learn to co-ordinate your schedules, share appliances and respect one another’s space and privacy.
On the other hand, having a roommate can be a huge boost to your new life in the USA. You’ll benefit from having company, someone to socialize with and you’ll build up your interpersonal skills each and every day.
After your freshman year, more housing options become available, and many students choose to move off campus to apartments and townhouses nearby.
Interested in studying abroad in the USA?
Earning your degree abroad in the USA is an exciting experience, offering you many opportunities to learn, grow and thrive. Our education experts can help you identify the US university that is the best fit for you.