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Academics in the U.S.

For international students, understanding expectations and common practices within the American educational system will contribute to your success at the University of Rochester. Students are often surprised by the differences between their classes and learning at home and what they encounter in the US.

The American Classroom

Academic Honesty

Expectations for Graduate Students

See also: U.S. Culture & Adjustment



The American academic system differs from all others in the world. US students tend to be competitive, don’t seem to seem to study very hard, and behave informally in the classroom, despite having demanding professors. 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 US. American students are often orientated toward individualism, as indicated by their comfort with individual effort on papers and exams, with grading that is competitive, and with the assumption that they should ask the instructor about what they do not understand. Many foreign students prefer to work in groups, dislike or misunderstand competitive grading, and ask questions of each other rather than the instructor - all indications of an orientation toward collectivism.
(Adapted from: Learning Across Cultures, Althen, Gary, University of Iowa.  Multiculturalism and International Education: Domestic and International Differences, Janet Marie Bennet and Milton James Bennet, NAFSA 1994, p. 162.)


Insights & Tips for International Students

  • There is a strong trend toward informality in the US, and University administrators and staff may take a casual attitude with you and one another. This may seem disrespectful, but do not take it personally.
  • Remember that in the US many rules must be followed and certain procedures are not negotiable. It is your responsibility to know and adhere to such requirements. If you follow procedures and instructions carefully, you will ultimately save yourself a lot of time and energy.
  • Be respectful. Front-end staff can often provide the information you need or help to point you in the right direction. Arguing or demanding to see ‘someone in charge’ will not generally lead to success. It is more effective to explain exactly what you need and what kind of problem you have been having. You may want to ask, “What should I do now?”, or “Who can I ask to help me with this problem?” Employees can rarely ‘bend the rules’ but can be motivated to put the extra effort into helping you, if you treat them well.

Adapted from: American Ways, Althen, Gary, University of Iowa.