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Student Life in The USA
If you’ve chosen to enrol as a postgraduate student, the American university you attend will understand that your career goals and studies are of key importance to you. However, the school will also be keen for you to appreciate the life you can lead outside of the classroom or library. American culture has had an influence on almost every corner of the globe – the music, cinema and fashions that start there almost always end up as trends on foreign shores. It’s a vibrant and unique place to be a student, but for some the transition may be more of a challenge. Here are a few tips on what to expect when you study in the USA as a postgraduate student for the first time.
Experiencing the American way of life
The USA is a vast country and the way people live, their values and the customs they observe can be very different from state to state. Many parts of America are extremely tolerant, with a sense of creativity and progressiveness. Maryland, California and Massachusetts in particular have many cities that are especially known for their liberalism. Other states, like Texas and Tennessee, are thought of as conservative, with more people preferring a traditional and practical way of life. Whichever part of the US you choose as a base for your studies, you’ll generally find Americans to be friendly, humorous and interested in speaking to someone visiting from out-of-state or abroad.
US universities and postgraduate student support
American universities are aware of the struggles new students face in acclimatising to their new surroundings, and there are many ways in which they strive to help. You can expect a wide range of services and events to enhance your life as a postgraduate in a new town. From student mentors to free shuttle services and team sports, there are always ways you can integrate into the way of life on campus and reduce any stress you might have. Larger colleges often have their own health centres, careers advisory service and accommodation officer, but even smaller institutions will have a student services office where staff can point you in the right direction. If you have a problem that is more related to your academic work, then professors are usually present and available to speak with students after class. They will often ask you to pop in for a chat and that’s a great opportunity to offload any worries you have about your performance on the course, and to receive some expert advice.
Differences in the classroom
At a graduate level, studying in the USA is likely to be more practical than international students may have experienced at home. Some graduates are surprised at the extent to which they have to work on their own initiative; others have to undertake a significant amount of independent study to reach the level of knowledge expected at the start of a postgraduate course. The work often involves examining a subject in more depth than you previously may have done, but as a result fewer subjects will be covered, so don’t be concerned that the program might to be too demanding. In class, postgraduate students are encouraged to join in with debates at every opportunity and lectures are more inclined to take the form of a conversation, instead of a monologue. This is intended to build a competitive edge, as well as training students to formulate arguments and defend their views.
How many hours do postgraduate students commit to studying?
Most US universities require students to attend 12.5 hours of direct instruction per semester and 25 hours of independent study. This is carried out over a period of 15 weeks, or the length of time an individual institution allocates to a semester. Graduate courses tend to last for three semesters, but some are delivered over four or five instead, and will require that level of work hours to be maintained throughout the program.
Living as an American student
Campuses in the United States are highly sociable, most universities have their own facilities for sports and evening entertainment, but clubs and societies will also organise a range of other activities. From acapella singers, to American football players and performance artists, there are student groups to suit any niche interest you can imagine. This can lead to a very hectic way of life, but so long as you keep the balance between study and play in check, it can provide an excellent way to unwind from the pressure of taking a postgraduate course.