Academic Preparation Goes Beyond Class for International Students


Growing up in an education system that emphasizes exams and memorization, I found the transition to college in the U.S. a bit harder than I expected. The U.S. education system encourages critical thinking and finding answers for yourself – which I wasn’t was used to. Not knowing anything about U.S. history and politics was another big obstacle I faced, and not just in class.

Now that I have completed my studies in the U.S., I want to share some useful things I learned that can help prospective international students prepare for the experience.

1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions: In Chinese culture, with its Confucian influence, we respect teachers a lot. We were taught to obey them because they were “always right.” We accepted whatever they taught us. We also don’t like to put ourselves under a spotlight.

But in the U.S., students love to ask questions and challenge their teachers. At first, I felt really uncomfortable because I thought American students were rude.

However, I realized that teachers make mistakes too. There were times that the students who asked questions helped clarify things in class. Speaking up is the best way to learn because others may have the same questions.

2. Learn about U.S. history: Many U.S. universities require students to take classes on American history or politics. My American political science course was the hardest class I took. I knew nothing about U.S. politics before I came to the States. I didn’t even understand the terminology.

Make sure you spend some time reviewing events in U.S. history before you start college. That can help you pass the class and also know more about U.S. culture – especially during an election year.

3. Focus on learning why, not getting a good grade: In high school, all I cared about was getting good grades. The school trained us to get the right answers by reviewing prior exams. I didn’t care about understanding the questions or increasing my knowledge – I only cared about putting the correct terms down to get full points.

However, the U.S. education system encourages students to think and analyze. Once, I tried memorizing the textbook to prepare for a midterm. It didn’t work.

College professors want you to think – to analyze the textbook and answer the questions – not just copy from the material. Get used to asking yourself, “What did I learn from that? Could that apply to daily life?”

4. Plan your study timetable: There is a misconception that U.S. college life is all about fun and partying. Some international students think they learned more in high school, and that they don’t have to study and get good grades – which may be true for some introductory classes. But I have seen many international students who got good grades in the beginning and failed later in more advanced classes. I was one of them.

After all, you are entering college. Take some time to evaluate your study habits in high school and see what worked. Make a study plan now, and work on training yourself to be self-motivated. In college, you can’t rely on your families or professors to push you – only you are responsible for your education.

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