Studying in the US: pros & cons

22 jun

Autorica teksta: Imman Merdanović

Much like the rest, inspired by the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of,” I have purchased my one-way ticket to New York back in 2013 and settled into the journey of my life; that which began at St. Lawrence University and that which has given me the opportunity to enjoy all the perks of studying at a private liberal arts college on a full scholarship. Now that I am a rising senior, I am excited to share with you what I have learned about the US educational system; its pros and cons and the way it compares to that of BiH. And do not get me wrong! I am by no means an expert in either educational systems and am not here to preach to you about just how great the US is. I am here to give you my take on what I have observed during the past three years in the US and I wholeheartedly hope that my experience will help make yours even better. If you are in the process of applying to a US college- read on! If you are unsure of whether or not the US is a good fit— read on! And if you are just curious about the way colleges work “up there”— you too are welcome!

So, lets begin!

Most US colleges consist of a number of academic buildings that spread over a couple of acres and together form what is known as  “campus”. Having said that, most students live in dorms on campus where they have access to the gym, all sorts of sport facilities, theaters, dance studios, libraries, professors’ offices, administrative buildings, classrooms, dining halls, restaurants, lounges etc. A US college campus is really a town on its own, which in itself is much different to what we have in BiH.

College typically lasts four years. One academic year is split into two semesters: Fall semester, which runs September through December and Spring semester which runs January through May. Students take four classes each semester (yes!!) and can expect to have homework/group projects/presentations/essays/quizzes and tests every day, very similar to what we have gone through in high school. And while taking only four classes may sound silly, the workload is so demanding that a fifth course would likely leave most of us devastated!

Key difference here: students are not required to chose their profession upon entering an undergrad institution: they are given two years to explore by taking a wide range of classes from all sorts of departments before finally declaring their major at the end of their sophomore (second) year. If a student likes more than one field (ea. mathematics and biology), he/she can pursue a double major, in which case he/she will become qualified in both fields— kind of like graduating from two different colleges in BiH. This is a tougher and a more demanding process, but students are increasingly choosing to do so. After all, becoming proficient in two fields in only four years for the same amount of money is a pretty sweet deal!

Every student makes their own selection of courses out of a list of more than 300 different classes, in addition to the liberal arts requirements, which promise to make every single student a well-rounded individual upon graduation. Students are required to jiggle math, natural sciences, foreign languages and humanities together with whatever other technical classes they are taking. So if you are a pre-medicine major, you will still have to take a foreign language (even if you absolutely hate it!) because it is believed to make you more well-rounded. Well, if you think about it— a doctor who offers treatment in English and French is much cooler anyways…

  Students are constantly graded and all grading is done online. Final grade is cumulative and calculated after final exams are taken at the end of each semester. All students take finals at the same time and are not allowed to re-take any of them (so no July deadlines). Because of the cumulative grading system, failing your final exam does not normally equal failing that entire class, unless you really screwed up all FOUR- months’ -worth of projects. And if you haven’t screwed up- voila! You get four months of freedom in the summer and a month around Christmas.

Everything in the classroom is digital (for the most part). We are allowed to bring food and laptops into the classroom: American professors trust you with their guts, but once they catch you cheating or disrespecting them…that will probably be your last time. In fact, the whole student-teacher relationship is much different. Obviously, we respect them but we also see them as friends. We hang out at their place, grab coffee together and talk about anything that crosses our minds. By no means do we fear them or, worse yet, hate them: something I remember being the case back in high school in Bosnia.

Academic integrity is of an extreme importance. Plagiarism and any other form of cheating are highly punishable and worry of expulsion. Students are highly encouraged to study abroad while in college and often times hold a student job on campus for pocket money. Internships are also a big component of one’s college experience and most US students take advantage of this during summers, when they translate their theoretical knowledge into practice through an internship.

One of the key differences is the extracurricular component which is highly emphasizes at all US academic institutions, including high school. American students have a chance to join  varsity teams and compete at a collegiate level, meaning practices twice a day, meets, races and games in and out of town and a very demanding schedule. Most students are also members of at least two student organizations, which range from Model United Nations and Amnesty International, to fashion club, photography club, dance club etc, and most US colleges offer more than 100 such organizations. Plenty of opportunities for self-growth and networking.

To sum up, here is my ultimate list of pros and cons of studying in the US.

PROS:

  • Availability of resources: intellectual and material. At any time!
  • Modern facilities: labs, theaters, thecnology and all else is outstanding.
  • Professors are super friendly and super helpful. Out of this world!
  • Students all live together, study together and take classes together.
  • It’s THE college experience (frat parties included)!
  • Early independence: students move away from home at 18 and (many)  get student jobs right away.
  • The abundance of networking, paid study abroad programs and internships.
  • It is much easier to find a job after graduation.
  • Extracurriculars: you can still do what you love..and do it kind of full-time ?
  • The opportunity to become professional in two fields at once (double majors).
  • You are always on top of your work, because you have no other option, so when finals roll in, you are all set.. hopefully!
  • Finals are not as stressful. Once you are done, you have four months to relax.
  • You know exactly when an academic year begins and ends. If you work hard enough you’ll have it all done within four years exactly, or by the time you turn 23. No unnecessary extensions, extra deadlines and struggles.
  • The upward mobility. Seriously though! If you are smart, they’ll recognize it. They’ll reward it, no matter who you are or where you come from.
  • The whole system is very structured, very organized.
  • You get in if you deserve to get in. That’s it! Mom, dad and auntie cannot help you. Sorry, no pulling strings here (amen).
  • The US educational system is very rewarding. Scholarships are available for the best. In other words— no worries, they will make your education possible if you work hard enough.

From a standpoint of an international student, I would probably have much more to say in terms of ‘cons.’ But looking at it objectively, these are the cons (I know, it’s a short list):

CONS:

  • Expensive! My tuition is $65,000 PER YEAR. Books alone are between $200- $700 per semester. Not all Americans can afford that either and colleges have basically become selective based on ones financial standing.
  • The system is very demanding. You have no time to relax from work. Not even for a day. No, you cannot just Netflix and chill and do it tomorrow. Dude, don’t even try!
  • Some students find it hard to move away from home. Some prefer to live with their parents, making their high school to college transition a demanding task.
  • You are busy ALL DAY, EVERY DAY.  Morning training, classes, labs, three meetings, evening class, dance class…oh, and advisor’s meeting. Oh, don’t forget to eat, please. 
  • Required classes are sometimes easier than anticipated, yet you have to do them (ugh, I hated that easy philosophy class..but hey, it crossed off the ‘logical reasoning’ requirement).
  • Because you have to chose your own classes kind of alone, you may feel stuck sometimes and not understand the requirements fully.

There you go! As hard as I try, I simply cannot come up with any more cons. Remember, this is my take on the US educational system, so forgive me for any bias. I absolutely LOVE the opportunity I have been given and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. And I hope those of you trying to decide will ultimately head West, too. And keep in mind— if you don’t like it, you can always come back! ?

Good luck!

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