By Madeleine Taylor (University of Maryland, USA).
So, I really haven’t been keeping up with this blog very well lately and I am about to explain part of the reason why.
The academics here in America could not be more different than back in England. I’ll lay out the differences simply:
- Method of assessment: Here in Maryland I have at least 4 methods of assessment for each of my classes, with participation (attendance, talking in class and sometimes bi-weekly response papers) usually counts for around 20% of your final grade. For me, a massively keen student, participation grades have been great – but if you’re not used to showing up for class then this’ll be a harsh change!
- Volume of work: Obviously with a minimum four assessments instead of the usual two in Manchester there is a lot more to get done here. In Maryland they call it busy work – work that isn’t particularly difficult but that takes a lot of time. This is what has been the most difficult adjustment for me. I have at a minimum seven or eight hours of work for each of my four subjects a week and then on top of that any work I have to do for assessment deadlines. This may not seem like a lot, but compared to the amount of work I did back in Manchester I would say in Maryland I do triple.
- Mid-terms: Almost every class will have some sort of assessment halfway through the semester, and this is usually in the form of an exam. So be prepared to revise more. However sometimes this is an advantage as teachers may choose to only put material learned after the midterm on the final exam, which means less information to cram in when it comes to the last week of the semester!
- Grading: Here is where the sun shines on this so far bleak account. I have been in Maryland for a little over two months now and I have yet to receive any grade below a 92% or an A-. Considering the volume of assessments I’ve had I think this is pretty impressive. And no, this is not me bragging about my intelligence – this is me saying that if you come here and do the work, you will get a good grade. Say goodbye to 65s and 68s.
- Teachers: The teachers here are pretty different. I’ve found that they are much more willing to help you improve if you get a bad grade or even if you just feel a little flustered with the task at hand. They’ll give you extra credit (which is awesome: you can come out of a class with over 100%), or check your drafts, or discuss the lecture topics with you etc. Its not that my lecturers in Manchester won’t do this, its just the my lecturers in Maryland are much more accessible and approachable in these matters – they put the help out there for you to grab, rather than making you seek for it. Maybe this is babying, maybe this isn’t in the university spirit, but I sure appreciate it. They also have no qualms with knowing who you are, how engaged you appear in class and which piece of work you did and applying this to your grade. No anonymous marking here.
- Getting to class: This may just be for me, but Maryland is a campus university and so I live a four minutes walk away from all of my academic buildings (yes, specifics help me sleep longer).
- Breaks: Spring break (a week) is the only break you will get in your semester in America, so don’t expect the same amount of time off we get in the UK.
I hope this has been a comprehensive (and not boring) list for anyone interested in American university academics. Some things may vary institution to institution, but I hope this gives you a good idea of what to expect if you fly out here on an adventure of your own. Do not be put off, things may be different and things may seem harder or more strenuous, but I’ve found the work here to be enjoyable and engaging; anything different is exciting! It is definitely worth it! And now that my mid-terms are over I hope to update more frequently.
Until next time,