American Academic Differences: For Dummies

By Pamilla Kang, UCSD, USA

Welcome to your guide to… academic life in America (and more specifically UCSD).

Werk werk werk 

I’d say that the main difference is the amount of work there is to hand in. For example, this quarter I have a lab report and two homework assignments to hand in every week (urgh). I also have a quiz every other week for one of my classes, which count for 40% of my final grade so they’re pretty important (urghhhhh). This means that you have to stay on top of things, and not just leave your work until your exams at the end of the semester! Although this can be really challenging, and some weeks I get quite fed up at the amount of work, I’ve found it a much better system since you learn things week by week rather than trying to cram all your revision in before your one exam…

The good old library behind some trees (btw the prison in the film Inception was based on the design of the UCSD library hahahahaa)

Classes and modules

Even though there’s a lot more work, the minimum amount of modules each quarter is only three! I’m usually used to doing six modules each semester at Manchester, so doing half of the amount of classes than normal means that I find more time to be able to do the homework and study.

The biggest class difference is that there are no podcasts!!! You also have to go into class to hand in your homework assignments, which is unlike just having a seminar or tutorial to hand your work in. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I honestly podcasted every single class during my second year, and so it’s a big change to have to go into uni a lot more.

Oh I almost forgot, enrolling in classes can be stressful here! I don’t know if this is true for other universities in America, but UCSD give priority to UCSD students when enrolling, and not exchange students. So for most of my classes, I can only enrol in them the day that the quarter starts, and not before. It hasn’t been too much of an issue for me, as there has been enough space in my classes so that I can enrol just before. However, this can be a big issue if you need to do a lab class, as lab fills up fast. So try and enrol early!


On top of homework, there are midterm exams, as well as final exams. Although this means more studying, it’s much easier revising for an exam every three or four weeks because there’s less material to revise. It’s also slightly less stressful having exams that count around 25% each, than just having your final grade all depend on one exam.

Something that I don’t like here, is that I don’t get past papers to revise from. Since I’m studying physics, which is all about practicing questions, I found it harder to revise for exams and I often feel unprepared as I can’t do any practice papers. However, the questions in exams are easier than they are back home, which makes up for no past papers!

Kids actually go to school in yellow buses, wow just like the movies

So in general, there is a lot more studying and work to do here, but to be honest, I much prefer it. It can be so much less stressful than just having one really hard exam at the end of your semester. Also, to keep on top of things, I try and do my homework and studying in the week so that I have most of the weekend off. This means that I work pretty hard in the week and don’t go out much, but then I have the weekend to do what I want, which is a much better routine than sitting and having to podcast lectures in Manchester! I never thought I’d say this, but I’m really enjoying being a better student.

Leave a Reply