By Eleanor, at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
While it may sometimes feel like one long holiday, you obviously go on a study abroad year to STUDY at your host university. Much like the other aspects of my stay in the US, there were things I preferred at Rutgers and things I preferred at Manchester.
The academic culture was somewhat different, from my experience studying a social science degree. Rather than seminars and lectures, all my teaching was done in classrooms of 20-60 students; think more like high school. I had around 11 contact hours a week, and while the content itself was often easier than I was used to, there were more assignments to keep up with such as weekly quizzes, and much more weight was put onto participation. I was not used to constant assessment and having to contribute every session so this took some adjustment. The method of assessment varied from teacher to teacher even in the same department, more so than I found at Manchester. For example, one teacher had a ‘call sheet’ of everyone in my class that was a different order each lesson, to ensure everyone contributed at least once a lesson, while others left it up to you to remember that participation was 15% of your grade. Each teacher had their own policy when it came to references, unlike the Manchester Politics department which uses one style guide for essays. Teachers were generally helpful and responsive to emails, especially when it came to asking for extensions which were granted more frequently than at Manchester.
I would argue one of the main academic differences was the campus system. At Manchester, most people have their entire degree on the main campus on Oxford Road, which is pretty straightforward to understand, despite the winding labyrinth that is Main Library. At Rutgers, sort of like how UoM’s Main and North campuses were once separate universities, the university is spread over 4 different campuses. Around a 4-mile radius, divided by the Raritan river, are Livingston, Busch, College Avenue and Cook/Douglass. Livingston hosts the business school, sociology and psychology buildings, Busch is home to science and engineering, College Ave is in the town center of New Brunswick with general classrooms, media and communications, and the main library, Cook campus has marine science labs, agricultural studies, health and nutrition, and finally Douglass has the political science department, historical women’s residential college, and the performing arts school. While obviously not a comprehensive description of the “who’s who and what’s what”, I hope you can sense the division of subjects between campuses. Each campus has its own libraries, computer labs, food courts and cafes, and distinct “vibes”. There are free Rutgers branded buses to ferry students between these campuses. With a similar undergraduate population to UoM, Rutgers feels somewhat disconnected, in comparison, between students; for example, I had all of my classes on Douglass, meaning I mainly just saw my classrooms there and my home, with places like Busch campus seeming like another world.
To fulfil Visa requirements, I had to take four 3-credit classes at a minimum each semester, and while I chose mainly classes related to my degree programme, I had the freedom to step into other disciplines such as media studies. I chose my Autumn semester modules in the spring before I arrived at Rutgers, by emailing my choices around Easter time to the Rutgers staff as I wasn’t in their system yet. This was useful as they could override any need for prerequisite classes. However, it was much more difficult to enroll for the second semester. As the system saw us now as technically first years, we got last pick of all of the classes, over a week later than our peers in our academic year at Rutgers. It was therefore quite difficult to find classes relevant to me that all worked in a timetable, especially as now we had to email the course leaders for desired classes to give us permission on the system given our lack of Rutgers prerequisites. However, I managed to find classes I really enjoyed outside my comfort zone, so I suppose everything happened for a reason!
Overall, while I obviously had issues with course selection and took some adjusting to the greater emphasis on participation, I really enjoyed the academic side of my year abroad. The teaching was, on the whole, excellent, and I can’t fault the quality of the Rutgers University Political Science department; I even had a British professor who had previously taught at Oxford University! So, if you love to learn and are considering studying abroad in the US, you would have a great time at Rutgers.