The View From Campus – Making The Academic Adjustment To Life at a U.S. University

This month we hear from Kevin Beisser, Senior Immigration Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, on the important topic of how international students can best make the transition, academically, to life on a U.S. college campus.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?

A: Vibrant, welcoming, multicultural, convenient, quality

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?

A: Academic Excellence and our graduate’s success.

Alumnus Satya Nadella the current CEO of Microsoft, who at the time was an international student from India, received his master’s degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?

A: UWM is home to Wisconsin’s largest online education program, with more than 850 classes and 40 fully online certificate and degree programs. The university is also home to the state’s largest collaboration of health sciences, nursing and public health programs through its Partners for Health initiative. It also boasts one of the world’s top film programs. Other major programs include business, engineering, education and information studies.

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college/ How international is your institution?

A: China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, & Iran. 

Q: How does your institution use an IELTS result in the Admission Process? 

A: The IELTS test is used as evidence of English Proficiency.  At the undergraduate level a student would need a score of 5.0 or better for full admission and at the graduate level a score of 6.5 or higher is required. 

Q: What is the most common challenge new international students face when adapting to the academic environment at U.S. colleges? 

A: One common challenge is fatigue.  If you are a non-native English speaker, even if you are proficient in English, spending 24 hours using that language can be tiring as your brain is constantly working.  Combine that with the normal stresses of moving to a new environment and studying and you will be exhausted at the end of the day.  Hence, focusing on your health is crucial in your success at the beginning and throughout your collegiate career. Sufficient sleep, healthy eating and exercise are essential.

Q: How much time should students be studying for each class they have?

A: Generally, students should expect 2-3 hours of studying for each credit hour they are enrolled in. 

Q: How is the classroom style of professors so different in the U.S. from what most students have experienced back home? 

A: U.S. academic culture requires class participation which can be a challenge to many students who are not used to this style of education.  Classroom styles can also be more informal than what students are used to in their home countries.   

Q: How seriously do U.S institutions take cases of academic integrity violations (plagiarism, cheating, etc.) on campus?

A: Very seriously!  Taking credit for someone else’s work or cheating at all U.S colleges and universities will result in discipline ranging from failure of the course to permanent expulsion from the institution or system.  There are two common American adages that are the best advice I can give to students when it comes to academic integrity the first is: “Honesty is the best policy” and the second is: “When in Doubt ask questions”. 

Q: How can international students best prepare to avoid potential problems with adapting to their new academic environment on campus? 

A: My best recommendation is to be healthy as mentioned above and try to be involved as possible.  The more people you meet the more resources you will have to ask questions.  In addition, staying busy also helps you avoid the pitfalls of culture shock.  Make sure you ask a lot of questions, Americans are very eager to help others, but they typically wait to be asked rather than assume someone needs help.  The same goes for your instructors, they will all have office hours to help with any issues you may be facing in their course.  Make sure you utilize that opportunity to clarify anything that you do not understand. 

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