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US Colleges vs. Schools in Other Countries

differences between American and international schools

Photo of Clemson University, taken by Nicole Hensley

Planning on earning your degree overseas? Whether you’re an American student applying to schools across the pond or an international student with your heart set on an American college, you’re bound to notice several differences between US colleges vs. schools in other countries.

From classes and classmates to homework and socializing, you’re sure to experience a wide range of differences. In order to give you an idea of some of the biggest deviations you can expect we’ve compiled the following list. Read on so you’re prepared to embrace the change, no matter where you chose to study.

Campus Living

When American students picture their lives at college the image that immediately comes to mind is a small dorm room with two beds, two desks and two dressers. For international students, this is a foreign concept.

Unlike American students who have grown up with the notion of “dorm life,” most students from other countries will never experience this particular way of campus living. In fact, though some foreign institutions offer on campus apartments, it is anything but the norm. Students studying in other countries are far more likely to rent a nearby apartment – something American students usually don’t do until their junior or senior year, if at all.

Another area of campus living that differs greatly between US colleges and schools in other countries involves meal plans and eating habits. American students are accustomed to buffet style dining halls where they can take as much or as little food as they want (one reason why American students need to be wary of the freshman 15). In other countries, however, students are usually given one serving and are not expected to go back for seconds.


In American universities and colleges, students can expect to be in class between 12 to 20 hours, weekly. However, a lot of time outside of the classroom will be devoted to study. The reading load between high school and college increases greatly for American students and they are expected to keep up with the course material on their own time.

When in the classroom, American students are expected to participate and engage with the class discussion and professors encourage students to seek them out after class during office hours to further discuss topics covered and upcoming assignments. Although a large part of a student’s grade involves their mid-term and final marks, other elements that are important are class papers, group projects, presentations and participation.

Academics in other countries are quite different. For one thing, on average, students spend a lot more time in class – anywhere from 25-35 hours is normal. On the flip side, they tend to have a lot less homework than American students.

While in class, although some professors will open the discussion up to their students, in most cases they are expected to listen to their professor and take notes. This is especially true in Asian universities. And when it comes to grading, it’s not uncommon for a student’s entire final grade to be based on the result of one final exam.

Social Life

Three of the most prevalent aspects of US college social life are drinking/partying, Greek life and sports. In America, students are not legally allowed to drink until they’re 21 – which means when they hit that magic number in college, they usually hit the ground running. The iconic red-solo-cup-parties are something students around the world equate with American college life.

In other countries, however, the drinking age is more flexible and students have, in many cases, already been drinking for several years. What this translates to is less funnels and keg stands and more chill nights out at a local pub or café.

Then, of course, there’s Greek life – something that is uniquely American. While other universities the world over have clubs and other social groups that students can join, nothing is quite the same as the sororities and fraternities that exist on American campuses. But remember, contrary to what the movies and TV might suggest, Greek life isn’t as omnipresent as some might believe – if you’re not interested in that particular scene, there’s plenty of other options out there.

The last major difference you’re likely to encounter between US colleges and schools in other countries is the level of emphasis placed on college sports. In the US, college sports on most campuses play a major role. Teams are highly competitive and school rivalries are intense. Entire student bodies will flock to games, decked out in their school colors and many student athletes receive scholarships to play.

Most other countries around the world do not hold their college sports teams to such esteemed levels. It’s very unlikely to receive an athletic scholarship and while other universities the world over do have sports teams available for students to join, they’re typically not as elite or all-consuming.

Ready to Study Internationally?

As you begin your international studies and come face to face with some of the differences between US colleges and schools in other countries, it’s important to remember that this is a learning experience. Part of what makes college so exciting is discovering new points of views and ways of learning and living. You might just be surprised, too, at how many things you learn about yourself along the way.

So relax, be flexible and enjoy the ride!

One Response to “US Colleges vs. Schools in Other Countries”

  1. greetingsfrompoland Says:

    Hello to all ! Greetings From Poland. very Good Page !

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