As an international student from India, US culture was not the only thing I had to adjust to. The academics and education system in US are very different than that in India. It is more hands-on interactive and you are expected to be an independent learner. Original thinking is appreciated and you are encouraged to actively take part in discussions. Here you will be expected to put in an increased amount of time and effort into your studies.
Here are few things to keep in mind regarding the academic system:
My classes have 20-30 students maximum as opposed to the huge classes (50) I had in India. And the thing that I admire most is the openness between you and your professor. Professors are easily approachable and friendly. As opposed to the culture in India, the classroom setting here is relatively informal. Most professors also ask you to call them by their first name and one can openly (but respectfully) disagree with them. One of my professors baked and brought cake for us whenever we had critique. He even cooked us a full breakfast with pancakes, French toast, and sausage for our final critique!
One of the best parts of education in the US is that there is no compulsion to make a firm decision about what subject you want to study before you start college. Some students take several semesters or even several years before they declare a major. I know students who started out in a different major and later switched to something entirely different. One of my friends switched from biomedical to design after almost completing her biomedical degree.
Students can also, for example, major in business while taking minors in web design or/and music. This flexibility gives students the opportunity to explore different subjects before making a firm decision. Even if you know the major you want to pursue, it's always worth selecting a variety of classes to give your schedule a little diversity.
Don't be afraid to try new things and fail. Push yourself and discover your new limits. Find who you are. College is the last time in life where it will be okay to fail and easy to get back up. Try something new only to realize it's not for you...or maybe you do find something that was meant for you.
Assignments are due throughout the semester
Course grades usually don't depend on one final examination, but on a number of projects submitted over an entire semester. Some classes may require you to write papers every week, others may have group projects you have to work on with your classmates, there maybe presentations you do or weekly quizzes..etc.
This does make it easier to earn a good grade, as your entire final grade does not depend on one final exam. However, it also makes it easy to fall behind, if you do not keep up with each project/exam.
Importance of Participation
In most courses, class participation counts towards your final grades. Professors grade you on how much you contribute to the class discussion. One of the reasons for this is that professors value more your understanding of course material than your ability to memorize it. Understanding is more important than memorization!
One should keep this in mind and be sure to make it a point to contribute to class discussions from the beginning of the course.
Plagiarism is a big deal
Well, everyone knows plagiarism is bad. However, international students coming from different educational systems may not have a clear understanding of what it means. In the US, plagiarism is a big deal, and it is very important that all work you submit is your original. Copying from another source, even with the best of intentions, can result in you failing the class. Duplicating your own work (i.e., submitting almost exactly the same work for two different assignments) may also be considered plagiarism in some scenarios. You can read about RIT's policy on academic integrity and plagiarism here: https://www.rit.edu/academicaffairs/policiesmanual/d080
I was never taught how to quote, cite or paraphrase a source in school. We were taught to listen to our teachers and memorize what they say. If we wrote our answers exactly the way the teachers said, the better chance we had of getting an A. Thus, when I was asked to write journals and research papers in my freshman writing class, I was very confused as what constituted as plagiarism and what did not. I approached my professor regarding the same and he was very helpful and understanding.
It is important that international students ask for information and support from their professors on how to avoid plagiarism. This is nothing to be afraid of.
If you do not understand the concept of plagiarism fully, please approach your professor!
Too many choices!
With exhaustive options for classes, events, clubs, activities, extracurriculars offered, it can be very overwhelming to choose and balance all your activities. For example, RIT offers over 300 clubs. You won't be able to be part of all the clubs that interest you. Go to a meeting or two for the clubs you are interested in and then decide which ones you are most passionate about!
There are resources on campus to help you make the right decisions and choices. Talk to your academic advisor, your program chair, and professors. They are their to guide you and advise you on decisions related to academics and future career plans. Your seniors are a great resource, as they have already gone through the similar dilemmas.
Time management and organization is the key! If you plan well and organize all your work well,you can easily balance between academic work and extra-curricular activities. Some people make lists, some people have a physical planner. I personally use Google calendar for reminders and keep a small checklist on my phone. But always keep in mind that your academics come first; that is what you have come here to do!
My academic experience at RIT has been great and I look forward to the coming years. While it may initially take time to adjust to the academic system, once you do adjust, you will find that its an environment that fosters growth and all round development.