The University of Iowa

The American academic system differs from all others in the world. To succeed in it, you will need to learn how it is organized and how it works. You will need to understand what is expected of students. Listed below are some ideas and suggestions to keep in mind as you begin your studies. You will learn more of the informal rules for academic success as you take courses and talk with experienced students in your field of study. The more you talk with experienced students, the sooner you will be able to develop a helpful understanding of the way your academic department functions.

Understand Academic Assumptions & Expectations

In the U.S. educational system, education is viewed as a productive activity. It is a process of acquiring more information about and a better understanding of things that are not necessarily known or completely understood by anyone. Therefore, being able to synthesize (that is, bring tougher and mix in a new way) materials from many sources and to develop your own ideas and viewpoints are especially important if you want to achieve academic success.

In addition, understanding what is expected for each of your class is important. You may find different types of classes and different instructors will have completely different expectations. For example, for a class that all the points are earned by examinations, you will need to study harder for the exams in order to get a good grade. On the other hand, in classes that participation takes up a bigger portion of the grade, you will need to actively engage in classroom discussion in order to succeed in that class. At the beginning of the semester, each instructor will distribute course syllabus. The syllabus will offer general introduction to the course, how grades are distributed, proportion of each assignment, policy for the class and college, as well as the schedule for the whole semester. Make sure to review your syllabus to know the expectations of each course at the beginning of the semester.

Seeking Help

Seeking help proactively is essential to academic success in the U.S. academic system. While there are a lot of resources available on campus, it it your responsibility as a student to use those resources, and to ask for help when (or even before) you encounter difficulties. Therefore, seeking help is a sign that you are taking responsibility for your own study. Don't wait until the last minute to ask for help. The earlier you start the process, the more likely you are to succeed. 

Develop New Study Skills

Because of the different assumptions and expectations in the U.S. educational system, you might need to develop some new study skills to cope with your academic challenges. Depending on your class, you might need to develop critical thinking skills, reading skills, note-taking skills, or writing skills in order to success in your classes.

Get to Know the Policy

Knowing the policy of the class is another element to help you succeed academically. For example, you might want to know what the policy for absence is if you are sick and cannot go to class. Learning about plagiarism, and how to avoid plagiarism, is another important topic for academic success.

Talk to Your Instructors

Each professor and Teaching Assistant (TA) will have designated time as office hours to answer students’ questions. Let the instructors know if you are having difficulties with your classes. Visit the office hours with your questions ready.

Evaluate Your Expectation

Keep in mind that a period of adjustment to a new educational system is necessary before you will be able to perform the best of your ability. Although you might have an initial expectation coming into a class, it is good to reevaluate your expectation after a week, or a month into the class, so that you can set more realistic goals for the class.

Time Management

You want to manage your time effectively so you can achieve in all or most of your classes. Usually, it is recommended two spend 2 hours outside of class to study for every hour in the classroom. Therefore, for a 3 semester-hour class, you will need to spend 6 hours outside of class to study. If you already have an A in one class, and you are having a C+ on the other class, you might want to spend a little more time for the class on C+ to get your grade-point-average (GPA) up. You will also want to set aside time for exercise and rest in order to stay healthy to continue your study.

Utilize Academic Support Resources

If you are experiencing difficulties with your classes, go and seek help. There are plenty of resources on campus that can help you get back on track. You can go to the office hours of your instructors; there are help labs and free tutoring for some classes; there are workshops to coach you develop skills you need to succeed academically; and there are also online resources, as well as people you can chat with to figure out what will work the best for you. For undergraduate students, please visit the Tutor Iowa website for more information on supplemental instruction, tutoring, and other academic support resources. For graduate students, please talk to your instructors and academic advisor if you encounter difficulties with your study. Be proactive to seek and utilize the academic support resources available on campus.