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10 Ways Being a Student in the US is Different Than in Russia


Being a student in the U.S. is different in a lot of ways than what I experienced back in Russia. Classes are taught differently, schools are run differently, and grades are doled out differently - some for the good and some for the bad. Here are the top 10 things I've had to adjust to as a student in America. Would they be as different for you?

1. Your grades are private


Louis Shackleton bucks the trend and posts his first semester grades

While in the U.S. students’ grades are not revealed to the whole class, in Russia it is the opposite. It is common for a Russian professor to announce students’ grades publicly in the presence of the whole class. It is also common for Russian professors to put a list of students’ names and grades next to the names on their office door, so everyone at the university can see the students’ grades.

» Read more about why Americans don’t share their grades publicly

2. Your parents are not involved in your academics

Another policy in line with the previous point is the habit of colleges in Russia to call or write letters to students’ parents if students do not do well academically. This is what American students would probably take as a violation of their privacy.

3. Notetaking is optional


Students in a seminar-style class, not taking notes (Photo: Marcos Ojeda)

Many Russian professors require that students take notes during the lecture or seminar. They often tell students what exactly to write down, and if they see someone is not taking notes they may ask the student to leave the classroom. In an American classroom it’s usually your choice what you want to write down or not.

4. No exam determines your whole grade

Exams in Russia are certainly more stressful than in the U.S., because in many cases a final exam is worth 90 or 100 per cent of the grade. The exam format is similar for all majors and class years. During the exam, a student receives a few random questions based on the content of the entire course, and often has to answer the questions orally in a one-to-one conversation with the professor.

» Read more about how exams and grading are different in the U.S.

5. Classes can contain students from different years, and different majors

Unlike in the U.S., in Russia, you will never see students of different class years in the same class. All students, after they have been admitted to a college, are assigned to groups according to their major and class year. Students then attend classes with the same group until they graduate.

6. Your academic decision-making requires, and receives, help

In the U.S., academic advisors play a crucial role in helping students make all kinds of academic decisions. In Russian universities, there are no academic advisors, simply because there is no need for them. Russian students cannot choose what courses to take. Colleges together with the government develop a program of study for each major compulsory for all students pursuing that major.

» Find out the top ways academics are different in the U.S.

7. Textbooks are EXPENSIVE


Photo: Eunice (ejchang on Flickr)

Although Russian students experience some lack of freedom in shaping their college education, they are better off than American students when it comes to textbooks. Russian universities provide all students regardless of whether they receive financial aid or not with free books through universities’ libraries.

8. Financial aid can be given based on your need, not just your qualifications

Speaking about financial aid, Russian universities do not normally offer need-based financial aid. Only orphans are awarded a tuition waiver. Unlike in the schools across the U.S., all financial aid in Russian schools is merit-based.

» How do American universities determine financial aid awards?

9. You take significantly fewer classes

About half of the courses that Russian students take in universities are evaluated on pass or fail scale. Students take such courses in addition to four or five graded courses, so the average number of courses students take each semester is about twice as big as the normal course load in American colleges.

10. There’s less … ummm … “collaboration”

There is something about the Russian culture that is responsible for students’ tendency to collaborate in many situations in which American students don’t, for example, during exams. As students progress from their first year to their last, they develop more and more creative ways of “helping” each other without being caught by professors.

Do you agree with my top ten? What has been or would be most different for you?
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