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FAQs for Students Starting School in the US: What to wear, where to live, how to study, and much more

We know it's not always that easy to find things on our site (sorry :/ ), but over the past three years we've covered just about anything an incoming student might need to know, from life in the dorms to getting along with Americans to how to avoid a plagiarism charge. Here are some of what we consider the must-read stories for anyone about to start their first year in the U.S.

If you have a question we didn't address here, let us know in the comments! We'll either find you a story on our site that can help or, if we don't have it already, go out and get you the answer.

What's the best general advice for an incoming student?

"Always ask questions, otherwise you don’t get what you want – or at least, otherwise people won’t know what you want."

From: 5 Freshman Mistakes We Made That You Should Avoid

Where will I be living?


From: Take a Tour Around My Typical American Dorm Room

"To live with another family and make all the compromises to your lifestyle is tough. To rent an apartment, whether alone or together, requires a lot."

From: Host Family, Apartment or Dorm? Picking a Place to Live

What's it like to speak/study in English all the time?

"My high school Chinese teacher always reminded us to not tell readers everything, but rather to leave space for their “reconstruction” of our words. This does not work in the U.S., where you are expected to be very explicit in making your arguments and not make assumptions without fully explaining them."

From: The Best Advice I Ever Got for Writing in English: "Treat the Professors Like Idiots"

"I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t remember the word: raisin. I felt my face was burning, but I also knew I had to cope with the problem. "

From: Why You Should Never be Embarrassed to Speak a Foreign Language

What will classes be like?

"The U.S. education style is definitely more interactive; in most courses, class participation counts toward your final marks."

From: Top 5 Differences About Academics in the US

"In my three years at a Russian university, I did less reading assigned as homework than I have to do in one year here at my American college."

From: Two Russians Discussing American Education

"Part of being a star pupil is ... the personality skills that let you put yourself out there taking risks. Somebody who is willing to try to formulate an answer to a question even if she knows her English isn’t going to be terrific."

From: Professors Like Good Writers, Risk-takers

What will I eat?

The Furman dining hall
The Furman dining hall

From: Spoiled for Dining Options on Campus

"When I came to America, it was hard for me to adjust to the bland, mild taste of pastas, pizzas and sandwiches. Every now and then, my taste buds started craving the more spicy chicken, beef, curry and green chilies."

From: The Quest for Desi, Halal Food in America

What do people wear?

Students wearing Columbia University sweatshirts. Creative Commons photo by Flickr user airsoenxen
Students wearing Columbia University sweatshirts. Creative Commons photo by Flickr user airsoenxen

From: What to Wear on Your First Day at a US College (Creative Commons photo by Flickr user airsoenxen)

Will I make friends?

"I’m too busy to go out of my way to try and make friends with people of specific demographics. I’m friends with whomever comes across my path."

From: The Truth: Americans Reveal What They Really Think of International Students

"Friendship in America can assume various gradients of depth and commitment, yet still be deemed as friendship. A person you say hi to occasionally can be labeled a friend. A person you collaborate with on one class project can be a 'friend.'"

From: The Complications of Friendship in America

How will people react to someone from my country/religion?

"I had expected America to be a place where I had to stand up and speak up in defense of my values and principles but I found myself standing tall effortlessly– proud of who I am and of my origin."

From: Are Foreign Students Stereotyped?

Muslim students:

"It’s more on media. People are nice. In general people are nice, there are just one or two people here or there who might give you trouble."

From: We Are Not Terrorists: Muslim Experiences on Campus

"I strove to combat their wrong generalizations of Islam and my country with my own personal thoughts and beliefs. "

From: Some Hard Realities of Studying Abroad as an Afghan Student

Asian students:

"I am not afraid to talk and I am always willing to ask questions, but sometimes I am afraid of people’s reactions when I talk. Sometimes being an Asian and having the accent that I have has put me in uncomfortable situations."

From: The Time I Was Told to Go Back To Your Own Country and Improve Your English

African students:

"The media has conditioned Americans to think of Africa in the context of the exotic. If it’s not wild animals strutting leisurely against the background of picturesque plains, it’s mud huts, famished children, wars or despotic rulers."

From: Navigating an Endless Web of Stereotypes

How much will I have to "Americanize"?

"In order not to be isolated again, I forced myself to learn how to dress up, to go to parties, how to drink and to dance like everyone else in the group ... However, at that moment, I suddenly recognized how I had been holding onto an incorrect concept of 'being American.'"

From: What Does it Mean to "Be American" As a Chinese Student?

"My first moment of culture shock in the U.S. wasn’t about food, language, academics, or the tendency for American students to drop a pop culture reference every other sentence. It actually came from going to a frat party, and seeing, for the first time, a couple making out."

From: Hookup Culture in the US

"Americans seem to complain about anything and everything. They see injustice everywhere and are determined not to be victims of it. "

From: How to Complain Like an American to Get What You Deserve

How will I be affected by the experience?

"For me, college has not been a place where I discovered myself. It is a place where I lost myself to the questions in my head. If Christianity was forced on Zimbabweans during colonialism, why do people still practice it? Should I wear my hoodie tonight? Is she attractive or am I attracted to girls?"

From: Just When I Learn the Answers, They Change the Questions

"The new life that we create in America is solely our own independent doing. We choose every bit of it and we define every second of it ourselves. We fall, we make mistakes, and we learn. All on our own. We discover ourselves in ways we never have before."

From: I Learned to Fend for Myself and Gained a New Home in Return