5 Myths about Life at American Universities

What picture comes to mind when you think of life at an American university or college? When I taught English in France, I was always bombarded by questions from my students about life in the US: Was it really like they show in the movies? Did I ever have time to study between all the parties I went to? How many famous people had I met? Are there really F-R-E-E refills on soda?! Well, let me set you all straight about the stereotypes of studying at university in the USA.

Myth: All American colleges are in big, dangerous cities.

The USA is a large and diverse country where you’ll find cities of all shapes and sizes. Some of the best universities are found far from any big metropolis, like the smaller community colleges (check out this post about the advantages of studying at community colleges). Our partner school, the University of Superior in Wisconsin is located in the northern woods of Wisconsin and the city itself has a population of less than 30,000 people.

Being a “Sconnie” (a person from Wisconsin) myself, I can tell you first hand that these little university towns wouldn’t hurt a fly. You can enjoy the small-town life and explore the outdoors while studying abroad. If you do decide to study in a larger city, you’ll find the campuses have a university police that patrol the area, and just like any city in the world, you have to use common sense and practice a safe lifestyle.

Myth: American schools are all party schools.

You’ve probably seen American films like “Animal House,” where the students seem to always be at frat parties getting drunk and never studying or going to class. But in fact, most universities offer a variety of healthy activities to keep their students active and engaged in campus life. The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs organizes activities almost every night of the week varying from yoga classes to basketball games to art exhibitions, just to name a few.

Also, when choosing a school, you might want to think about your lifestyle, if you are an active person who loves the outdoors, you may enjoy studying in Colorado (check out this post about the outdoor activities available in Denver) more than New York City.

Myth: It is hard to get to know American students or make friends with anyone besides other international students.

While it may seem difficult to get past the language and cultural barrier, making friends with American students is easier than it seems.  You’ll find that American universities are tight-knit communities whose members interact and support each other. At many schools, like the Montana State University in Billings, you’ll find a variety of organizations to join and connect with your fellow classmates, foreign and American alike. Check out the different ways to get involved on campus at MSU.

Myth: American students are not as academically driven in comparison to other countries.

The atmosphere in American classrooms is often more relaxed than in other countries. I studied abroad in France and as the rest of my classmates were busy writing down every word the professor said, I was sitting back, taking it all in and debating with the professor. I was used to American university classes which are much more focused on interaction between the students and teacher, and encourage individual thinking. But that doesn’t mean we’re not driven to succeed; the University of Northern Colorado highlights the achievements of some of its star students. Check out their Academic highlights page to see what their students are up to.

Myth: All American college students are rich and drive sports cars.

If only this had been true when I was going to college! The fact of the matter is that American college students come from a variety of backgrounds and social classes. University in the US is considerably more expensive than in other countries (one year in the US cost me 5,000 USD whereas France only charged me 500 baguettes, I mean Euros), but financial aid and grants from the government make it possible for almost anyone to attend college. While government financial aid is only available to US citizens, foreign students can apply for a variety of scholarships. Check out, for example, the scholarships offered to budding artists and chefs at The Art Institute of Colorado.

So what do you think about life at American universities? Do the myths hide some truth behind them? Have you studied abroad in the US and found other stereotypes to be true? Let us know what you think!