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Your career : let’s talk about college in the USA

by Rose Landau, a former American language assistant at La Bruyère.

As an American exchange student at La Sorbonne Nouvelle, I have noticed many interesting differences between French and American universities.

Like in France, Americans usually begin college the fall after we graduate from High School. However, which school we go to is a complicated decision.

Americans must apply to schools they want to attend, and the universities decide who is admitted based on a long list of factors:which classes a candidate chose to take in high school, the grades he or she received in these classes, SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) scores, extra-curricular activities, essays, letters of recommendation, race, geographic location, intended major (a major is a subject you choose to specialize in)...The standards vary widely. Some schools accept any student with a high school diploma, and some schools like the Ivy League schools accept less than ten percent of students who apply.

It is often said that the most difficult part of one’s college career is being accepted ! This is because American universities are a kind of business. They don’t want students to stop attending before the four years it usually takes to complete a bachelor’s degree because they don’t want to lose the tuition money.

Many American students live on campus, in dorms (dormitories), or if they are lucky, apartments.
My school, the University at Albany, requires all Freshmen (first-year students) to live on campus if they don’t live within a certain radius of the school, which is not unusual.

Freshmen usually come to college with an idea about what they want to study (although some have no idea !), but they usually have to wait a semester to officially [declare a major, and even then they can change their mind. Not all of our classes are in our major. Many students also select a minor, and there are certain classes like math, science, history, etc. that everyone has to take.

Unlike in France, college is thought of as an experience and not just the next level of one’s education.