Academic Differences: Europe vs the U.S.

When most students dream about studying abroad in Europe, a life of buzzing around on vespas, sipping on fine wine, and walking through ancient castles are things that usually take the imagination for a wild ride! Indeed these fantasies are often a beautiful reality of studying abroad in Europe, and make for some of the most cherished memories. However while mentally preparing yourself for this upcoming time overseas, there are other important aspects that should have some thought thrown their way. One of the most important factors to consider not only in Europe, but ANYWHERE you may study, are the academic differences that you may be presented with at foreign institutions. It is no myth that these differences could be night and day in scale. While you may be a straight ‘A’ student here in the US you could find yourself pulling through with barely a ‘B’ at a place in Spain. European universities are quite different than what we are used to in the US and it is helpful to understand these differences while making preparations. We in the study abroad office at CSULB are here to ensure that you are as prepared and informed as possible before your travels. We’ve asked our incredible student intern and Italy native Giacomo, to enlighten us on just a few of the differences between studying in the US and studying in Europe. Giacomo has studied both at a European university, an American university in Europe, and is now completing his master’s degree in Italian Studies at CSULB.

Venice 2004 Murano

Giacomo:When you take a college course in the United States, you have to go to class every time. If you don’t, absences will negatively affect your grade.”

Giacomo:In Europe college courses mainly take place in big lecture halls. Since the classroom is so big, the professor never gets to know the students and participation does not make the difference in your final grade. Also, office hours may have a very long line of students, so make sure to go to the professor’s office as soon as you can. They normally go on first come-first served basis.  The interaction between the students are less competitive among their classmates. Besides participation, the assignments you are required to complete are written in Italy.”


Giacomo:Not all professors allow students to take midterms. Your grade is your final exam- which can be either written or oral. Oral exams are one-to-one conversations with the professor or the assistants. The best way to prepare for that is studying all the material covered throughout the course, however you won’t find out the questions until you sit in front of the examiner. It may sound scary, but can you imagine how rewarding it feels completing that type of exam!

Also, don’t forget to register for the exam. If you don’t actually sign up to take the exam, you can’t! …Good luck!”

We’ve also asked our wonderful European exchange expert Lauryn White, for any last helpful pieces of advice.

Lauryn's Profile
Lauryn: “Often professors are not as accessible as they are here in the States. Therefore it’s HIGHLY recommended that you get to know some students that are native to the country. Ask them questions, follow how they carry out their university tasks, and learn the groove of studying in Europe like a European!”

Most importantly don’t be afraid. Travel this world with an open heart and an open mind ready to observe, absorb, and in turn radiate everything you learn. Get out there and explore!


Until next time travel and study hard. -Study Abroad Office


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