Academic Differences Around the World

The academic environment abroad may vary greatly from DU depending on the type of study abroad program you select. Our Things to Consider page has additional information on finding a program that meets your goals and needs regarding program types and levels of support.


What to Expect

On some programs, most of your classmates might be American students from other U.S. universities and/or other international students. While instructors for these classes may be more used to U.S. students and the U.S. academic system, remember they are likely local instructors and so may have different teaching styles influenced by their own academic systems. In some cases, those classes may feel very similar to DU classes; in others, you could feel a drastic difference in teaching styles.   

On other programs, you may have the chance to directly enroll in the host university, taking classes with local students. In that situation, you will most likely find that the academic system will be very different from what you are used to and may require you to be much more independent in your studies than you may be used to at DU.

Grading abroad may also differ from the U.S. system. As an example, while a 70 may not seem like a particularly good grade in the U.S. system, it would be considered an excellent grade at a British university. You can learn more about grading scales and credit transfer for DUPPs on our Earning Credit page.

Some academic differences you may find:

  • Many undergraduate students at universities abroad specialize in one or two subjects, taking few "general education" or "common core" courses that cover all the arts and sciences.
  • Students tend to receive less personal support from faculty and mentors. As students are expected to engage in reading and study outside of lectures and apart from any required assignments, students must be self-motivated.
  • Modes of instruction may vary considerably; many universities abroad use large lecture classes with smaller seminar meetings attached for discussion.
  • Independent research is frequently required.
  • Exams rarely involve short-answer or multiple choice questions and are more likely to require long essays. 
  • Grading may be less transparent and may be based largely or entirely on one or two large exams or projects; grades equivalent to an A or B may also be much less commonplace. 
  • Accommodations available for learning differences may vary as laws around such differ from country to country, as do levels of institutional support.

For examples of what may be different, check out our videos on studying abroad in Spanish-speaking countries or on direct-enroll programs. 

  • Tips for Academic Success

    While adjusting to a new academic system can be difficult and confusing, we've compiled some tips to help make that transition easier and to empower you to seek out answers when needed:

    • Understand the academic system of the program you've chosen: Is this program based more on a U.S. system or the local system? What are the key differences to be aware of? You can find more information on your specific program brochure as well as in conversation with your OIE Advisor.
    • Read all correspondence from your program: Depending on the level of support of the program you choose, you may get multiple reminders for registration, who to go to for questions etc. OR you may get one notice of all deadlines and you are expected to keep up with them. Make sure to read all correspondence and reach out to your program for clarification early on if you have questions. Your OIE Advisor can help connect you with the program, but we may not have that level of detail on their internal processes. 
    • Connect with your instructors early on: In the first couple of weeks of the semester, we encourage you to connect with each of your instructors to make sure you're clear on expectations and assignments--even for the classes you think you understand well. This also helps you establish a relationship with your instructors so they know who you are and that you are taking your work seriously.
    • Seek out support structures at your program: Does your program offer tutoring opportunities? Are there organized study groups? Is there test prep support? If you get academic accommodations, is it possible to get similar ones abroad and how would you do that? Knowing the resources you have available before you need them can often be key to helping you feel in control of your academics and that you know where to go if you need help.
    • Remember DU resources. Even when 1000s of miles away, the Anderson Academic Commons can provide you with research assistance. You will still have access to its extensive database while abroad and be able to contact a DU research librarian.