Destination USA: Academic Culture at US Universities

Destination USA
US campuses are very strict about their honour code of conduct, binding students to follow the institution’s rules related to academic integrity/ honesty, cheating, and plagiarism.

We will continue our discussion from the last few columns and talk about US academic culture. International students starting their higher studies at US universities and colleges should expect and be prepared for a new academic environment and culture upon their arrival at campus.

Informal, student-centered, applied, practice-oriented, adhering to a strict code of conduct and academic integrity, and using continuous evaluation and participatory learning methods are some of the key and distinct features of the US academic system.

On being enrolled in the programme and before or after arrival on campus, the student will be assigned an academic adviser. It is important that the student sets up a meeting with the adviser to discuss their major/minor, course registration, and other programme-related requirements. Keep in touch with the adviser over the course of the semester and programme.

Enrolling in courses is the responsibility of the students in most cases. Carefully choose the type of courses and number of credits to enroll in each semester. Each course requires a great deal of input and effort from a student, so taking too many credits may prove difficult. Also, it might benefit a student to choose a balance of introductory and advanced courses, depending on the course offerings in the semester.

In classroom, a student is expected to be the centre of the learning, taking responsibility to show up on time, participate in discussion (by both listening and sharing), submit assignments by the deadline, ask questions, and assess his/her own performance.

The syllabus for each course, along with course plan, readings, and required and optional textbooks, will be shared with the student at the beginning of the semester. In general, the libraries on campus do not carry many copies of the textbooks, so a student may need to buy books (either new or used) from the university bookstore, outside bookstore, or online.

US campuses are very strict about their honour code of conduct, binding students to follow the institution’s rules related to academic integrity/ honesty, cheating, and plagiarism. Please make sure to visit your college/university’s website to read the code of conduct.

Overall, it is very much up to a student to turn their academic experience into an enriching one through right choice of coursework, hard work, integrity, and direction while studying at a US campus.

– Monika Setia (Regional Officer and EducationUSA Adviser at US – India Educational Foundation, based at the US Consulate General Hyderabad)


Q. Our daughter plans to apply for undergraduate programs in US universities for Fall 2020. Can you please advise from whom should we take the letter of recommendation? Also, how are the letters to be sent to the US university? – G Jyothi

A. Letters of recommendation, sometimes also called letters of support or reference letters, are a critical piece of the undergraduate applications to US universities. In general, higher education institutions in the United States require letters from one school counsellor and sometimes one or two school teachers.  Some institutions also accept additional recommendations from coaches or other recommenders.  In cases where a school counsellor is not available, students may request either the Principal or another teacher nominated by the Principal to write the letter.  Recommendations should not be written by direct family members.

While filling the online application form for a US university, students are asked to provide names and email addresses of their recommenders. An automated email is sent to the recommender through this online system, with a link when a letter can be completed online or uploaded. Some institutions may request a hard copy of the letter, in which case the letter of recommendation should be printed on the letterhead of the recommender or the school, sealed in an envelope, signed across the flap, and posted to the designated address provided by the university. Reference letters are expected to be confidential and so students should generally waive the right to read the letter when asked in the online application form.

Q. I have got admission in Fall 2019 in MS programme. When must the SEVIS fee be paid? How much is the fee? — Suchit Reddy

A. SEVIS stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. SEVIS, administered by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is an internet-based system that maintains data on foreign students and exchange visitors before and during their stay in the United States. The SEVIS fee must be paid in time to ensure that the payment can be deposited and recorded in SEVIS prior to the scheduled visa interview for your student visa. The interviewing consular officer will confirm that the fee has been paid by accessing SEVIS. To allow for adequate processing time the fee must be paid:

• At least three business days prior to the visa interview date if paying electronically

• At least 15 business days prior to the scheduled visa interview if submitting payment through regular mail. (This time frame allows adequate time for the fee payment to be received at the DHS address listed on the Form I-901, deposited, and recorded in SEVIS.)

• Be sure to add local mail processing time to this processing estimate for accuracy

For more information about the SEVIS programme, visit
Students should take a note that starting June 24, 2019, all students are required to pay a new and increased SEVIS fees. For F and M international students, the fee has increased from $200 to $350. For some categories of J visa, the fee has been increased from $180 to $200. For further details about SEVIS fee changes, please visit


Every question has an answer. And ‘Destination USA’ will strive to provide the right answer to all those youngsters who dream of studying in the US.

Mail your questions and doubts to to have subject matter experts answer them, right from the degree and programme of study you can pursue to what the application process entails, on universities, how to prepare resumes, financing your studies and even how it is like to live and study in the US, all are welcome.