This informal CPD article ‘Study habits for US college success’ was provided by UES Education, specialists in international university and school admissions, working with top schools across the UK and Europe to provide a bespoke service for those who want the best possible application support in the UK.
In school, students are supported by parents, teachers, and tutors. This is a great way to set them up for success, but students also need to develop their individual study habits for a smooth transition into university. Teachers and schools should encourage students to reflect on how they work best and to develop independent study skills. Additionally, US universities have broad curricula, so students may need to be prepared to study and learn in novel ways.
Most US university students will be required to take a writing course, or at least complete lots of written assignments. Students who aren’t taking any essay subjects at A-Level should be aware of this and develop writing skills before heading to campus if needed. Writing the required US application essays will be a good starting point. Seeking out opportunities to write - like entering an essay competition at school or keeping a journal—will also help build this important skill.
Reading widely is another great way to prepare for university. Some university-level texts will be denser and more complex than anything previously encountered, so practising reading at a more challenging level can get students used to this. Unfamiliar texts are more challenging than familiar ones, so building familiarity by reading across a wide range of subjects before starting university will be a massive help.
Taking an EPQ
Taking on an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) is another good way to build university-level skills in secondary school. Since an EPQ is research-based, independent, and personal, it parallels US university study. Students also have to prepare a written report, so this can help them build their writing skills!
Encouraging students to think about where they work best—in school, in a library or coffee shop, or alone in their room--is also a great idea. Similarly, point out to students that not everyone can study for hours on end, or cram all night before an exam and do well! Some students do better working in short bursts with frequent breaks, whilst others do best focusing on a task until completion. Students shouldn’t feel pressure to study in a way that doesn’t suit them, but should work with their brains to find the best way forward.
Seek out support
Another way that teachers and schools can set students up for success at university is to encourage them to be proactive in seeking support, rather than relying on teachers and parents. If a student doesn’t understand a particular topic, they should approach a teacher or peer for help, instead of waiting until their grades drop and others step in. Professors at US universities often hold office hours, which are set times that students can drop in and chat one on one about things they don’t understand, or about things that they’ve found really interesting. There are also often writing centres on campus, where students can bring drafts of written work and have it reviewed by a graduate student. Office hours and writing centres are excellent resources for university students but attendance isn’t required, and students will have to be proactive in taking advantage of these opportunities.
Speak up in class
At US universities, class participation often serves as a component of a student’s grade. It can be daunting to state a viewpoint in a room of strangers, but it will be much less so if students are used to doing so in a familiar environment, like their high school classes. To help students build this skill, teachers can let them know that class discussion and participation are expected, and encouragingly ask quieter students to share their thoughts.
Use the library
Students may be used to using only their textbooks and researching online when completing their coursework. But at university, they will be expected to find resources in the library independently—not only texts on the syllabus, but also for further individual research on what is being studied in class. Helping students build library skills in school before moving on to university will allow them to be confident in using the library this way during their time there.
By encouraging students to build writing and reading skills, take initiative, and develop class participation and library skills, teachers and schools can set up students for academic success at US universities.
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