While academics will take up a large portion of your time, US universities are known for their vibrant campus life.

US universities operate under the belief that learning is not confined to the four walls of the classroom and seek to find ways to educate and help you develop as a whole person.

International student services

Almost all universities have an international student services organisation whose purpose is to make your transition to the US as easy as possible while celebrating your individual background and culture.

The international student office will be your best resource before you arrive in the US and throughout your time at university. Do not hesitate to send them an email or stop in the office if you have any enquiries. They can offer advice on:

  • Visa and immigration
  • University administration
  • Cultural differences

They might also organise:

  • Orientation
  • Social events
  • Host family schemes
  • Holiday gatherings and trips
  • International weeks
  • Cultural celebrations 

Orientation

If you are offered an orientation session (sometimes a week-long programme), you should attend. Typical orientations include:

  • Campus tour 
  • Tour of dormitories and residential areas
  • Introduction to library and technology resources
  • Familiarisation with on-campus resources
  • Placement exams for maths and foreign language courses to assess current levels, if necessary
  • Meeting with an academic advisor and choosing classes for first semester
  • Meet-and-greet with current students
  • Clubs and organisations fair
  • Getting a university ID card
  • Information on opening a bank account
  • Seminars on health and safety
  • Some universities may offer tours of the local area depending on how large the town/city is where you are studying
  • Some universities will provide trips to local supermarkets to buy essential items, such as bedding
    • Asda is now owned by Wal-Mart, so some home comforts may be found here including George clothing! College packs of bedding/towels/stationery can also be bought cheaply from large superstores such as Target and Bed Bath and Beyond. If you/your parents have a Costco membership then this is useful for large or bulkier items such as printers/fans.

Clubs and societies

Most universities will have hundreds of clubs for you to join based on varying interests and passions. Typical clubs and societies that exist on almost all university campuses include organisations for:

  • Volunteering
  • Cultural and religious groups
  • Dancing and performing arts 
  • Academic interests
  • Political affiliations
  • Professional goals
  • Sports
  • Student government
  • Fraternities and sororities

Most university websites will post the list of clubs available along with the individual clubs’ websites.

Many universities also encourage you to form new clubs if one does not already exist to match your specific interest.

Some of your most memorable university moments could be attending sporting events, especially at universities with a long tradition of excellence at varsity sports. American football games are attended by tens of thousands of students and alumni.

There is a rich history of students gathering in car park barbecues (tailgates), student marching bands, university songs, cheerleaders, body paint and more for university sports.

Many universities allow current students to attend varsity games for free, or offer very affordable season tickets.

Dining

Most first year students living in on-campus dorms will be using a meal plan or meal points to purchase food from dining halls around campus.

Meal plans can be unlimited, a set number of meals per week, a set number of meals per semester, or pay-as-you-go. Usually you pay when you enter the dining hall by swiping your student ID card.

Meal plans can usually be purchased by students living off campus who want to eat in between classes. For students living off campus, dining halls also accept cash if you are not on a meal plan.

Alcohol

The legal age for drinking in the USA is 21.

It’s very important to check whether or not your university is ‘dry’. If you’re on a dry campus, you can still be cautioned or arrested for consuming alcohol, or having an open container of alcohol, even if you’re over 21.

When you enter a bar or try to purchase alcohol in a store or restaurant, you will be asked to produce photo identification to prove that you are above the legal drinking age.

In general, casual drinking is not as common in the US as in the UK. When people meet up with friends or colleagues, it is usually over coffee or lunch. While it can and does happen to excess, drinking is not as an integral part of university culture in the US as it is in the UK.

Being arrested can jeopardise your visa status and can result in deportation.