Manage Your Academic Workload as an International Student

Join a study group and be selective about note taking to balance your U.S. college workload.

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Engaging with professors and studying with classmates can help international students adjust to U.S. coursework
Engaging with professors and studying with classmates can help international students adjust to U.S. coursework

You land in a new country for a semester, a year, perhaps a full degree's worth of study. Not only are you suddenly immersed in a strange environment, an unfamiliar culture and a different time zone, but you're faced with a style of learning that may be completely unlike the one you're used to.

It's a lot to take in. When I arrived at the University of California—Berkeley, my class hours doubled and I pitched head first into a sinkhole of homework. It was a huge jump, and during my first semester I often found myself totally overwhelmed.

[Explore more about studying in the U.S.]

To fend off work-related worries, here are some tips to help new students deal with the adjustment to American academia.

1. Manage your notes: If you're sitting in a lecture that you don't quite understand, it's basic instinct to compensate by churning out reams and reams of notes. This is a great way of filling paper, but review your observations a few weeks later and you could be confronted by illegible ravings.

To keep things clear in class, make sure you carefully structure your work, be selective about what you choose to jot down and allow yourself to absorb what your lecturer is telling you.

[Try these apps to help manage college responsibilities.]

2. Talk with your professor: It may be stating the obvious, but your professors are there to help out. If you're feeling overwhelmed, take time to meet with them after class or during office hours.

They want you to do well, and are normally more than happy to go over topics you were confused by, or point you toward useful resources. Getting stuck on a paper is much less scary if you can be proactive about seeking help.

3. Join a study group: You might feel like the class fool, but the odds are your fellow students get just as confused! Study groups are a big part of American college life, and can be a great way to get to know people in your class and make some new friends. Those long essays go more quickly and easily when you can share your thoughts with others instead of struggling alone.

[Explore ways international students can make friends.]

4. Speak up in class: It can be so easy to stay quiet and let the contributions of your classmates wash over you during class discussion. But nerve-racking as it might be, one of the best ways of learning fast is voicing your opinion.

You may find that coming from a different country gives you a perspective your classmates won't have.

[Discover strategies for adjusting to campus life.]

5. Make time for yourself: One of the most important parts of studying abroad is striking a good work-life balance. I've seen so many American students constantly push themselves through all-nighters, or vanish from society when a big paper is due.

Try not to get drawn into this; no work should keep you from sleeping at night or spending the occasional weekend outside the library. Being an international student is about so much more than studying, so remember to make the most of it. Get out and explore!

Emily Burt, from the United Kingdom, is currently studying at the University of California—Berkeley as part of a one-year exchange program. She will graduate from the University of East Anglia in 2014 with a bachelor's in American literature and creative writing.