Differences in Academic Expectations

There may be many aspects of academic life that are different from what you are familiar with. At Wesleyan, you will be expected to be responsible for your own learning. This means that you will need to be disciplined about following the syllabus (an outline of the weekly learning plan for the class including topics that will be covered, assignments, and required reading), doing the reading each week, keeping track of when assignments are due, completing assignments, and asking for help when you need it.

  • Writing

    Including your opinion in your writing

    Your professors will genuinely want to know what you think in addition to showing them that you read the material. Therefore, your essays/papers need to have an “argument” that you prove by discussing what scholars have said.

    Read more about writing
    Being direct in your writing 

    Depending on where you are from, this may be difficult for you. Some professors will expect you to use “I” when you write and most will expect you to use clear concise language. Long sentences with hidden meanings or saving your point for the end are generally unacceptable in the U.S. academic style.
  • Classroom and Assignment Expectations

    Standards for academic integrity

    Just like your professors want to know your opinion, they also want to know whose ideas you are discussing. If an idea is not completely your own, then you will need to explain where that idea came from (even if it is something your professor would know) with a proper citation. Read more about expectations


    Sharing your work may or may not be permissible in your classes. If you are not sure, ask the professor or consult your syllabus. Unless your professor states otherwise, it is best to assume that sharing your answers is not permitted. Doing so would break the Honor Code and could result in penalties (such as failing the course) or even expulsion from the university. 

    Participating in the classroom

    International students that come from large and/or teacher-centered classrooms may find participating in class difficult. Professors in the U.S. expect you to raise your hand and answer questions, ask questions, and give general comments about the class material. If you do not participate, the professor may assume you did not read your homework and your grade might be affected. He or she also might call on you unexpectedly to see if you could answer a question.

    If you are shy about participating, let your professor know and see if they would allow another option. Maybe you could summarize the text and email it to them or the professor could consider group participation.  

  • Grading System in the U.S.

    Grading systems can vary widely from country to country, as well as the manner that tests and exams are evaluated.

    Wesleyan’s Letter Grading System (A-F)

    • Letter grades of A, B, C, or D are passing
    • Letter grades of E or F are failing
    • For each letter grade, you can receive a plus (+), a minus (-), or just a letter
    • A+ is the best grade you can receive, following by an A and then an A-
    • Each letter except for F can be a plus or minus
    • Each letter corresponds to a percentage out of 100
    • For more information about Wesleyan’s grading system and the percentages that correspond to the letter grades, visit the Academic Catalog's Academic Standings page.
    Read more about Grading

    Grade Point Average

    • The Wesleyan grade point average (GPA) is the sum of the grade point values divided by the sum of the earned credits. The grade point value for each course is derived by multiplying the numeric grade equivalency by the earned credits.
    • A GPA Chart can be found on the Office of the Registrar’s Wesleyan GPA calculation page.

    Grading on a curve

    This refers to the process of adjusting student grades in order to ensure that a test or assignment has the proper distribution of grades throughout the class (for example, only 20% of students receive As, 30% receive Bs, and so on), as well as a desired total average (for example, a C grade average for a given test). Some professors may tell you that this is the proper way to grade while others may decide to grade this way after an exam is taken if the class average was lower than anticipated. 

    Always check in with your professor to make sure this is how they grade, as each professor may use a different scale when grading on a curve.

    Test Formats

    The formats of the tests you will take will depend on the professor and type of class you are in. Tests can be a mix of different types of questions or all the same. These are some of the more common types of test questions:

    Multiple choice:  Tests in this format will provide a question and usually four answer choices. You will be asked to select the answer choice that best answers the questions. You will need to read the instructions because sometimes they will ask you to select only one answer, more than one, all or none of the above. Usually there is one correct answer, so you will only get credit if you answer the question correctly.

    Essay: You may be given a prompt that relates to material learned in class and you will need to write a long answer to respond to this prompt. Usually, there are guidelines on how you will be graded and what you must include. You want to be sure to demonstrate in your writing everything the professor is asking for, usually based on what you have learned in class. There will usually be a maximum score that you can receive and the professor will grade your answer out of that maximum number

    Short answer: Responses to short answer questions are not expected to be as long as an essay. They need to be slightly more concise to answer the question in the amount of space given. You want to be sure to answer what the question is asking. Partial credit may be given for these answers. If these are math problems, you may be given credit for showing your work, even if you do not get the correct answer, if part of your problem solving strategy was correct.
  • Connecting with Professors

    Office Hours

    Each professor of the classes you take will provide you with a syllabus. This is a document containing the content that you will learn each class, the reading and homework assignments, class policies, etc. It will also list the professor’s office hours. These are designated times that the professor will be in their office to meet with students.

    Office hours are on a first-come, first-served basis. This time is an opportunity to ask questions and to become familiar with the professor’s expectations as well as his or her teaching and grading style. If your schedule does not align with a professor’s office hours or if you have further questions after your meeting, you can email him or her to make a separate appointment.

    Read more about connecting with professors

    Recommendation Letters

    Recommendation letters (letters of recommendation or reference letters) may be needed to apply for a job, volunteer position, or for admission to a new school or program. Many students rely on their professors for these letters.

    Ask a professor who can speak to your abilities and/or character, in a way that relates to the type of application for which you are requesting the letter. For example, if you are applying to a new school, a professor who can speak to your abilities as a student would be the appropriate choice

    This is another reason why it is important to develop a relationship with your professors. Meeting with them during office hours or appointments, contacting them when you have questions or concerns, and working hard to get a good grade in their class will all help to show them that you are a dedicated student.

    Sometimes professors (other references) may say no. They may do this if they genuinely do not feel they can write you the glowing recommendation you are hoping for.

    They may not be the appropriate person for the opportunity. If you are applying to graduate school in Statistics, for example, and you ask a writing professor, they may recommend you ask one of your statistics professors.

    When and how to ask:

    • You should give your recommender sufficient time to write this letter
    • Depending on the time of the year, several weeks’ notice is normally necessary
    • Include your resume and information about how that professor knows you (which class, which lab, which year)
    • Also include any relevant information about the opportunity for which you are applying and which of your skills/abilities you hope they will emphasize about you