System of study at an American university majoring in Computer Science

I recently entered the American University ( Worcester Polytechnic Institute ) and in this regard I want to share my first experience. I will not write about how cool, cool, and so on. I will write more specifically about the education system, since I studied it for three years, but nevertheless did not understand much. The post is quite large, so do not hesitate to start reading with a paragraph that is most interesting in your opinion. However, I recommend reading everything, this is the real experience of a real student from the former CIS who entered the top US university. Why do I think it will be interesting for IT people? Because my specialty here is Computer Science, and in the USA the most authoritative IT universities. If one of the Khabrovites wants to send the child towards a bright IT future, then it will be useful for him and the child to read this article.

It is no secret that US universities are the best in their field. Of the hundreds of influential universities in the world, about 70% are American, and the top three Harvard, Stanford, MIT does not go down from the first places in international rankings. So how does this system work? I must say right away that we will be talking specifically about the university in which I study. Systems may vary slightly depending on the university. I'll tell you everything in order.


To begin with, the Americans do not have the concept of “session”, “course”, “graduation”, “record”. We’ll return to the talk about “retake and surrender” later. The school year is divided into four quarters, called from "A-Term" to "D-Term". Each term (hereinafter the term is a quarter) lasts exactly 35 training days. If during the term there is a holiday, it does not matter - then the end of the term is shifted exactly to this holiday. During each term, the student takes three courses. You can take physical education or music as the fourth, but not so important. For 35 days, the student attends only these courses and does not care about anything else. Lectures, conferences and laboratories in one course take exactly 50 minutes a day. Accordingly, 50 * 3 minutes a day - obligatory student visits to lecture and laboratory classrooms. It may not seem like a “freebie" to you, since according to statistics for every hour (50 minutes) of a lecture (laboratory, conference), 3 hours of independent work come out. When it comes to exams - even more so.



I now have three courses: Computer Science - Introduction to Programming, Physics - General Mechanics, Math - Calculus II. And the tasks for each of the courses are different. For example:

Computer science

In lectures, the professor reads material for 150 people. Everything goes very interesting, since she (the professor) has a clear plan, drawn up to the minute. As a rule, with us, she prints some things on the computer, launches programs, and so on. Then he uploads the materials to the portal. During the lecture, she can give the so-called “Quiz” - an analogue of our independent work. There are only a couple of tasks and a few minutes of time. You know - you’ll write quickly, you don’t know - you don’t need to waste time. This checks the homework (video views, tutorial). Sometimes it gives real voluminous Homeworks, which include work for 3-5 hours and are performed with a partner. Once a week, laboratory work is performed on which the same tasks are given, but there is a Lab Instructor who is always ready to help. Exams are held four times.


Three times a week, material is read in a huge lecture hall. And now the most interesting thing: the professor has a microphone, and behind it are two canvases and two super-quality projectors, in front of her is a touch computer on which she draws graphs and vectors for us in a special program (something like PowerPoint, but not it). On the board (meaning projectors), questions with answer options appear and each student has a Clicker on which he clicks the answer button. That is, instead of yelling at the entire hall “Marya Ivanovna, there is 22,” “I was the first to answer!”, Students simply click on the button and get points. The entire lecture is recorded on cameras and then you can view it all (and her notes on the touch computer, too). In the laboratories (I’m talking about the first classes), we moved the machine along the line, the mechanism fixed the speed, moving and accelerating and sending data to a computer that built graphs in live mode. Thus, we could see the relationship between these values. At conferences we were prepared for exams and independent. There are four exams that are given sample questions with answers.


Mathematics is almost the same as ours. Of the interesting points, this is a laboratory where we use Maple (an analog of MathCAD) and a home inspection system. DZ is asked a lot, but it is not checked in notebooks, as it is done in our school. On Friday morning, the professor gives Quiz, on which a couple of home examples for a week. Quiz is allocated a minimal amount of time, and, interestingly, using exercise books is not only not prohibited, but even encouraged. Thus, if you systematically did dz - you rewrite it, if you didn’t do it, but know the material - you will do it, if neither of them, fail.

In all subjects, they immediately named the components of the assessment as a percentage. Thus, you can calculate how much one missed lab costs.


Ratings 4: A, B, C and NR (No Record). If a person has failed the course, then he does not go to the "certificate", but it is simply considered that he did not take the course. Thus, this does not spoil his GPA (Grade Point Average - average rating). And now about the percentages: A - 90 +%, B - 80 +% and C - 70 +%. We see that a rating of 8 out of 12 (I am from Ukraine, we have a 12-point system) or 4 (with 4+, 4-) out of 5+ - 66% - is FAIL. What we consider to be a “solid good guy” is a failure for them. Accordingly, when it is said that laboratory work is a 10% assessment, there is no thought to miss.


And now the most interesting thing is to "finish" and "retake." In order not to keep the intrigue, I will say right away - in academic English there are no such words. Actually there is a Make-up - to molest, but it is rather an insult. No matter how scary it may sound, you can never, under any circumstances, retake anything, even an unhappy lab. Any professor will refuse this, and he simply will not answer an email with such content. In my uni, most of the works are “submitted” by e-mail, and if the deadline is 6 pm, then at 6:01 you will not send anything. And it is useless to prove that the Internet lagged, the head hurt, the dog bit the cable. The train has left. No one will scold, be angry, offended or hold a tooth. The student simply loses a percentage of the grade.

In this section I will talk a little about the requirements for the diploma. Since all students take different courses and there is no general program as such, the requirements are simple - 30 courses of their specialty, 6 classes of mathematics, 6 humanitarian classes, 2 classes of physical education and two projects. More about them. IQP (Interactive Qualifying Project) and MQP (Major Qualifying Project) are two mandatory and large projects. The bottom line is simple - students gather in a group and solve the REAL problem of society. This may be a drought in some region of Africa, students are developing an irrigation mechanism or a biochemical, or maybe it's easier - there are many minibuses in some area of ​​the city, and students are developing an optimal transport plan that will reduce the number of buses. Projects are often done outside the university, иногда даже в разных странах (у моего ВУЗа даже есть точка в Москве, недавно появилась).


With such "draconian" requirements, the university has a sea of ​​resources. Professors, assistant professors (Teacher Assistants), other students, instructors, MASH - Math and Sciences Help and five more resources. That is, only you have a question, everyone is happy to help you. Resources offset the demand with interest.

I will not talk about food and the hostel. I can only say that in this regard it is a luxury hotel.


My university has the motto “Go to class, do the work, ask for help”, the so-called “Nine words rule”. That says it all. Be honest, work. Everything has been done for you, you just have to learn.