Academic Information and the American University System

At Fordham University the different colleges and departments have individual program and degree requirements. It is therefore essential that you obtain and READ the University bulletin (catalog) for your school, not only for its school listings, but also for information pertaining to credits, grades deadlines, etc. To get a general idea about the American University system, you can read the section below "The American University System."

All international students are required by immigration regulations to register full-time. For undergraduates, 12 credits is considered full-time; graduate students must take 9 credits (GBA has different full time guidelines); and IALC students must take the full-time intensive program (18 hours per week). Your academic department may require you to take more than the number of credits that is considered full-time for immigration purposes. The Fall term usually goes from late August through December. The Spring term goes from late January through mid-May.

The American University System

The American university system may be quite different from that of your home country. In the United States, there is no central ministry of education; universities exercise considerable autonomy in determining their academic procedures and policies. In fact, the way different professors conduct their classes varies considerably within one university. There are, however, basic characteristics of higher education which prevail throughout this country:

  • As students advance through the higher educational system, work becomes increasingly specialized. It is considered important to assess progress toward defined goals.
  • In contrast with many other countries, evaluation of students occurs frequently, usually several times in a single academic course. Instructors have their own methods of evaluating course work; some use fixed scales, others a formula based on competition, commonly referred to as "grading on a curve." Evaluation may be based on objective examinations, in-class essays, or original papers written out of class. Be sure you understand at the beginning of the term your instructors' expectations, grading mechanisms, and evaluation procedures.
  • The most frequently used grading mechanism in the United States is a letter grading system. The grades A, B, C, D and F have equivalent numeric values used in computing the grade point average (GPA). A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1, F=0. Although D is a passing grade, normally a 2.0 cumulative average is required to obtain an undergraduate degree and a 3.0 to obtain a graduate degree. The cumulative average is calculated by adding the products of the value of each course and the respective number of credits and dividing the sum of the products by the total number of credits taken.
  • Colleges and universities follow different academic year calendars. The semester system divides the academic year into two equal parts of 14-16 weeks each. The first period begins in late August or early September, the second in January. The trimester system has three 12-week sessions beginning in September, January, and April or May. The quarter system divides the calendar year into four equal sessions, including one in the summer. All of the schools at Fordham operate on a semester system with the exception of the Graduate School of Business Administration which operates on a trimester schedule.
  • A single course carries a specified number of credit hours, referring both to the number of hours per week that a class meets and the number of credits earned toward a degree. Thus, by completing one two-credit class and three four-credit courses, a student earns 14 credits toward a degree. Immigration regulations stipulate that undergraduates must take at least 12 credits and graduate students must take at least 9 credits. For more details on credit requirements for International Students, see the section on full-time study. 
  • Course structure can varies. Lower division undergraduate courses are usually large-group lectures supplemented by small class discussions or laboratories. Upper division undergraduate courses and graduate courses in the social sciences and humanities are small classes or seminars, devoted almost entirely to discussion.
  • In the United States, students are expected to contribute to, and are often evaluated on their participation in, class discussion. It is not considered disrespectful to question or challenge the instructor; in fact, it is viewed as a healthy sign of interest and original thought.

Academic Integrity

A fundamental value of American education is a belief in the ownership, and therefore, the sanctity, of an individual's ideas. Like an item of property, an idea belongs to the person who expressed it. To use another person's ideas in one's work without acknowledging the source is considered to be presenting that person's ideas as one's own and therefore to be "stealing" or plagiarizing. The concepts and definitions of academic integrity are culture specific. Although collaborative work and the sharing in the scholarship of others without citation are not considered unacceptable or unethical practices in many parts of the world, in the United States such practices are considered serious violations of academic integrity and the penalties attached to such activity are severe.