Choosing to study internationally from Australia or New Zealand is a massive decision to make. It can feel like you are unprepared and unaware of what’s in store for you.

Before you make your decision on whether to study domestically or overseas, it pays to know a few things about different cultures, settings and academic styles. If I can help you identify differences in one style of study, it’s the American college academic structure.

By knowing more about how the US runs and maintains their academics at college level, you can make an informed decision on what kind of international education style suits you and your preferred method of learning.

Learning style

For the purpose of this blog, I am grouping the Australian and New Zealand University academic style together, as they are quite similar.

In Australia and New Zealand, the leap from high school to University education is considerable. Students often find that they go from the hand-holding environment of their final year of high school, to a very independent and self-motivated style of learning.

While in the American college academic environment, the style of learning has been considered an extension of high school, with a similar highly supportive, interactive style of learning.

Particularly for student-athletes in the US college system, learning resources like mandatory study halls are implemented that reflect the supportive and connected nature of learning in the US compared with Australia and New Zealand.

Teaching style

In much the same fashion as the learning style of American colleges, the teaching style reflects similar goals.

The professors on campus in American tertiary institutions promote small classes, critical thinking and one-on-one teaching styles.

This directly contrasts with Australian or New Zealand schools, where tutors or lecturers would be hard-pressed to remember your name, which is understandable among the hundreds of students they educate in their lectures.

Australian and New Zealand styles of teaching encourage independent study and most interaction between teacher and student occurs via email or organised appointments outside of class time.

To be clear, I’m not claiming one style is better than the other, they are merely different. It’s up to the individual to decide on what they value in the style of education and what reflects their habits.


The difference in how assessments are scheduled and held throughout the semester in each country is one of the clearest indicators of how you can decide on the suitability of an academic style for you.

Are you a last minute, all or nothing type of learner?

Or do you prefer to tick things off a list methodically and progressively cruise towards the final result?

That’s not to say that the Australian and New Zealand style of assessments encourages procrastination and all-nighters. All I mean by this is that the Australian and New Zealand assessment structure is known to focus on one or two heavily weighted assessments rather than having staggered pieces of course work, each of lesser value, like the US system.

The assessments in the US college system are generally less heavily weighted, and some students find this a more interactive and manageable style of assessment structure.

While others prefer to have one or two considerable pieces of work to tackle during the semester.


In Australia, high school students are expected to commit full dedication to their final year of studies in order to achieve the highest possible ATAR mark for tertiary admission. An ATAR mark is a score consisting of each result a student receives in each subject they take throughout the year. An ATAR is then calculated after collecting these results and students receive a number, the highest being 99.99 measuring their performance from the year.

University courses have a specific ATAR mark they require for acceptance to their courses and students often agonise over the perceived be-all and end-all nature of their ATAR score.

In the US, college admissions are based around what is called a GPA, or a Grade Point Average.

What does this mean?

Well, colleges will look at all of the collective marks a student has achieved from roughly year 9 until their final year of high school, assessing their development, performance and results in a broader sense. Following this, students who are looking to enter college are sometimes required to sit an SAT exam, which is a general exam covering a range of topics such as; literacy, numeracy and reasoning. The test can be taken several times to allow students to achieve the highest result possible.

Some colleges don’t require students to sit an SAT, but that’s not to say that acceptance to a US tertiary school is easier than Australia or New Zealand, it’s simply different. US colleges still analyse a student’s performance; it’s just not as narrow a time frame as Universities on this side of the world. Colleges will take a more holistic and long term approach to assessing a student’s suitability to the college.

Course structure

One of the biggest decisions for students in Australia and New Zealand once they’ve confirmed their desire to pursue a University pathway, is what they want to study.

During their final year of high school, students need to apply for specific courses within Universities, and while many students change degrees and majors once they begin studying, they are still required to enter University through a specific course.

Over the pond in the US, applications are more targeting at the school rather than the course. They are able to enter college with what’s called an ‘undeclared major’, which allows students to explore a variety of classes in their freshman year before deciding on a specific course in their second year of school.

The classes are more general and well-rounded in the first year rather than specific fields of study.

This gives students the opportunity to try a couple of courses they are interested in and to re-consider their study options after they have settled into Uni.’ 51Ustudy


Study Link notes that US colleges have an extensive range of subjects on offer to students and a flexible approach to student course structure. The website also mentions that this can be an appealing quality for international students entering US colleges unsure of what course to enrol in.


Length of study

Finally, the length of a common bachelor degree between the countries is the last difference I think is worthy of noting. In Australia and New Zealand, bachelor degrees can generally be completed in 3 years, while in the US 4 years is the standard duration of the same level of qualification.

Whether or not this allows for a more manageable schedule or if 3 years is more appealing is up to the individual.

There are a variety of differences between tertiary studies over this side of the world and the American college system. Now that you are better informed about those differences, you may be able to approach your higher education opportunity with more clarity in order to explore what suits you best.

The best tactic you can apply to exploring an international education is knowledge. The more knowledge you can gather, the more educated your decision on your future will likely be. An event like an informational expo might be the right tool for you to become an expert on all things international education.

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