Lectures in the USA

About you with the professor? What seems unthinkable at many universities in Germany is common practice in the USA. Students from all over the world are fascinated by the study atmosphere at US universities and colleges. In addition to the unique campus life, it is also the courses in the USA that leave a lasting impression on international students.

At first glance, there seems to be little difference between courses at American and German universities, as there are lectures and seminars in both countries. However, anyone who has studied in the USA knows: the courses are structured differently, the workload differs and the atmosphere is fundamentally different.

Types of courses in the US

Similar to Germany, there are different types of courses in the USA. Which forms of teaching predominate depends on the type of study and subject.


What in Germany Lectures are in the US Lectures. However, lectures at American universities are generally more designed for interaction than in Germany.

Many lectures are introductory and introduce students to a topic. Often there is no script, instead the courses are based on a textbook that the professor works through over the course of the semester.

Discussion classes

Lectures in the USA are often supplemented by so-called discussion classes or discussion sections. These are lectures accompanying tutorials in which academic assistants (teaching assistants) repeat the material of the lecture and sometimes also discuss homework.


Seminar is available in the US on undergraduate level, they are but especially in the advanced stage of study and graduate in the field spread. In seminars at the master’s level, subject-specific issues are mainly discussed.

The structure of a seminar differs from department to department. Sometimes the events are more reminiscent of a lecture. However, there is usually a lively culture of discussion, especially in linguistics and cultural studies. The lecturer discusses current research results with the students or exchanges technical questions with them.


In the nature – and engineering are Laboratories usual. As in Germany, the students attend laboratory courses or do an internship in the laboratory. The laboratories at American universities are often excellently equipped, so that students find excellent study conditions here.

Studio classes

Practical work traditionally plays a major role in subjects such as art, design, photography or music. So-called studios are about artistic expression and creative work. For example, students often attend a drawing course, which is divided into a theoretical part, such as a lecture, and a practical part, a studio course.


In addition to the Laboratories, there are Fieldwork Courses, Clinical Courses and Practica at American universities. What all these forms of teaching have in common is that they are not tied to seminar rooms or lecture halls. Often these are events with an excursion character.

Independent Study Courses

In addition to the above-mentioned forms of teaching, so-called Independent Study Courses can be cited. They are not part of the regular course offer, but only come about when a student agrees on an individual study program with a professor.

In an Independent Study Course, for example, students can research a specific area under the guidance of a professor or devote themselves to a scientific problem. Since these courses require a high degree of independence and structured work, they are usually only open to students from the higher semesters.

Course types

In the USA, not only different types of courses, but also different types of courses can be distinguished:

  • Core Courses: Compulsory courses that are an integral part of a degree program.
  • Major Courses: Courses that can be assigned to a major. As part of the bachelor’s degree, students can usually specialize in the third year of study and take one or two main subjects. The courses in the main subject usually make up 25-50 percent of all courses in a degree program.
  • Minor Courses: Minor courses that can be taken in addition to a major. Students take about half as many courses in their minor as in their major.
  • Elective Courses: Elective courses that are not a compulsory component of a degree program and that may come from other subject areas. They often serve to deepen or supplement a degree.

Course catalogs at American universities

You can find out which courses students can take from the course catalog. The colleges and universities usually upload an overview of the courses to be taken on their website for each term. A course catalog provides information on the content of a course, the type of event and the necessary prior knowledge.

Each course has a fixed course number which can be used to clearly identify an event. Course numbers usually consist of a sequence of letters and a combination of numbers. Based on the sequence of letters, conclusions can be drawn about the associated specialist area. ANTH often stands for Anthropology, ECON for Economics or PSY for Psychology.

The sequence of numbers in turn provides information on the level of the course in the USA. Many universities use a three- or four-digit system.

Undergraduate courses

Course numbers from 100 to 499 or 1000 to 4999 usually identify undergraduate courses. Courses with low course numbers (100/1000 to 299/2999) are mostly aimed at students in their first and second year of study. These are so-called Lower Division Courses. They are often introductory and require very little previous knowledge. The courses are usually less specialized than the Upper Division Courses (300-499). The latter are usually only open to students at the advanced stage of their bachelor’s degree.

There are also colleges and universities in the United States that provide advanced bachelor courses with course numbers from 500 to 600. Still other universities use a course number up to a maximum of 199 for all bachelor courses. The allocation of course numbers does not follow a uniform pattern in the USA. Learn more about USA and North America on naturegnosis.

Graduate courses

Many US universities use course numbers from 500 to 699 or 5000 to 6999 to identify graduate courses. Courses for participants in Professional Master’s programs sometimes have lower numbers than research-oriented Master’s courses. Some universities highlight doctoral courses separately by choosing higher course numbers, for example from 800 to 9xx / 8000 to 9xxx.

Similar to undergraduate courses, there are also different regulations in the graduate area at some universities. Students can find more detailed information about the course system on the website of the relevant US university.

Lectures in the USA