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Academic Culture at LSE: You’re on your own, Kid

By Hannah Radner

Having finished two weeks of classes at LSE, I feel I am finally somewhat qualified to write on the subject of academics here. In these last few weeks I have seen elements that both distinguish LSE from GW and make it similar. Because I love lists, here's a new one of my observations:

1. I have only finished two weeks of classes! This is my first observation. The first week, starting on October 6, was all lectures, which are optional and open to the public. My classes (discussion sections) started last week, and many classes for quantitative courses do not start until this week. The 'shopping period' for courses officially ends on October 31, meaning if I was really indecisive I could potentially not know which courses I was taking until the term is nearly half over. Thankfully I am not in that position, and I probably wouldn't recommend LSE to anyone who ever anticipated doing this because...

2. ...We hit the ground running. Not unlike GWU, most of my lectures dove right into the course material, and I've already had my first in-class presentation. Professors tell us when our papers are due throughout the year. Our reading lists are online and we are expected to check them regularly, though never explicitly told what is due next week. This is probably because we have the ability to pick and choose what to read beyond the 3-4 core class readings we have each week, which brings me to my next observation...

3. ...Study is highly independent. We have so much choice in what we read so that everyone can bring something to the discussion; professors want us to read about specific subjects that interest us within the scope of the course so we are more likely to do our best work. As we all know, it's easier to do work when you like what you're doing. As study abroad students, we can take just about any class we want. Regular students must take courses within their specific programme and follow a core track, and have very little wiggle room or opportunity for electives, which they call options. The only proof we show that we've done the reading comes in the form of our participation in class discussions, essays, and come summer term, exams, which determine 100% of our final grade, which is why...

4. ...I will not cram for exams this year. I cannot lie, I do most of my studying in the week leading up to my exams at GWU, and not much sooner. While professors in the US say it doesn't work, our courses only last for the duration of one term, we are doing constant written work to keep us up-to-date, and we have several quizzes and/or tests and/or essays in the course of a term. When push comes to shove, it's often easy to cram and do well at home because we know more than we think come exam time. Here, it is all on us to revise and study throughout the year so we don't fall behind. In summer term, starting at the end of April, there is one final hurrah of holing up in the library and doing nothing else for a few weeks before exams begin. This time, when professors tell us not to cram, I will not only hear them but I will listen because I am secretly terrified.

5. Having a social life is not optional if you want to remain sane. Daylight is the time to read and study, while dusk till dawn is when people frequent pubs, clubs (LSE has one of each in its student center), films, theatre, sport, etc. The possibilities are endless. Study dates and rendez-vous are also acceptable, as one can often find groups of friends studying together in the library. Misery loves company! (Disclaimer: I don't mean school is miserable, just reading like 400 pages at a time can be a downer sometimes. You know what I mean.)

If anyone needs me, I'll be in the library studying for the exams I have in seven months.