American Classroom Culture

In this video, Prof. JK Aier explains why you should read the syllabus. Although the faculty review the syllabus during the first class, it is there "for the entire tenure of the course." Make sure you review it on a regular basis so you do not miss any important readings or assignments.

Q: What is a syllabus?

A syllabus is your guide to a course and what will be expected of you in the course. It will include course policies, rules and regulations, and a schedule of weekly readings and assignments.

Q: Where can I find my syllabi?

A few days before the start of classes or on the day of your first class, the professor will make his/her course available in Blackboard.  Some professors may also send the syllabus by email or will hand out a paper copy during the first class.  To check if your course is available on Blackboard, go to:

  • Enter your username and password
  • Click on "Courses" in the top right menu
  • Check your courses in the box "Course List" (you first need to sign up for courses before you can see your courses in the course list)

Link: Click here to view an example of a syllabi dashboard 

Advice from a Student

In this video, Yang encourages students to prepare a list with questions prior to meeting with your academic advisor.

Advice from a Professor

In the video, Prof. JK Aier shares his tips about communicating with your professor or academic advisor.

Professor JK Aier’s Tips:

Tip 1: Always seek an appointment unless it is during an open session or published office hours;
Tip 2: Be prepared. This means you should read the course/program website and other publicly available materials to avoid redundant or obvious questions;
Tip 3: Be clear. This means you should write down all queries you have so that you can refer to them during the discussion;
Tip 4: Take notes so that you clearly understand what the professor or advisor is saying;
Tip 5: Be bold. It is ok to say that you do not understand what the professor/advisor is saying or if you could not find a specific material that the professor/advisor is referring in your earlier attemps;
Tip 6: Send a thank you e-mail especially if you may need to follow up.

How to Build a Successful Relationship with Your Academic Advisor (Undergraduate Students)

The purpose of an academic advisor is not always simply understood by students. From a big picture perspective, academic advisors assist students in their academic growth and development by helping them create educational plans that foster their long-term goals. Each college/school within a university may have its own set of policies, procedures and requirements for a degree to be granted. The role of an academic advisor is to help students navigate these policies, procedures, and requirements. Additionally, academic advisors may assist with:

  • Navigating academic programs
  • Monitoring academic progress
  • Connecting students to campus resources
  • Setting academic goals
  • Personal growth and career development

Here are some things to consider in having a successful relationship with your academic advisor:

Click to continue reading

1. Find out who your advisor is and how to contact them. You can use the advisor locator here:

2. Always communicate with your academic advisor with your official Mason email address. Make sure you include your G# in your correspondence, so your advisor can easily locate your records. Be mindful of tone, punctuation, and grammar. It’s important to use your Mason email because this is the best way to ensure your identity as a Mason student.

3. Be proactive, not reactive. It is recommended that you meet with your academic advisor once a semester. This ensures that you are on the right track to degree completion. Don’t wait until the last minute to request an appointment. Academic Advisors are very busy at registration time and toward the end of the semester. You may not be guaranteed an appointment if you wait.

4. Prepare a list of questions and concerns you want to address during your appointment. This way you will get the most out of your meeting.

5. Be on time. As a college student, you are considered a young professional. As such it’s important to be mindful of other’s time obligations. If you don’t show up to a meeting—or if you’re late—you could be taking someone else’s time.

6. Most advisors only have 15 minutes to meet with students; therefore it’s important to come prepared. Here are some things you should have completed before you meet with your advisor:

  • Look at your degree works report and have a list of courses you have left to take.
  • Look at the course offerings for the next semester and put together one or two mock schedules.
  • Be aware of important dates: add, drop, withdrawal, and payment dates. All of these can be found at:
  • Fill out a four-year plan as soon as possible. This gives you a working document that you and your advisor can update each semester.
  • Do research on your major program’s website. You may find helpful information such as course descriptions, syllabi, and course recommendations (i.e., there may be certain courses that you should or should not take at the same time).

7. Schedule follow-up appointments to share with your advisor what went well (and what didn’t) after each semester. This can help your advisor strategize course recommendations for you.

8. Share your academic history with your advisor. Talk about classes that you’ve enjoyed and teaching styles you’ve responded to well. This can help your advisor better support your continued success.

9. It might be helpful to share with your advisor what’s going on outside of the classroom—family obligations, work, outside stressors. Giving him/her a peek into how your life is structured may help them better meet your needs.

10. During your appointment:

  • Turn off your cell phone or other electronic devices unless you are using these for appointment purposes.
  • Stay engaged in the learning process. You may accomplish this by taking notes.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions! All questions are valuable.

(Source: Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment)

Classroom Participation (Undergraduate Students)

In this video, Mari talks about classroom participation. She points out that participation is important because it can be 10-20% of your grade.

Classroom Participation (Graduate Students)

In this video, Shaun, a PhD student, talks about the participation grade at Mason.

Classroom Participation (Undergraduate Students)

In this video, Mari talks about classroom participation. She encourages students to participate in classroom discussion to make sure that the professor knows that you completed all the required readings.

Group Projects (Graduate Students)

In this video, Shaun, a PhD student, talks about some of the challenges associated with group projects and how to overcome them.

Amy’s Tip for Incoming Freshman Students

In this video, Amy shares a tip she wish someone had told her when she was an incoming freshman.

The Role of a Professor (Graduate Students)

In this video, Apurva talks about the role of faculty members at Mason and how it is different compared to her home country.

Classroom Participation Tip


OK, so one suggestion I have for international students in terms of classroom participation is really coming into the classroom confident and NOT saying the words "I know my English is very bad" or "I am afraid my English is not very good." Don't say things like that because what you do is kind of lower the expectations and you devalue what is it you want to contribute to the conversation. So, don't worry about your English level or your English proficiency, you are here at George Mason, what you have to say is important and we just want to hear what you have to say. So don't worry about letting people know your level of English proficiency and your confidence level at that point.

Strategies for Introducing your Ideas in Class


One more suggestion I have for students in terms of preparing for classroom conversations or discussions is to think about some strategies for introducing the idea that you have. So maybe thinking of some phrases or some words that you can use at the beginning of what you want to say to really connect what you want to say with what other people have said.

Often students feel confused, maybe a little bit frustrated or scared when they think of how to interrupt or disagree or agree with with other people have said in the conversation. So I would say one of the things you can do is to begin most of your contributions, your statements in the class discussion with words like:

  • In my opinion
  • I think
  • I believe
  • Based on what I have experienced

Things that put whatever you have to say, that you own them, they are your thoughts, your opinon. It is not necessarily this is right or this is wrong or I disagree and therefore you are wrong, you really just want to say from my opinion or my perspective this is what I think at this point of time. So really owning the statements that you want to contribute to the conversation. By doing that, taking ownership of those ideas, other people are more willing to accept what you have to say because you are not telling them they are right and you are wrong; you are simply saying from my perspective, I think this way or my opinion is this. So it is more engaging in that way.

Another suggestion I would have is simply to think about how the idea you want to express is connected to other ideas that have been expressed already. So some of the best students I have had in class who really do a good job with this, they say things like "Karyn, I appreciate what you have to say about x and I agree with you because I experienced something similar " or "I appreciate what you have to say, however I had a little bit different experience and so I want to kind of share with you what my experience has been."

Or another thing that happens is sometimes that students feel like the topic is here and they are thinking about what they want to say but then the topic moves and then they realize what they want to say but it is about a previous point. So a good stategy there would be something like "I know that this is going back" or "I would like to take a minute and go back to the previous conversation where we talked about x and I would like to say that... ." And then say whatever you want to say. So helping to rest of the people in the conversation understand that you are going back to something that was previously discussed or you are making connections between what someone else has said and and you want to contribute.

I think that often the student who do not do a very good job in classroom discussion are the ones that cannot connect what they want to say with any points in the conversation. It is like they are just waiting and waiting and waiting and then they contribute something but it is not clear why or how it is connected to what anybody else has said. So I think it is good to have something to say, it is just as important to connect that with what someone else has said in some way.

Class Attendance

Course Assessment (quizzes, exams, etc.)

When to Schedule a Meeting with your Instructor

First Impressions are Everything

You probably have heard the expression, "First impressions are everything".  This also counts when it comes to your writing.

Many international students communicate with professors or administrators via email before they travel to Mason. If you are not sure how to write a good email, we highly encourage you to review the handout "Sending Email to Faculty and Administrators."  

Click on link to download handout: Sending email to faculty and administrator handout  (Source: The Writing Center)

TIP: When you communicate with a professor or administrator, we highly recommend you use your Masonlive email address instead of a personal email address like gmail or yahoo.  You can find step by step instructions "How to Activate your Masonlive account" in the online checklists (scroll down to the section "Prepare for your Study". 

Dr. Cody W. Edwards

In this video, Dr. Cody W. Edwards shares his keys to success for incoming international students. Dr. Cody W. Edwards is the Associate Provost for Graduate Education at Mason.

What is a Provost?

The Provost is the university’s chief academic officer, charged by the Board of Visitors and the President with overseeing all aspects of education, research, and public engagement of the university. The Provost works closely with the President, the other vice presidents and vice provosts responsible for various functional areas of the university, the deans of academic colleges, schools, and other units, academic staff, the Faculty Senate, and various committees in setting academic priorities and allocating resources to achieve core missions of the institution.

What are the responsibilities and duties of the Associate Provost of Graduate Education?

The responsibilities and duties of this position include oversight (in partnership with academic departments and graduate council) of graduate programs (85 Masters; 39 PhD; >12,000 students), oversight and allocation of GMU’s graduate financial support programs (including graduate health insurance), development, review, and monitoring of graduate programs (including curriculum developments, oversight, and review), tracking recruitment and retention of a diverse and strong pool of graduate students, working collaboratively with Center for Teaching Excellence and University Life to create and develop programs and graduate student engagement in campus life, supporting cross-unit and global graduate programs and initiatives and combined undergraduate-graduate programs, overseeing the Office of Graduate Fellowships, overseeing GMU’s central graduate student funding programs, graduate student affairs including academic appeals, and chairing Graduate Council.

Adjusting to American Classroom Culture (Part 1)

In this video, Dr. Larisa Olesova talks about adjusting to American classroom culture.

Adjusting to American Classroom Culture (Part 2)

In this video, Dr. Larisa Olesova talks about adjusting to American classroom culture.