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J-1 Exchange Student: Academics

While at UW-Milwaukee, you will have many opportunities to experience new things. For many of you, the U. S. higher education (university) system will be one of them.

Academic Requirements

As an international exchange student, you must register full-time, with a minimum of 12 credits (undergraduate students) or 8 credits (graduate students, 6 if you have a TA position). if you drop below these minimums you could risk losing your tuition waiver and/or have immigration problems.  The maximum credits in which you can enroll is 18 for undergraduate students, and 12 for graduate students.

Exchange students must also abide by the following Academic Guidelines:

  • Graduate students must enroll in graduate-level classes and undergraduate students must enroll in undergraduate-level classes. 
  • Exchange students may not take classes as Pass/Fail, Audit or Credit/No Credit.   Exchange students must receive an A/B/C/D/F grade for all classes.
  • Exchange students cannot enroll in the following classes as part of their full-time registration: thesis, dissertation, research, internship, practicum, supplementary registration, independent studies, web-based or correspondence classes.
  • Exchange students must enroll in a full-time schedule of classroom-based courses.  
  • If exchange students wish to take online courses, they can do so, as long as they already have full-time status with on-campus classes.  Students are required to pay all the fees for online courses, they are not included in the exchange agreement.
  • Exchange students must complete their coursework, and earn satisfactory grades at UWM. Grades that result in academic probation may result in termination of the exchange program.
  • Exchange students are expected to earn a grade point average (GPA) of at least 2.0 each semester at UWM for undergraduate students, and 3.0 GPA for graduate students.  In the event that your grades drop below these GPA levels, you could face serious consequences with your enrollment at the university, and your immigration status.

Registering for Classes

After being formally admitted to the UWM, course registration is done by accessing an on-line, web-based system called PAWS (Panther Access to Web Services). To access PAWS you will need to first activate your account and establish your password. To do this you will need your 9-digit Campus ID Number beginning with 991- and your date of birth.

If you are encountering problems accessing the PAWS system due to an error related to your language settings, please follow this link:

If this link does not work, please complete the following steps on your computer:

  • In your internet browser, click on Tools.
  • Under Tools, click on Internet Options.
  • Under Internet Options, click on the Languages button.
  • Click Add and then add English (United States) [en-us].
  • Click on English and then use the Move Up button to move it to the top of the list.
  • Click Ok.
  • Click Apply.
  • Close your internet browser and then open it up again.
  • Access PAWS again.

(Note: If you are still encountering problems, or are receiving a different error message, please e-mail The people who will respond are technically trained to help you with PAWS problems.)

After logging into PAWS for the first time, you will be prompted to update "Your Portfolio" information (for example, address and telephone number). Do not update this information until after you arrive in Milwaukee! If you update "Your Portfolio" before arriving in Milwaukee you may cause serious immigration problems!

Use the online UWM Schedule of Classes to find listings of all courses offered in a particular semester. The Schedule of Classes is separated into terms (example, Spring 2014) and alphabetically by departments (example, Anthropology, Business Administration, Chemistry). You may select a term and a department. The courses that will be offered for that term are listed. After the list of courses are the times each course for that department are being offered. For example: term Fall 2013, department Business Administration, course number BUS ADM 311, times offered MW 2:00PM-2:50PM.

Brief course descriptions may be found online for both the undergraduate and graduate students.

Please note that not all classes may be available for you to enroll in. You are therefore advised to choose several "back up" classes in case you are unable to get registered for one of your primary choices. Flexibility and a couple alternate course selections are a must. Certain classes, such as Professional Theater Training or Freshman Seminars, are not open to exchange students.

Q: When can I find out what courses are offered?
Courses begin to appear on the UWM Schedule of Classes about 3 months before the start date of the semester. The schedule of classes can be found at

Q: When will I register for classes at UWM?
Fall students will register for UWM classes online around mid-May preceding the fall semester. Students arriving for only spring semester will register in mid-December. Once course information is posted to PAWS (in April for the fall semester, November for the spring semester), you may start placing courses in your "shopping cart" on PAWS. This will help speed up the registration process, but does not guarantee that you will be able to enroll in the course.

Q: What if a class that I want is full when I try to sign up for it?
It is possible that some classes will be full when you try to enroll in them. This is a common challenge that all UWM students face.

You should discuss with your home university academic or faculty advisor a list of 7 or 8 classes that you are interested in. If a class is not available, you can then pick another class from your list. It is never guaranteed that you will be able to enroll in a particular class. It is thus recommended that you have some flexibility in the classes you are willing to take.

Many courses offer the opportunity to be placed on a wait list once the course is full. When adding courses to your shopping cart or enrolling, you can select the "Add me to the waitlist if class is full" option. This will add you to the class wait list if the class is full. If a space opens in the class, you will be enrolled and receive an email that you have been enrolled in the course.

Discuss with your exchange coordinator what you can do if you need a class that is full. It is sometimes possible to enroll in classes labeled as full.

Q: Can I change the courses I've registered for?
You may add or change courses up until the first day of class. You may drop classes at any time, but there are penalties for dropping a course after a certain date. The date varies by semester, and can be found at the Registrar's Calendar. You can typically drop classes up to three weeks after the first day of class. This gives you the chance to drop a course you no longer want to take, but you may not be able to add courses after the first day of class.

Please note that dropping a class may result in penalties that will be displayed on your transcript.

Q: Many courses have pre-requisites. Do exchange students have to follow these pre-requisites?
Yes, you generally need to follow any pre-requisites. However, if you feel that your previous coursework has prepared you to take a certain course, we could try to assist you with registering in the course as long as there are still seats available in the course, or you can contact the professor directly via email and ask if it is possible to enroll in the course.

Q: What is the "permission number?"
If the course is "open," you do not need to enter a permission number in order to enroll in the course. A permission number is only required if the course is closed or requires a pre-requisite that you do not have. If required, you must obtain a permission number from the professor of the course or the course's department in order to enroll in the course. The permission number can then be entered in order to enroll.

Q: What is an "additional tuition fee"
If the fee is for an art class (studio fee) or a sciences class (lab fee), you are required to pay the additional fee. In general, extra fees for courses in the business or architecture schools do not need to be paid.

Q: What if I have more questions about using PAWS and finding/registering for courses?
You can find help with PAWS online at PAWS Web-Based Training. Many different tutorials are available (in English) with information about many different aspects of PAWS.

Enrollment Verification

After applying and being accepted by UWM, students are able to request an enrollment verification via the PAWS Student Center. Follow these instructions below to obtain proof of enrollment:
  1. From the PAWS Student Center, choose the "Other Academic" drop down menu, select the "Proof of Enrollment" option.
  2. Click the "Continue to Enrollment Verification" link to be redirected to the National Student Clearinghouse website.
  3. Select either "Current Enrollment" or "All Enrollment" and click the "Obtain an enrollment certificate" link to print the enrollment certificate. You can then mail your certificate to a health insurer, scholarship agency or other company that requests proof of enrollment.

UWM Academic Calendar

UWM operates on a semester-based academic calendar system. The fall semester usually begins the first week of September. The spring semester typically begins the third week of January.

The U.S. Education System

 University education in the United States is probably very different from what you are used to at home, so it's important to know what to expect.  Experienceing these differences is an important part of the exchange student learning experince.  But that's probably part of the reason you're interested in exchange!  Why bother going abroad if everything was going to be the same!

Golda Meir Library

First Impressions
Your first impressions of academic life in the United States may be confusing. Foreign students often comment that U.S. students are competitive but don't seem to study very hard, and that beyond the informality of the classroom the professors are very demanding. Some of these apparent contradictions can be explained by the values that underpin them. Creativity, tolerance, and flexibility are, in general, valued above tradition and respect for authority in the United States. Teaching styles and classroom attitudes vary widely and are influenced by many different factors. Even where tradition does dictate professorial or student behavior, the patterns may not be evident to someone coming from a different tradition.

Who is Your Teacher?
Professors are the core of the teaching staff at most institutions in the United States. Full professors generally teach lecture courses, seminars, and courses for graduate students and upper-class undergraduates. A professor's informal style of dress or speech must not be taken to mean that he or she has a relaxed attitude toward assignments, class attendance, or the quality of your work. Informal attire and the omission of titles in interpersonal communication are common in American university teaching; but beneath this largely informal surface lies a wide variety of individual expectations and preferences concerning student behavior.

In large research universities, like UWM, many discussion sessions and labs are led by teaching assistants (TAs), some of whom may be foreign. Teaching assistants are most often graduate students pursuing a master's or doctoral degree. You should feel free to approach them with your questions--indeed, you will probably be on a first-name basis from the beginning of the course.

In general, most international students find that their American professors are more accessible than are faculty at their home institution. Do not be intimidated to go and speak with your professors in person. In the United States professors tend to be very accessible. They hold regular office hours where you can go and talk to them about any questions or concerns that you may have. Take advantage of these office hours if you are having trouble with a class. If you wish, you can introduce yourself to your professors during the first couple of class sessions. 

Lectures, Seminars, etc.: A Typology of Classes
Lectures are the primary form of undergraduate instruction at U.S. institutions. Lecture courses may enroll as many as 500 students or be as small as 20 or 30 students. Although attendance may not be recorded, you are nevertheless expected to attend. Material covered in a lecture may be closely related to the reading assignments or may be completely new material. Doing the reading before attending class is a sure way to improve your comprehension of the lecture. You might wish to record lectures on tape, especially if you are having trouble following spoken English in your first weeks of school.

A discussion section (also called a recitation, review, or quiz section) is a class in which material presented in a lecture is reviewed and discussed. (Not all lecture courses include discussion sections.) Discussion is considered an important element of American education; indeed, "class participation" may count for a certain percentage of your grade. If you do not feel confident about giving your opinion in class, be ready to answer basic questions about the material. You can also ask questions of the instructor after class or during office hours.

Bolton Lecture Hall

Seminars are often associated with undergraduate honors courses or graduate study. Seminar courses usually enroll fewer than 20 students. They often cover specialized topics and involve discussions and presentations by the students under the supervision of the professor. Some smaller colleges offer many undergraduate courses in the form of seminars. Internships are practical work or training experiences that allow students to apply in a work situation what they have learned in class. Some institutions offer academic credit for internships, others do not.

In so-called independent studies or guided research courses students study a topic under the direction of a professor but without any classroom instruction. Such arrangements are usually reserved for advanced undergraduates and graduate students. They generally involve a great deal of reading or work in a laboratory but allow you to focus on a topic of particular interest to you.

Classroom Expectations and Etiquette
A primary difference between classes in the United States compared with your home institution is that they are more structured. On the first day of class, the professor will hand out a syllabus that will describe the requirements of the course. There will be several exams, including a final exam, which you will be required to take. You may have weekly assignments and quizzes (short tests). Attendance is very important. Most U.S. professors require that you be in class at least 90% of the time and they will take attendance. Participation, such as asking and answering questions, is also very important. Don't be afraid to speak up and voice your opinion.

Eating and drinking in class is permitted unless your professor says otherwise. Most students usually bring small snacks and water bottles to class but it is generally looked down upon to bring a full hot meal into class.

Quizzes, Tests and Examinations
U. S. colleges and universities test students, particularly undergraduates, frequently. Types include true-or-false, sentence completion ("fill in the blanks"), multiple choice, and matching.

Quizzes-short test on assigned material-are used most frequently in language and mathematics courses. "Pop quizzes"-unannounced tests-are given by the professor to see if students are keeping up with their reading assignments or to verify that students understand the material being presented in the course. Examinations may call for specific, short replies or for longer responses in the form of essays. Often examinations are a combination of both forms. So-called objective questions have only one right answer. Types include true-or-false, sentence completion ("fill in the blanks"), multiple-choice, and matching. They cover a broad range of material and demand a particular type of studying. If the class is large, you may be asked to record your answers on an answer sheet. Students sometimes fail machine-graded exams simply because they put their answers in the wrong place. If you have a question, be sure to ask.

Many exams include one or two questions requiring essays of several pages, or several questions requiring only a paragraph or two. Essay questions generally specify how you are to approach the material. The questions may be long or short. Terms often used in essay questions are analyze, compare and contrast, criticize, define, describe, discuss, evaluate, explain, illustrate, interpret, justify, outline, prove, review, summarize, and trace. You will become familiar with these forms soon enough, but if you have trouble, see your instructor, or your academic adviser.

The typical undergraduate course involves three hours of lectures each week, an additional lab or discussion section, reading assignments, quizzes and tests, a mid-term examination, and a final examination, as well as one or more research papers or projects. Keeping up with the work is important. You will have to prioritize: read the most important material first and carefully; then skip the less important assignments.

International students are sometimes dismayed by the amount of reading assigned for their courses, especially if English is not their native language. It is important, therefore, to be clear about the reading assignments in a course. In some courses, the reading is central; you must read the texts closely and know the material for exams. In other courses, readings may be supplementary or optional. If you find yourself falling behind or feeling terribly pressured about your assignments, discuss your problem with the professor or teaching assistant after a class or using office hours. Don't hesitate to get help if you are having academic problems.

Research papers are another aspect of homework that may seem overwhelming. Some students are unable to express themselves clearly or eloquently in written English; others do not know how to use the research tools in the library; others may not be familiar with American academic writing styles and conventions. Many American students share these problems, and help is seldom far away. Most colleges and universities offer workshops on writing and research skills. Don't hesitate to get help if you are having academic problems.

In your writing, you will be expected to know when and how to "paraphrase" or summarize another writer's ideas in your own words. If you are not a native English speaker this may seem difficult-even foolhardy-and you may be tempted to quote your sources word for word. Because this practice can lead to a charge of "plagiarism" (see below), it is essential that you acquire the skill of paraphrasing. You will find that if you truly understand the ides you are dealing with, you will be able to express them clearly.

Find an instructor or U.S. student, perhaps a volunteer tutor or conversation partner, who will read your papers, point out passages that are unclear, and help you find phrasing that conveys your meaning. You may have to sacrifice the elegance of the original quotation, but your paper will gain coherence from the effort you put into synthesizing all of the material you use.

The U.S. university system is characterized by frequent homework assignments, exams, and papers. Typically students will attend between 12-15 hours of class per week. You will be assigned readings or assignments after almost every class you attend. It is very important that you keep up with all of your work on a daily and weekly basis, since your grade will be an accumulation of all the work that you've completed over the semester. While some higher education systems expect students to pass one major exam at the end of the semester, the expectations in the U.S. system are spread out across an entire semester.

Plagiarism is the use of another's words or ideas without acknowledgement of their source. Although in some cultures incorporating the words of revered scholars is an important part of the style of academic wring, it is not acceptable in the United States; indeed, it is considered a serious offense. The consequences of proven or even suspected plagiarism can be severe (for example, a failing grade or expulsion from class or the university). Borrowed words and ideas must always be clearly documented. If you expect to experience writing difficulties, you should get help as soon as possible.

An important distinction exists between group work and individual work. In general, papers, homework assignments, quizzes, and tests should be done individually, and evidence (or even suspicion) of collaboration can result in a failing grade for the work or expulsion from the class or institution. Studying with others is a good idea, but before you collaborate with others on homework, papers, or tests, make sure the professor has specifically authorized such collaboration.

The ability to use computers is essential to success in a U.S. college or university today. Most U.S. professors do not accept handwritten papers (except exams). U.S. students typically write their papers on computers, which are usually available for student use in the library or computing center, and possibly in residence halls or other locations.

English as a Degree Requirement
At most universities and colleges in the United States, undergraduate students--American and international--must successfully complete a series of writing or composition courses offered through the institution's Department of English. Moreover, at most institutions this requirement must be completed before a student is permitted to take upper-level courses. Many schools offer sections of these lower-level composition courses specifically designed for foreign students. Because these courses are taught by instructors who are trained and experienced in teaching English to foreign students, they tend to be particularly helpful. Before you enroll in an English-composition course, check with the Department of English or your adviser to make sure you are enrolling in the appropriate section. Some colleges and universities have a writing center or tutorial center from which foreign students can obtain help with their writing. At such a center you have the opportunity to work with an individual tutor on writing assignments form your courses. Short programs such as seminars or workshops on graduate-level writing are also available at most colleges and universities. Though not always designed specifically for foreign students, these programs can be very useful. The personal attention you receive in tutorial programs can be more beneficial than standard writing courses. Finally, some colleges and universities offer courses designed to help foreign graduate students prepare to write their theses or dissertations.

Foreign students sometimes find that their U.S. classmates are preoccupied with grades. This can be explained partly by the spirit of individual competition that is fostered and supported by American society. It is also a pragmatic matter, as grades are an important factor in gaining admission to graduate school or getting a job after graduation. The basis for grading in each course will be determined by the professor. The weight given to exams, papers, class participation, and other factors will be clearly specified at the beginning of the term.

(This section was excerpted from the NAFSA: Association of International Educators International Student Handbook)