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Rooks Reflects: American university system enforces accountability

While preparing for my study abroad experience in Leipzig, Germany, I received some sage advice from my uncle: don’t forget the study part. Although many students who study abroad tend to emphasize things like travel and cultural immersion, actually studying while abroad also has its benefits. According to , 87% of students who study abroad noticed the impact of their experience on further academic endeavors. 

I would categorize myself as a blend of both types of students who study abroad. While I certainly am prioritizing traveling in my surrounding area and getting a taste of what it’s like to be a young person in Germany, I’ve also immersed myself in the university setting enough to draw some conclusions about the differences between German and American university systems. 

I have realized that America enforces accountability in its students, while German universities allow more individual freedoms for students. Both of these environments have positive and negative effects, but the numbers speak for themselves: the U.S. is ranked as the world’s top country for education and Germany is ranked third. 

One of the biggest differences in the university systems is the homework requirements. At Ohio University, a majority of my classes require assignments to be completed on a weekly basis, and failing to submit them results in a deduction of points.

At Universität Leipzig, I have yet to be tasked with a single homework assignment. Students are encouraged to complete readings before each class session in order to be able to participate in discussions during those meetings, but no points are deducted if the readings aren’t done. While this is a good system for students who are discouraged by deadlines and required assignments, it also takes away the incentive to understand course material and actively participate in class. 

The only graded assignments in my German courses are our final assignments. This means, no matter how much I participate in classes throughout the semester or how well I understand the material, my grade will come down to one major assignment at the end of the summer. Having one important final is good practice for continuing education after college, like writing a master’s thesis or taking the LSAT. However, as an undergraduate student, I find this concept overwhelming and, for someone who values a balance of time management throughout the semester, an inconvenient stacking of the workload. 

A final difference in the school systems is in the form of class meetings. At OU, my classes meet two to three times a week for no more than an hour and 20 minutes. Here, my classes each meet once a week for 90-minute sessions. This allows ample time for me to forget what was covered in the last session, and the sessions themselves are just slightly too long to hold my attention for their duration. 

An article by opens with the following quote: “Ambiguity is the Achilles Heel of accountability.” Students at German universities exist in constant ambiguity, with the only incentive to learn class material being the looming threat of a final exam worth a majority of their final grade. The system allows students individual freedom and the chance to grow in personal accountability, which itself is a valuable learning experience, but not one that encourages an effective education. 

Even though American universities limit their students’ individualism and freedom with deadlines and requirements, which may not be a great environment for young adults to grow and develop in, enforced accountability is definitely one of the reasons U.S. universities rank highest in the world for best education.  

Sophia Rooksberry is a sophomore studying journalism. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Sophia know by tweeting her