Katie - Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

Bachelor of Arts / Laws
Semester 2, 2016

Academic experience

At Rutgers, I studied four mathematics courses, as well as an elective astronomy course. My maths classes were very different to the classes I take at home - none of them had more than 20 people in the class, so they were a lot more interactive. I found I was much more engaged with this style of teaching and I really enjoyed the personal nature of the classes. There are no lecture recordings and everything is just written on a blackboard - so you do have to go to class! The biggest challenge was probably that assessment was so regular, except I learnt that weekly assignments are given more to check that you're staying engaged with the class, so they don't have to be perfect every time. Professors are very approachable so it is easy to get help if you are struggling. Generally, I got a lot out of my classes and really enjoyed that part of the experience, which honestly I wasn't expecting!

Personal experience

Probably the biggest benefit of studying at Rutgers was the proximity to New York City. I used to go to the city 2-3 times a week, after class, on weekends, etc. I also took an improvisation class at the UCB Theatre in the city every Friday. This was an incredible experience, as it's such an amazing city and to get to know it so well is a real privilege. I would highly recommend taking advantage of how close Rutgers is to the city, you'll have so many great experiences. Also, there is a bus that takes to straight to New York from Easton Ave and it's only $17 return (half the price of the train). You buy tickets at the Student Centre, so make sure you do this if you're planning on spending a lot of time in the city! I also got to see my favourite show, Saturday Night Live, twice while I was on exchange. We had to camp out on the street overnight but it was so worth it - one of the best experiences of my life! If you choose Rutgers, take advantage of all the insane things New York has to offer.

Apart from that, I made a lot of great friends during my time at Rutgers, which was easy as we were all living so close together. The exchange student community was excellent and it wasn't difficult to meet people and get to know them well. Rutgers is located in such a convenient spot for travelling, so we would often do weekend trips to Philly, Boston and even Toronto for Thanksgiving. I feel that I gained some great friendships from exchange, as well as a more independent approach to living and travelling.

Accommodation

I lived on-campus, but I considered living off-campus before I started exchange. In hindsight, I would HIGHLY recommend living on-campus. It is slightly more expensive than flatting, but so much more convenient and you don't have to worry about energy bills, etc. Also, living on-campus was an enormous part of the experience. All the exchange students lived in the same building, so for those living in different areas, it was a lot more difficult for them to catch up with the rest of the group and socialise. I made great friends with my roommates and I would not have had this experience if I lived off-campus.

If you are living on-campus, try as hard as you can to get the Easton Avenue apartments on College Avenue. College Ave is the main campus and it's integrated with the city of New Brunswick, so it's way more convenient in terms of grocery shopping and community to New York. Also, it's on the same strip as all the big restaurants and bars at Rutgers. The other campuses are a 10-20 minute bus ride away so it's super inconvenient if you just need to buy some bread and you need to travel all the way to another campus. Also, the Easton Ave apartments were the main base for the large majority of exchange students, so living elsewhere makes it more difficult to socialise.

Budget

My accommodation cost roughly $4,200 USD, which included all electricity and water bills. Groceries are cheap, I think I got away with spending $25 a week on that. Eating out is cheap (if you're eating fast food!). I spent a decent amount on transport to New York, but I kind of chose to spend the majority of my time there rather than travelling around the States, so I saved money by not buying any flights. In terms of entertainment, you can get cheap tickets to Broadway shows if you do lotteries or rushes (roughly $30), and there's a cheap cinema on campus. Our main entertainment used to be going out to the student bars each week, and they had a lot of drink deals so that was pretty cheap. You won't need to pay for public transport on campus at all, so you'll save money there. Generally, the cost of living in NJ and even the cost of visiting NYC is low, and if you don't want to spend a lot of money, you don't have to.

Aside from travelling to Europe at the end of the trip, I probably spent about $8,000 in total (plus flights). To be safe, I would budget at least $10,000 so you're not stressed about money. I received a HELP loan and a travel grant which made a difference. Also, I worked during exchange, which is possible on the visa (but you can only work on-campus), and this was honestly one of the highlights for me. I was able to meet a lot of American students and I really enjoyed having that extra activity, and obviously, the extra income helped. It is a bit of a pain to get the documentation sorted to work, but it was really worth it and I would recommend it if you're worried about money.

Professional development and employability

I think that I've become more independent after exchange, and more comfortable with doing my own thing. I didn't know anyone at my university when I arrived, in fact, I didn't know anyone in the US, so I really had to get out of my comfort zone and get to know people. I also had to do a lot of things by myself, which was so beneficial in the end because I had so many great days spent alone exploring New York. Being in a completely different environment forces you to take initiative, but it also gives you the chance to do exactly what you want to do, as you're not tied down to your usual responsibilities.

Highlight

Hilary Clinton rally on the eve of the Presidential Election
Hilary Clinton rally on the eve of the Presidential Election

The highlight of my experience was doing improv classes at the UCB Theatre. This had always been a dream of mine and was pretty much the reason I chose Rutgers. It also gave me a chance to spend a day in New York every week, which was wonderful. I also chose to study in Sem 2, 2016, because I wanted to be in the US for the election. This was such an interesting experience, especially on-campus where we saw rallies and debate screenings and got a sense for the political atmosphere. We also had the chance to see the Clintons and Obamas speak at a rally in Philadelphia on the eve of the election, which was an insane experience. The day after the rally wasn't so much of a highlight!

Top tips

I would recommend finding an extra-curricular activity or an outside commitment or a job while you're on exchange. This really makes you feel like you're actually living in the place, rather than just visiting, and it gives you a more authentic experience. One of the traps of exchange is only interacting with other exchange students. And while I made so many great friends out of exchange students, it is really worthwhile to get to know the people from the place you're staying. 

In terms of choosing a university, Rutgers for me was the ideal American school as we had the college experience, but also proximity to a big city. If you're not a small town person, you might go a bit stir crazy being in an isolated college. So I would highly recommend Rutgers in that regard. I am so happy I chose Rutgers and that I chose to go on exchange, it was such a unique experience and truly incredible few months.

Katie - Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey