Understanding the American Education System
The American education system offers a lots of different options for international students. There are many schools, programs and places that impress even students from inside the USA with their options. When you start looking for a school, you need to learn about the American education system. Understanding the system will help you to narrow your options and improve your training plan.
Primary and Secondary Education
Before higher education, American students take a total of 12 years of “primary education” and “secondary education”. These years are named according to the years from first grade to twelfth grade. American students, around the age of six, start primary school. After five or six years of education, they move on to secondary school. Secondary education consists of two types of programs: the first is “secondary school” and the second is “high school”. Diploma or certificate of completion is given upon graduation from high school. After graduating from high school (grade 12), American students can attend a college or university. College or university education is known as higher education.
Just like American students, you will need to submit your academic transcripts as part of your application for admission to university or college. Academic transcripts are official document of your academic background. In the US, this chart includes your grades and grade point average (GPA) as a measure of your academic success. Courses are usually graded using percentages, which are then converted to a letter system.
The grading system and GPA in the US can be confusing, especially for international students. Many factors play a role in the interpretation of notes. For example, two students attending different schools also present their transcripts to the same university. Both have a GPA of 3.5, but one student attends an average high school while the other attends a school that is recognized for its academic difficulty. The university may interpret the GPA differently, as both schools have very different standards.
Therefore, there are some important points to keep in mind:
You need to find out what your last level of education in your country corresponds to in the USA.
Pay attention to the general admissions requirements of each college and university, as well as to specific programs that may have different requirements.
Meet regularly with an education counselor or mentor to make sure you meet the requirements.
Your education counselor or guide will be able to provide you information on whether you need to spend a year or two years for US university admissions. If an international student has entered a US university or college without qualifying to attend a university in their home country, governments or employers of some countries may not recognize the student’s education in the US.
Schools usually start in August or September and continue until May or June. The vast majority of new students start in the fall, so it’s a good idea for international students to start their university studies in the US at this time. There is a lot of excitement at the beginning of the academic year and students make good friendships during this period as they all try to adapt to a new stage of academic life. In addition, many courses are designed for students to take in a certain order, starting in the fall semester and continuing throughout the year.
In many schools, the academic year consists of two periods, called “semesters”. (Some schools use a three-period calendar known as the “trimester” system). Some schools divide the year into four semesters, including the optional summer school. Basically, if you are not going to summer school, the academic year consists of either two or three semesters.
The Higher Education System in the USA: Education Levels
First Level: Undergraduate
A student who is attending a college or university and has not yet earned a bachelor’s degree is studying at the undergraduate level. It usually takes about four years to earn a bachelor’s degree. To earn a bachelor’s degree, you can begin your studies at either a community college or a four-year university or college.
In the first two years of your education, you will have to take a large number of courses in different subjects, commonly known as compulsory subjects such as literature, natural sciences, social sciences, art, history, and so on. Thus, before focusing on a certain area, you will have a general knowledge of various subjects and establish an infrastructure.
Many students choose to study at a community college to pass the first two years of required courses. With an Associate Degree (AA), they can transfer to a four-year university or college.
The “department” is a specific field that undergraduate education focuses on. For example, if someone has a journalism department, they will get a Bachelor of Journalism. You will need to take a certain number of courses in this field in order to meet the requirements for receiving your department’s diploma. When starting your third year of school, you must choose your department.
Another peculiar feature of the American higher education system is that you can change your department many times if you want. Changing majors at some point in undergraduate studies is very common among American students. Often, students later discover a different chapter they want to specialize in or enjoy. The American education system is very flexible. Keep in mind that changing departments can result in more lessons, which means spending more time and money.
Second Level: Postgraduate for Master’s Diploma
A college or university graduate with a bachelor’s degree today may want to seriously consider postgraduate study to start some professions or further their careers. This diploma is generally required for higher positions like librarianship, engineering, behavioral health and education.
Moreover, international students from some countries are only allowed to study abroad at postgraduate level. Before applying to a graduate program in the USA, you should research the documents required from you to get a job in your country.
A postgraduate program is usually part of a university or college. To get admission, you will need to take the GRE (Graduate Exam) exam. Certain master’s programs require exams such as the LSAT for law schools, the GRE or GMAT for business schools, and the MCAT for medical schools.
Postgraduate programs that lead to a master’s degree can usually take one to two years to complete. For example, the MBA (Master of Business Administration Program) is a very popular course that takes about two years. Other master’s programs, such as journalism, only take one year.
Most of a master’s program goes through classroom instruction, and a graduate student must prepare a long research report called “master’s thesis” or make a “master project”.
Third Level: Postgraduate for Doctorate Diploma
Many graduate schools see a master’s degree as the first step towards obtaining a doctorate (PhD) degree. But at other schools, students can prepare directly for a doctorate, even without a master’s degree. It can take three years or more to earn a doctoral degree. It can also take as long as five or six years for international students.
In the first two years of the program, most doctoral candidates enroll in lectures and seminars. At least one year is spent doing research and writing a thesis. The thesis must include previously unpublished research, views or designs.
A doctoral thesis is a summary and discussion of available knowledge on a particular topic. Most American universities that offer doctoral studies also require their candidates to know two foreign languages at a reading level, spend a certain amount of time at school, pass a qualification exam that officially admits candidates to the doctoral program, and pass an oral exam on the same subject as the thesis.
Features of the US Higher Education System
“One challenge was the way you enroll for classes and you had to make an academic plan. I really didn’t know which courses to choose because I had to choose from so many courses. My academic advisor, Angela Khoo, helped me with my course selection, and the rest was much easier for me.”
Meiyun Han, China
Nursing, Merrit College (affiliated to Peralta Community College District)
Classes range from crowded lectures attended by hundreds students to smaller classes and “seminars” (discussion classes) with only a few students attending. The classroom environment in American universities is very active. You are expected to share your opinion, discuss your views, participate in class discussions and present. International students consider this one of the most surprising aspects of the American education system.
Faculty members usually determine the textbooks and other readings every week. You are expected to do the given readings and assignments to participate in class discussions and understand the lectures. In addition, some department students are expected to spend time in the laboratory.
Faculty members give grades to each student enrolled in the course. Grades are usually determined based on:
Each faculty member will set a specific attendance requirement, but students are expected to participate in classroom discussions, especially during seminar lectures. This is often a very important factor in determining a student’s grade.
A midterm exam is usually held during class time.
One or more research or term papers or laboratory reports must be submitted for evaluation.
A final exam is held after the last class meeting.
Each lesson corresponds to a certain number of credit or credit hours. This number is roughly the same as the number of hours a student spends each week in class for that lesson. A course is usually worth three to five credits.
A full-time program at most schools is 12 to 15 credit hours (four or five courses per semester) and a certain number of credits must be obtained to graduate. International students are expected to enroll in a full-time program throughout the semester.
If a students enroll at a new university before finishing their major, they can usually use most of the credits they received at their first school to finish their course at their new university. This means that a student can transfer to another university and graduate within a reasonable time.
- State College or University
It is supported and managed by a state school, state or local government. Each of the 50 US states has at least one state university and possibly several state colleges. This is why most of these public universities have the word “State” in their names: for example, Washington State University and the University of Michigan.
- Private College or University
These schools are run privately, not by the state. The tuition fee is generally higher than in state schools. Often, private US universities and colleges are smaller in size than state schools.
Religiously supported universities and colleges are private schools. Almost all of these schools accept students of all religions and beliefs. However, a certain percentage would prefer to accept students with similar religious beliefs.
- Community College
Community colleges are two-year colleges that issue an associate degree (transferable) as well as a certificate of completion. There are various associate degrees, but the most important distinguishing factor is whether a transfer can be made with the awarded diploma. In general, there are two main orientations: one is academic transfer and the other is directly preparing students for work life. The transfer departments of the university are generally social associate degree and numerical associate degree programs. It is not possible to be transferred to a four-year university with an associate degree in applied digital sciences and a certificate of completion.
Community college graduates transfer to a maximum of four-year colleges or universities to obtain a degree. Because the community is able to transfer the credits they receive while attending college, they can finish their undergraduate program in two or more years. Most also offer ESL or Intensive English language programs to help students prepare for university-level classes. If you are not planning to study at a higher level than the associate degree, find out in advance whether an associate degree will be enough for you to get a job when you return to your hometown.
- Institute of Technology
A technology institute is a school that offers at least four years of education in science and technology. Some have postgraduate programs while others offer shorter programs.