Exploring the US Higher Education System

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Ahmed Azzam

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10 July, 2020

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3 mins read

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University Life

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If you are interested in studying in the USA or have already managed to enrol in an American university, understanding the whole picture of the education system in the United States can help you throughout the pursuit of your degree.

The US higher education system is similar to the country itself; flexible, diverse, and innovative. Each higher education institution handles and supervises the educational system within, and that creates independence and unity in the institution. There are more than 4,000 accredited institutions in the United States. These institutions are not centrally organized, but rather are accredited on a national or regional level. So let us explore and break down the US higher education system.

The Credit Hour Structure

The common structure of US institutions is credit hours.  University students in the US earn credit hours for the courses they are enrolled in which cumulatively contribute to the completion of the course. These credit hours are the number of hours a student spends in class each week and can be transferred from one institution to another in case the student didn't finish the course and joined a new institution.

The Division of Courses in the USA

The courses in US universities and colleges are often divided into core subject areas and major subject areas. The core subject areas tackle the foundation of the degree, and they are the basic material you have to study to acquire a degree. The major subjects are specialized subjects that provide thorough knowledge in your field of choice. Moreover, You can enrol in elective subject areas for a well-rounded educational experience.

The Academic Year

The academic calendar in the USA typically begins in August or September and continues through to May or June. It starts with orientation weekwhere international students studying in the USA can take tours and gain knowledge about the campus and the options available. The academic year is divided into two semesters,16-18 weeks each. Some institutions also have three semesters known as the trimester system consisting of 10-12 weeks each.

USA Higher Education Degrees

USA Higher Education Degrees

1. Associate Degree:

It is usually earned through a two-year program in vocational areas. There are different types of Associate degree, such as Associate of Arts (AA)Associate of Science (AS) and Associate of Applied Science (AAS). They offer a chance to join the workforce straight away or can be perceived as the basic education requirements needed for a 4-year university Bachelor's degree as they are transferable.

2. Bachelor's Degree:

It is an undergraduate program that is earned through a 4-year study program. You should choose a major area of study to specialize in throughout your undergraduate program. It prepares you for an entry-level job or even management-level positions in some fields.

3. Master's Degree:

After achieving a Bachelor's Degree, you can further your study by specializing in a certain area and applying for a Master's degree. To be eligible for the degree, you need to meet a minimum GPA or pass a graduate entrance exam such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). 

4. Doctoral Degree:

It is also known as a PhD program; the candidates applying are expected to have already acquired a Master's degree. In order to successfully gain a Doctoral degree, you have to submit a dissertation and a major research project, and it usually takes several years.

USA student homes

Types of US Higher Educational Institutions

1. Community Colleges

These are two-year colleges that provide Associate degree and certifications as well, for example, Austin Community College. When you study in a community college, you can earn a degree and then transfer to four-year colleges or universities to pursue a Bachelor's degree

2. State Colleges/Universities

These are educational institutions that are run by the state or the local government, for example, the University of North Alabama. Each state has at least one university or college that it directly operates, emphasizing the concept of independence of education. University ranking of many state colleges in the USA is very high.

3. Private Colleges/Universities

These are institutions that are privately owned and managed in contrast to the state institutions. Their tuition fees tend to be much higher, and they accept fewer students. North Park University and East-West University are a few examples of private universities that are worth checking out. 

4. Liberal Arts College

These colleges offer major subject areas in humanities, social sciences and visual arts. They are usually private colleges that offer Bachelor's degrees, for example, College of Liberal Arts, Austin. Liberal arts students study general subject areas in the first two years and then specialize in a specific major in the final two years.

5. Institutes of Technology

These institutes offer science, engineering and technology majors. You can acquire all levels of degrees in these institutes ranging from an Associate degree to PhD. An example of a good institute of technology is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - MIT. 

Now you can plan what path you aim to take to achieve your career goals if studying in the USA. If you already have a university in mind, simply choose your USA student accommodation via Casita, you will find student accommodations in ChicagoAustinMilwaukeeNew YorkBoston, and many more cities! Don't forget to open a student bank account once you arrive; you can check our blog How to Open A Student Bank Account in the USA for a step by step guide.


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