“Higher Education” is the term that is used in the United States of America to describe any schooling after secondary or high school education. Higher education can take the form of a university, college, technical school, vocational school, or professional school. There are over 3100 accredited colleges and universities in America. Getting admission in the right school is the major hurdle that most students must face in pursuing a degree program in America. It takes careful planning, research and counseling. First a word about language, Americans generally use the words “college”, “university” and “school” interchangeably, particularly in speech.
US institutions offer a wide variety of subjects (or majors, as they are called) to study, everything from the fine and liberal arts to practical, career oriented fields such as engineering and marketing. The USA also presents a wide variety of types of institutions to choose from: large, comprehensive land-grant institutions of 40,000 students to small traditional liberal arts colleges of less than a 1000 students. Distinctions among these academic institutions are in size, level and competitiveness of education offered, social/residential atmosphere and the time required to complete a degree. Because the United States is a large country with a variety of climatic and living conditions, schools vary greatly due to their location. Since academic levels and quality of instruction are comparable at most accredited institutions at the undergraduate (bachelor’s degree) level, students’ personal preferences as to size, climate and location, play a key role in what school they choose. Students often begin study at one institution, then transfer after two years to complete their degree at another institution. One needs good GPA (Grade Point Average) to transfer. At the graduate (master’s, doctoral degree) level, more importance must be paid to the reputations of the faculty and department.
Admission requirements differ greatly from one institution to another. All schools, however, require students to submit official transcripts of courses and grades taken in high school and other post-secondary institutions and a formal application. Smaller schools require letters of recommendation. Most schools will require submission of standardized tests such as the TOEFL, and SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), GRE (Graduate Record Exam), GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), etc. Most of these tests are presented by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, New Jersey. It is very important to begin the admission process early because in many cases application deadlines are far in advance of the start of the semester (sometimes as many as twelve months). Students also need to allow time for scheduling any standardized tests needed for admission and then having the results of these tests sent to schools. Each college or university establishes its own unique policies regarding admissions.
There are four levels of degrees one can study for at an American college or university. They are :
The A.A./A.S. degree or Associate’s Degree :
Two-year degree given by a two-year community or junior college. It is possible to transfer from a two-year college to a four-year college for completing Bachelor’s degree.
The B.S. (Bachelor or Arts) or B.S. (Bachelor of Science) Degree :
Given after four years of study at an undergraduate college or university. This degree usually includes 60 credits of general education courses (Sociology, Psychology, History, Philosophy, etc;) plus 60 credits of specialization in the major. There are many types of Bachelor degrees- B.S.M.E. (Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering), B.F.A. (Bachelor of Fine Arts), etc.
The Master’s Degree :
Requires one to three years of study after obtaining the Bachelor’s degree. Time required is dependent on the field of study. There are several types of Master’s degrees: M.A. (Master of Arts), M.S. (Master of Science), M.B.A. (Master of Business Administration), M.Ed (Master of Education) A Master’s degree requires the writing of a thesis and /or the taking of comprehensive exams.
The Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or Ed.D.(Doctor of Education) Degree :
Usually requires 3 additional years of study after obtaining the Master’s degree. It requires original research to be conducted and written up in the form of a dissertation and the defense of that research orally.