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UNDERSTANDING THE US EDUCATION SYSTEM
Article from the Study in the U.S.A magazine

American education offers a rich field of choices for the international student. From abroad, and even from within the U.S.A., there is such an array of institutions, programs and locations that the choices may overwhelm the student. To simplify the choices, a student must carefully study how each program and location can fulfill the student's goals. In order to make informed decisions, a student will need to know how the U.S. education system is organized. Let's start by examining the educational structure.

Most Americans attend twelve years of primary and secondary school. With a secondary school ("high school") diploma or certificate, a student can enter college, university, vocational (job training) school, secretarial school, and other professional schools.

Primary and Secondary Schools

Primary classes begin around age six for U.S. children. They attend five or six years of primary school. Next they go to secondary school, which consists of either two three-year programs or a three-year and a four-year program. These are called "middle school" or "junior high school" and "senior high school" (often just called "high school"). Americans call these twelve years of primary and secondary schools the first through twelfth "grades."

Grade and Course

The word "grade" has two meanings. It describes a year of education. Americans call the first year of school "first grade." The world "grade" also means a mark or rank, such as a "grade" of B, or a good "grade" on an exam. Thus an American would say, "In the ninth grade, my grades were average."

The word "course" usually means "subject." For example, a student would take a course in accounting for one term or semester. A "course of study" is a full program consisting of several courses. Business Administration is a course of study, and accounting would be one of the courses in that program.

Higher Education

After finishing high school (twelfth grade), U.S. students may go on to college or university. College or university study is know as "higher education." You should find out which level of education in your country corresponds to the twelfth grade in the U.S.A. You also should ask your educational advisor or guidance counselor whether you must spend an extra year or two preparing for U.S. admission. In some countries, employers and the government do not recognize a U.S. education if a student entered a U.S. college or university before he or she could enter university at home.

Study at a college or university leading to the Bachelor's Degree is known as "undergraduate" education. Study beyond the Bachelor's Degree is known as "graduate" school, or "postgraduate" education. Advanced or graduate degrees include law, medicine, the M.B.A., and the Ph.D. (doctorate).

Where you can get a U.S. higher education?

1. State College or University

A state school is supported and run by a state or local government. Each of the 50 U.S. states operates at least one state university and possibly several state colleges. Some state schools have the word "State" in their names.

2. Private college or University

These schools are operated privately, not by a branch of the government. Tuition will usually be higher than a state schools. Often, private colleges and universities are smaller in size than state schools.

3. Two-Year College

A two-year college admits high school graduates and awards an Associate's Degree. Some two-year colleges are state-supported, or public; others are private. You should find out is the Associate's Degree will qualify you for a job in your country. In some countries, students need a Bachelor's Degree to get a good job. Two-year college or "junior" college graduates usually transfer to four-year colleges or universities, where they complete the Bachelor's Degree in two or more additional years.

4. Community College

This is a two year state, or public college. Community Colleges serve a local community, usually a city or a county. Many of the students are commuters who live at home, or evening students who work during the day.

Often community colleges welcome international students. Many of these schools offer special services to international students such as free tutoring. Many community colleges also offer ESL or intensive English programs. Classes are often small and less competitive than at larger state universities.

Some community colleges provide housing and advising services that an international student might need. Again, find out if a community college degree will be enough for you to ge a job when you return home. Most, but not all governments, recognize degress from junior and community colleges.

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Other Resources
Top 10 Course options in USA
Understanding the US Education System
US Student Visa FAQs
US Student Visa FAQs for Indian Students
Reasons to Study in USA
Student Travel Arrangement Information
University Transfer Procedure


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