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The American education system offers many options for international students. When you start your search, students can be overwhelmed with choosing which university to go to, what program to choose, and the location. Therefore it is very important to know the education system in America. Understanding this system will help you to narrow down your study options as well as build your study plan.

Educational Structure

Primary and Secondary School

To continue on to higher education, American students enter primary and secondary schools within 12 years. These years are referred to as grades 1 through 12. Around age 6, US children start primary school, which is referred to as " elementary school ." They enter primary school for five or six years and then continue with secondary school.

Secondary schools consist of two programs: the first program is " middle school " or " junior high school " and the second program is " high school ." Students earn a diploma or certificate after graduating from high school . After graduating from high school ( grade 12), US students can continue on to a college (2-year college) or university. Colleges or universities are known as " higher education ."

Scoring system

Like any American student, you must submit an academic transcript as part of your application for admission to a university or college . An eligible academic transcript is an official statement of your academic grades. In the US, academic transcripts include " grade (grade)" and " Grade Point Average (GPA)/Graduate Achievement Index (GPA), which is a measure of your academic achievement. Subjects are usually graded using percentages, which are converted into letter assessment.

The US GPA and grading system can be confusing, especially for international students. The interpretation of the assessment has many variations. For example, two students entering different schools submit their transcripts to the same university. They both have a GPA of 3.5, but the first student enters a mediocre high school , while the second student enters an outstanding school. Universities may interpret their GPA scores differently because the two schools have dramatically different standards.

Therefore, there are some important things to keep in mind:

  1. You should seek information on US assessments commensurate with the last level of education you have completed in your home country.
  2. Pay particular attention to the admission requirements of individual universities and colleges , as well as individual undergraduate programs, which may have requirements that differ from those of the university.
  3. Meet regularly with an educational advisor or counselor to make sure you meet all the requirements.

An educational adviser or counselor can provide guidance in deciding whether you should spend an additional year or two preparing for admission to a US university or college to meet the requirements to enter a university in their home country, some government agencies and companies do not recognize US education.

Academic year

The course calendar usually starts in August or September and continues until May or June. Most freshmen start in the fall, so it's best for international students to start at the same time. The early days of college are exciting times for students. This is the time when you will find new friends, all of whom are still adjusting to a new phase in their academic life. Most courses are designed for students to be taken sequentially, starting in the fall and then continuing throughout the year.

The academic year consists of two terms referred to as "semesters." (some colleges use a three-term calendar known as the "trimester" system). Others use a quarter system of four terms, including summer elective sessions. Basically, you don't count summer sessions, the academic year consists of two semesters or three quarter terms.

US Higher Education System: Education Level

First Level: Undergraduate (S1)

Students who enter a college or university and do not earn a bachelor 's degree , study at the undergraduate level . It takes an average of four years to earn a bachelor 's degree . You can start your education to pursue a bachelor 's degree at a community college (2-year college) or at a 4-year university or college .

In the first two years, you will be required to take classes in different subjects, known as prerequisite courses: literature, science, social sciences, art, history, and so on. This will assist you in gaining general knowledge, as a basis for specializing in a more specific field of study.

Many students choose community colleges to complete the first two years of prerequisite courses. They will earn an Associate of Arts (AA) transfer degree and then transfer to a 4-year university or college .

" Major " is a specific field of study where your education will be more directed. For example, if someone's major is journalism, they will earn a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism . You will be required to take several courses in this field to meet the requirements for a degree in the major . You must choose your major at the start of year 3.

The American education system has a very unique character in that you can change your major more than once. It is natural for American students to change majors because they were superior to or more interested in a particular field at some point in their undergraduate studies . Although the American education system is very flexible, it should be noted that in changing majors they may have to take another course, which means more time and money.

Second Level: Graduate (Postgraduate) to pursue a Master's Degree (S2)

Today, college or university graduates with a bachelor 's degree should think seriously about graduate education to enter a specialized profession or to advance their career. This degree is usually mandatory for higher positions in library science, mechanical engineering, behavioral health and education.

Furthermore, international students from several countries are only allowed to study abroad at the graduate level . You should investigate credential requirements for employment in your country before applying to a postgraduate university in the US

Graduate programs are usually a division of a university or college . To increase your chances of admission, you will need to take the GRE (Postgraduate Grade Examination). Some master's programs require certain grades, such as the LSAT for law, the GRE or GMAT for business, and the MCAT for medicine.

Graduate programs to pursue a master's degree generally take one or two years. For example, the MBA (Master of Business) is a very popular program that can take two years. Other master's programs, such as journalism, take only one year.

Most master's programs are taught in a classroom setting and graduate students must prepare a fairly long essay called a " master's thesis " or complete a " master's project ."

Third Level: Graduate (Postgraduate) to pursue a Doctorate Degree (Doctoral/S3)

Achieving a master's degree is the first step to obtaining a PhD (doctoral). In some universities, students can enter the doctoral level without obtaining a master's degree. A PhD degree can be earned in three years or more. For international students, it can take five or six years.

In the first two years, most doctoral candidates apply for classes and seminars. At least one year is spent on research and writing a thesis or dissertation consisting of views, plans or research that has not been previously published.

A doctoral dissertation is a discussion and conclusion of a given topic. Most universities that have doctoral programs also require their candidates to have the ability to read in two foreign languages, to spend the required time " in residence ," to pass the test given to candidates for the PhD program, and to pass the test. oral on the same topic as the dissertation.

Characteristics of the US Higher Education System

Class room

"One of the challenges is how you sign up for classes and build an academic plan. I didn't know what to study at first because I could choose from many programs. I met with Angela Khoo (Academic Advisor) about the classes I could take , and things just got easier for me."

Classes range from large classes attended by several hundred students to smaller classes and seminars (discussions) attended by only a few students. Classrooms at American universities have a dynamic atmosphere. You are expected to share and defend your opinion, participate in class discussions and give presentations. International students find this one of the surprising aspects of the American education system.

Each week, the professor provides textbooks and materials to read. You are expected to be kept up-to-date so that you can participate in class discussions and understand the lessons taught. Certain programs also require students to spend time in the laboratory.

The professors assign grades to each student who takes the course. These values ​​are usually based on:

  1. Each professor has different class participation requirements, but students are expected to participate in discussions, especially in seminar classes. Often this is a very important factor in determining value.
  2. Mid-semester exams are usually given during lecture hours.
  3. One of several research or laboratory reports should be sent for evaluation.
  4. Short exams or quizzes. Once upon a time the professor would give a "sudden exam." This sudden exam does not have a big impact on the calculation of grades, but aims to inspire students not to fall behind in the assigned assignments and their attendance.
  5. The final exam will be held after the last class meeting.


Each course has certain credit scores. This figure is equivalent to the amount of time spent in class for that course each week. Courses typically have three to five credit scores.

Full-time courses at most universities are 12 or 15 credits (four or five courses per term) and certain courses must be taken as a requirement for graduation. International students are expected to enroll in the full-time program each term.


If a student applies to a new university before earning a degree, any credit earned can be used to earn a degree at the new university. This means students can transfer to another university and graduate at the same time.

Types of American Higher Education

1. State Universities or Universities Public

universities are supported and run by the state or local government. Each of the 50 US states has at least one public university and several public colleges . Many of these public universities have the name of the state, or the word " state " in their college name: for example, Washington State University and the University of Michigan.

2. Private Universities or Colleges

These universities are run privately. Tuition fees are usually higher than public universities. Often, US private universities and colleges are smaller than public colleges.

Religion-related universities and colleges are private colleges . This college accepts students of different religions and beliefs. But there is a small number of colleges that expect more to accept students of the same belief.

3. Community College (Two-Year College)

Community college is a two-year college that provides transferable associate degrees (diplomas), as well as certifications. There are many types of associate degrees , but the distinguishing factor is whether or not the degree is transferable. Typically, there are two primary degree pathways: one for academic transfer and the other to prepare students for direct employment. University degrees that can be transferred are generally associate of arts (diploma in arts) or associate of science (diploma in science). Non-transferable is an associate of applied science degree(application science diploma) and certificates of completion (certificate of graduation).

Community college graduates generally transfer to a 4-year college or university to earn a degree. Because they can transfer credits completed at community colleges , they can complete a bachelor's program in two years or more. Many also offer ESL or intensive English programs, which will prepare students for university-level courses.

If you are not planning to earn an advanced degree from an associate, you should find out if an associate degree will be useful for finding work in your home country.

4. Institute of Technology Institute

of Technology is a university that provides science and technology education for at least four years. Some have graduate programs, others offer short-term courses.