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Want to study in the US?
Pushpinder Bhatia
Get news updates:What's this?
September 29, 2008

If you have answered YES to any one of the questions above, read on.

Let us first of all understand the education system of the US so that a correct course, institute can be selected. Later on, we will discuss the various kinds of educational institutes offering your chosen course.

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Primary school:
American children start schooling at the age of five years. The first year at school is called kindergarten. Primary school most commonly consists of five years of education, referred to as first through fifth grades.

Secondary school:
Upon completion of fifth grade (the last year of primary school), students advance to secondary school. Secondary school comprises of seven years, referred to as sixth to the twelfth grades. The ninth through twelfth grades are most commonly referred to as
high school. Upon completion of twelfth grade, American students are awarded a certificate called the high school diploma. This diploma is required for the admission into college or university. The same applies to international students who must have completed studies that are equivalent to what is taught at an American high school.

After schooling comes the undergraduate study or Bachelos as we call it in India. Students who have completed high school and would like to attend college or university must attend what is referred to as an undergraduate school. These are schools that offer either a two-year degree (called an associate degree) or a four-year degree (called a bachelors degree) in a specific course of study.

That course of study is called the major. While such schools that offer a four-year degree will admit students who have not yet chosen a major, all students are required to select (or declare) a major by the second year at school. Students who complete an associate degree can continue their education at a four-year school and eventually complete a bachelor degree.

The bachelors degree or under graduate study usually lasts for four years. However, in some cases an accelerated programme can be completed in three years, while some professional fields like medicine, law etc require five years. The four-year undergraduate study is for 120 credit hours. Here's the key to know how many courses a student will study. Ideally, one course averages three credits. However, subjects involving lab facilities will get four credits. A student receives a Bachelor's degree or undergraduate degree when he finishes around 40 courses in different subjects over a span of four years.

Separate names/ titles given to the undergraduate students of different years to distinguish them. You would read such names on the universities' websites as well. First year students are called Freshmen, 2nd year Sophomores, third year Juniors and the 4th or last year students are referred to as Seniors. The decision of the major's to be taken is necessary only after the 2nd or sophomore year. Deciding the majors is termed 'Declaring a Major' in US. 

Let's have a look at what all is involved in Graduate study or Masters as it is called in India. Graduate education differs from undergraduate education in that it offers a greater depth of training, with increased specialization and intensity of instruction. Study and learning are more self-directed at the graduate level than at the undergraduate level.

Students who have obtained a bachelor's degree (both domestic and international) can continue their education by pursuing one of the two types of graduate degrees ie the master's degree and the doctoral degree; both involve a combination of research and coursework.

To pursue a master's degree in USA, a student needs to have 16 years of undergraduate study. Thus, a candidate who has successfully completed four years of Bachelors Program or Under Graduate Study is eligible to apply for the Master's Degree in USA. However, the traditional three year degree (BA, BSc and BCom) holders from India must complete an additional year of degree programme for eligibility. There are some universities which have started accepting Indian students after 15 years of study as well.

The first type is a master's degree. This is usually a two-year degree that is highly specialised in a specific field. It is generally expected that students have a bachelor's degree in a closely related field for admission into a relevant master's degree program. However, there are many exceptions to this, such as with students who want to pursue a Master's in Business Administration (MBA) degree. This means two of the students who have done a Bachelors of Commerce or Bachelors of Engineering are eligible for the same MBA provided they meet the other criteria as well

Like in case of Undergraduate a study, a graduate student needs to fulfill Degree requirements which are stated in terms of "credits" (sometimes called "units" or "hours"). Each course usually earns three or four credits, generally reflecting the number of hours spent in the classroom and the amount of other work involved. A student will usually accumulate up to 48-54 credits for the whole course if the university operates on a traditional two-semester system.

The second kind of graduate degree is PhD. Students who want to advance their education even further in a specific field can pursue a doctorate degree, also called a PhD. A PhD degree can take between three and six years to complete, depending on the course of study chosen, the ability of the student, and the thesis that the student has selected. The thesis is a very intensive research paper that must be completed prior to earning the degree.

Academic Calendar & Sessions
The academic year in the United States generally lasts nine months, from late August or early September until the middle or end of May, and it may be divided into two, three, or four academic terms depending on the institution. If the year is divided into two terms, these are called the Fall and Spring terms, or "Semesters". Short breaks occur during both fall and spring terms, between terms and on public holidays. An optional summer term is often available and provides the opportunity to continue courses if the student wishes to accelerate the programme.

It is best to start a programme in the fall term (beginning in August/September). This is because many courses must be taken in sequence, and time may be lost in completing the degree if students start in another term. It is also easier to become accustomed to studying in the United States and to meet other students in the department if you start at the beginning of the academic year. Lastly, scholarships may be more readily available to students starting in the fall rather than midyear.

Colleges, Universities and Institutes
Institutions in the United States can be of various kinds ie colleges, institutes, universities. As a general rule, colleges tend to be smaller and usually offer only undergraduate degrees, while a university also offers graduate degrees. An institute usually specializes in degree programmes in a group of closely related subject areas. Thus, you will also come across degree programmes offered at institutes of technology, institutes of fashion, institutes of art and design, Moreover, colleges are in no way inferior to universities.

State Universities
State universities or Public universities are founded and subsidized by US state governments to provide low-cost education to residents of that state. Some include the words "state university" in their title or a regional element such as "eastern" or "northern".

State universities tend to be very large, with enrollments of 20,000 or more students, and generally admit a wider range of students than private universities. State university tuition costs are generally lower than those of private universities. Also, in-state residents (those who live and pay taxes in that particular state) pay much lower tuition than out-of-state residents.

International students, as well as those from other states, are considered out-of-state residents and therefore do not benefit from reduced tuition at state institutions. In addition, international students may have to fulfill higher admission requirements than in-state residents

Private Universities
Private institutions are funded by a combination of endowments, tuition fees, research grants, and gifts from their alumni. Tuition fees tend to be higher at private universities than at state universities, but there is no distinction made between state and non-state residents. In general, private universities have enrollments of fewer than 20,000 students, and private colleges may have 2,000 or fewer students on their campuses.

Community Colleges
As the name suggests, community colleges are community-based institutions with close links to secondary schools, community groups, and employers. Community colleges can be public or private institutions and are sometimes called junior colleges or two-year colleges. Community provide two-year associate degree programs, usually called the associate of arts (AA) or associate of science (AS) degrees, as well as excellent technical and vocational programs.

A growing number of international students are choosing to study at community colleges primarily because tuition costs are often lower at two-year than at four-year institutions. Secondly, majority of the community colleges usually have agreements to allow students to move easily into the third year of a bachelor's degree at the local state university.

Vocational and Technical Institution
These institutes specialize in training for the skilled trades and technical fields of employment. Duration of the courses depends on the particular subject. After completion, the students will be awarded a certificate of completion and they can straight away join a job.

Assessment tests
Educational institutions use variety of tools to assess the students. Test range in style from multiple choice (objective type) format designed to gauge your knowledge of the subject and reasoning ability to essay or problem-solving type tests. There are three kinds of tests -- open book tests, closed books tests and take home tests. In the 1st type, you can refer notes, text book, reference material etc during the test. 2nd one is usual tests that we have in India. In the 3rd one you take the question paper home and answer at your convenience before the dead line set by the professor. Take home tests often have essay-based questions.

American Universities give grades instead of ranks or classes for courses. The grades are A, B, C, D, E, F, I. A is the highest grade. Grades from A to D is considered as pass. Grade I-incomplete. Grade I is granted when students stops the course in between with the teachers permission. If it is without permission this can become F grade.

Each grade has points. 4 points for A grade, 3 for B and 2 for C. The average points taken for all the courses taken together are the GPA (Grade Point Average). It is the general score on a scale of 1.0(lowest) to 4.0 (highest). It is difficult to get admission for graduate study if you don't have at least a GPA of 3.0. GPA is computed using a unique formula by the university's administration.

I am sure by now, you would have understood the majority of the terms you read on the websites/ brochures of various colleges/ universities/ institutes. Also, this will help in deciding what kind of educational institution you are eligible for as well as wish to join.

Part II: Admission process and time involved

If you have further queries on studying in the US, join us for a chat on Friday, October 3, at 4 pm.

The writer is CEO of PAC Asia Services, a leading Study Abroad Consultant of the country & the sub continent. He has 12 years of experience in guiding the students aspiring to study abroad. For more information, one may visit or call at 011- 41668383                                                                                     

Reference: Information courtesy US Network For Education Information (USNEI)

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