Anybody who watches popular teenage American serials or teen movies must have been confused when a 23 year old says he goes to school and a 15 year old says he going to high school! Without doubt understanding the education system of a particular country helps a great deal in preparing you for your further studies there. America is one of the hottest destinations for Indian students. Let’s then look at the system of education in the USA
American education system
American education can be divided into elementary, secondary and higher education. Elementary and secondary education is given for a period of eight years at elementary school and middle school followed by four years in high school. After this the students appear for their ACT (American College Test) / SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test). The scores in the SAT / ACT determine which college one goes to when they are usually 17 or 18 years old.
After this students pursue their bachelor’s degree at colleges or universities (undergraduate schools) usually for a period of four years. The undergraduate degrees are divided into two categories, arts and science. The former is mainly for humanities and social science and the latter, for natural science. There is no steam as commerce but you can pursue a bachelor’s programme in Business Administration.
For your Bachelor’s degree, the emphasis you choose is called a major. Majors are offered in liberal arts areas such as art, history, philosophy, foreign languages, and sociology; as well as in professional/vocational areas such as nursing, law, business, and engineering. Majors require you to study an area in depth, but you won’t be expected to declare a major until after two years of study, and you may change majors or pursue more than one.
Other requirements, sometimes called ‘core’ or ‘distribution requirements,’ ensure that you have studied in areas outside your major. For example, engineering students might complete distribution requirements in art; history majors in mathematics.
They can then enroll for Graduate schools which have mainly two levels, masters and doctoral, which takes 1-2 years for the former, and 3-5 years for the latter.
American elementary and secondary education is free except private schools. However, higher education is very expensive, including public ones.
About Universities and Colleges
Higher education can be pursued in two-year colleges, four-year colleges and universities with masters and doctorate programs.
Two-year colleges are called community colleges or junior year colleges. Here you can pursue the first two years of your undergraduate programme. Tuition fees here are usually lower than that of four-year colleges making it a less expensive proposition.
You can also enroll in four-year colleges, which do not have graduate schools i.e. they have a bachelor’s programme but do not offer a master’s or doctorate programme. They are usually small and have few departments. However the ratio of professors and students is very less; in the range of 1: 9-12. Also each student is consulted to his/her own curriculum based on the goals of education for that particular student. Most of these colleges are privately run and are very expensive.
Then there are the large universities. Most of them have the masters and doctorate programs in addition to the bachelor’s programme program. These universities are usually supported by the state financially. They are less expensive for residents and more expensive for non-residents, since the parents of the former are paying tax and support them indirectly.
There are also private universities, and some well known ones include Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, and Stanford University. The tuition of private universities is very high, for Americans and non-Americans alike, but majority of students get scholarships or some sort of financial aid to cover majority parts of the tuition. Usually students at these institutions work while they study to pay for their education. However international students are prohibited to work off-campus during the first year and have to seek employment strictly on campus.
American colleges start in August or September and end in the following May or June. Each academic year is divided in two semester the spring semester and the fall semester or three quarters. One semester lasts 15 weeks, and one quarter 10 weeks.
Students can also opt to take classes in summer school i.e. during the spring break. If you do this, it may be possible to complete a four-year course in three years or even less.
This is the currency by which you are valued. As a rule, one credit represents one hour (50 minutes) of class time a week for one term, except in the cases of language or laboratory courses, where one credit equals up to two hours per week.
Normally, 60 credits are required for associate degrees (junior college), 120 for bachelor’s degree (four year college), 30 graduate credits for master’s degrees and 90 graduate credits for doctoral degrees.
For undergraduate studies, international students have to be full time students, and they have to take the minimum of 9 or 12 credits a week. That is, they have to attend classes for 9 or 12 hours a week.
Generally, a Bachelor of Science degree, for example, requires morecredits in the area of the student’s major than a Bachelor of Arts degree does. Most art degrees require only 24-30 credits in the major fields. So it is possible to have two majors like French and Spanish
It is also possible to transfer credits from one institution to another. Most colleges require one-year residency. This means that even if you have spent just one year of your total academic life in a particular college, you will get your degree from that college provided you obtain the requisite number of credits.
Methodology of Teaching
Each class has different requirements to finish and earn credits. Students are given a course syllabus, which explains the goal, contents, textbooks used, required work, class schedule, assignments, reading assignments for each class, and how grades are given. Most classes have a final exam at the end of the term, and one midterm exam in the middle of quarter system classes, and one or two midterm exams in the semester system classes. They may have a term paper at the end of the class. Some classes may have projects or presentations. The course syllabus shows what percentage of points are assigned for which work.
Grades are given if students enroll any class whether they finish them or not. The grades are as follows:
A (4.0) – very good (90% and above)
B (3.0) – good (80-90%)
C (2.0) – all right (70-80%)
D (1.0) – poor (60-70%)
F (0) – failure (below 60 %)
Some colleges may also give the middle score such as 3.5, and 2.5.
All grades are permanent records, and any part of them will not be taken away. Thus, even ten years later, if you try to go to a graduate school, all grades will be shown to the graduate school.
Students’ academic achievements are shown with GPA (grade point average), which is the average score of all grades based on the credits. Good GPA are very important for getting scholarships and good jobs amongst others.
The GPA is calculated as follows:
Each individual course of the programme is worth two, three, or four credits. To obtain the GPA, multiply your grades of each course with its corresponding number of credits and add them up. Dividing this with the total number of credits gives your the GPA. The maximum GPA that one can get is 4
||A = 4
||B = 3
||C = 2
||D = 1
||F = 0
Divide 32 (Grade Points Column) by 16 (Credit Hours Attempted Column) and the G.P.A. = 2.00
The American educational system differs from educational systems in many other countries in that it is based on a liberal arts philosophy – the idea that students should study a wide range of subjects before specializing in one area. So you can do your major in Business Administration and pursue a minor in Dramatics at the same time. You are at liberty to complete your academic programme depending upon you capacity be it earlier or later than the normal time period. The emphasis here is on understanding the subjects reflected by evaluation system, which takes into account the number of credits, in class assignments and projects and presentations rather than just the marks obtained in the final examinations.
The United States has over 3,600 universities, colleges and community colleges. Whatever your academic ability, you should be able to find a school that meets your needs.
Tabular comparison of the Education system
|Class I – IV – Primary Education
Class V – X- Secondary Education
Class XI –XII- Higher Secondary Education
Graduation (Three years)
Post graduation (Two years)
PH D (Three years)
Class I- V – Elementary School
Class V – VII – Middle School
Class IX – XII – High School
Undergrad Programme (Four years)
Masters programme (two years)
Doctorate programme (three-five yrs)