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A Guide to Studying in the USA

Jessica Guiver
Copyright 2011

Contents
Introduction

The Higher Education System Types of degrees Types of institutions Community Colleges Four-year colleges Universities

3 3 3 3 4 4

Life on campus Terminology Clubs & societies The Greek system Sports Residential life

4 4-5 5 5 5 6

Getting accepted

Introduction
Higher education in the USA is a complex system. With over 4,500 colleges and universities to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start. This guide aims to clear away some of the confusion with a short explanation of the US higher education system. Well then look at what you can expect to encounter on a US college or university campus, both in your studies and from student life. Making the decision to study for a degree in the United States can be exciting and overwhelming, but it should be a decision you make with full knowledge of what to expect so that it doesnt disappoint. If you are prepared, it can be one of the best decisions youll ever make. Higher education in America is world-class, with over 50 institutions ranked in the Times Higher World Top 100 which is more than any other country. America is still a land of opportunity but your decision to study there will only be a good as you make it.

The Higher Education System


Types of degrees Undergraduate: Associates and Bachelors Postgraduate (also called graduate in the US): Masters and Doctorate

Associates degrees usually take two years to complete and are considered the first two years of a Bachelors degree. A Bachelors degree can be completed in four years, although it sometimes takes students a bit longer. A Masters degree is typically two years in length, and a Ph.D or Doctorate can be an additional threeto-five years after that depending on research.

Types of institutions There is a variety of institutions within the US higher education system. Community colleges Four-year colleges both public and private Universities both public and private

Community colleges are two-year institutions which offer the Associates degree. The range of subjects at community colleges is usually limited, and the cost of tuition is generally much less expensive than at four-year colleges and universities. Many students will study at a community college for two years and earn their Associates degree before transferring into the third year of a four-year Bachelors degree programme at a college or university. This can be a lower cost alternative to getting your Bachelors, rather than studying all four years at a four-year college or university. 3

Four-year colleges: Institutions which offer only Bachelors degrees are known as four-year colleges; some may have very limited Masters degree programmes. Colleges often follow the liberal arts curriculum which is a taught curriculum (as opposed to research) that encourages critical thinking. Colleges will generally offer a wide-range of subjects, including maths and sciences, so dont be fooled by the term liberal arts. Four-year colleges are usually small, private and residential, meaning students live on campus. The Bachelors degree experience will be highly interactive at a four-year college; often the student-teacher ratio is low which means classroom participation is not only expected, it is required. While most four-year colleges are coeducational, ie. both male and female students attend, there is a small number of male-only and female-only colleges. Additionally, many private colleges and universities are associated with a particular religion or church, such as the Catholic institutions or Yeshivas which are Jewish. Universities: As you would expect, universities in America are research-oriented institutions which offer both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees (Bachelors, Masters, Ph.Ds). There are many types of universities in the US: small and private, large and public, small and public, large and private. State universities will often be a part of a larger network of universities; for example, the University of Texas system includes nine universities and six health institutions which are located throughout the state. Universities will often have professional schools attached to them, such as law school, business school, medical school or journalism school. Different universities will be known for different things; for example, some universities may be known for a strong sports programme, others for a great business school or MBA programme, and still others might be best for aspiring filmmakers, artists and designers. Larger universities will be very heavily involved in research, which makes them particularly attractive to Ph.D candidates.

Life on campus
Terminology When you start college or university in the United States, you might hear some terms which you dont recognize. Freshman, sophomore, junior, senior this is the classification for each year of a Bachelor degree programme. In your first year you are called a freshman, second year you are a sophomore, third year a junior, and in your last year of a four-year Bachelor programme you will be called a senior. Major and minor this is the subject of your degree. For example, if you are studying to get a degree in art history, your major would be art history. People would refer to you as an art history major. You can also study another subject, but take only a few courses in that subject area; this would be called your minor. 4

Core courses these are required courses everyone must take, regardless what their major. Electives courses that you take out of interest, but which do not count towards your degree. GPA Grade Point Average, this is your cumulative mark for all the courses you have taken. School in the US, people refer to all institutions of learning as school. So if someone asks you what school you go to, they are asking what college or university you go to.

Clubs and societies Most colleges and universities will have hundreds of clubs, societies and organizations you can join. No matter what you are interested in, you are bound to find something you like. American students tend to be very active in extracurricular activities, and joining a club is a great way to meet people and make new friends. Clubs and societies are formed around a variety of interests, and you could join one based in the subject area of your degree or one that is a hobby like chess, ballroom dancing or music. There will be clubs and groups for students with particular political, religious, and cultural interests. Sports clubs are very important on American campuses, and you will find one for almost every sport you can imagine. Whatever you do, dont just sit there join in! The Greek system: One particular feature that is unique to colleges and universities in the United States is the Greek system. This is a network of clubs which are social organizations, and students must go through a rigorous application process to join called pledging. The Greek system is usually only used at the undergraduate level and are usually single-sex, ie. all-male or all-female. In general, all-male clubs are called fraternities and all-female clubs are called sororities, but this may not be the case on all college and university campuses. If you hear someone talking about pledging to join a frat (or a sorority) it means they are going through the initiation (application process) to become a member of that particular club. This system of social organizations is called Greek because the name of the club consists of two or three Greek letters such as Chi Omega or Phi Beta Kappa.

Sports Sports are hugely important on American college and university campuses, not only at the club (intramural) level, but also at the varsity level. Some varsity level sports include American football, baseball, swimming, track and field (athletics), soccer, basketball, golf and tennis. Universities compete against each other in sports nation-wide at the varsity level and it is the highest level of competition available to serious athletes before going professional. On some campuses, sports men and women are almost like professionals and are seen as mini-celebrities. If 5

this sounds unbelievable, just think that the University of Texas sports stadium can seat over 100,000 spectators! It would be hard not to be a celebrity after that kind of attention.

Residential life If you choose to live on-campus in university housing when you are studying in America, you will be involved in residential life. Res life is an integral part of the institution at most colleges and universities in the US and provides students with social events, support and welfare while they are studying for their degree. In most residence halls (student accommodation) there will be several resident assistants (RAs) who are fellow students who have been employed to act as leaders in the residence hall and oversee activities and students welfare. RAs are trained to give guidance, act as a mentor and manage crises. Your RA is someone you can turn to if you need advice, help or dont know how to manage a situation. RAs also arrange fun social events in the residence hall on a regular basis, so join in to make friends! The most common living situation in university accommodation is a shared room (a double) with shared bathrooms down the hall. Your roommate will be the same sex as you, and its a great way to make a new friend. If you dont get along with your roommate, you can request to change rooms. Residence halls can be mixed sex (both men and women) or single sex, and on many college and university campuses there will be themed residence hall, such as first-year students only, international students only, married students or athletes. A typical university accommodation application form will ask you for your preferences.

Getting accepted Applying to study at a college or university in the USA is a time-consuming process, particularly if you arent familiar with what to expect and how its done. For the top institutions, its also very competitive. There are literally hundreds of thousands of students all competing for the same universities, and only the best will get in. Not everybody will be accepted, but not everybody wants to go to those universities. If you are thinking about studying for a degree in America, you should consider all your options and look at colleges and universities you might not have heard of before. Your experience at an excellent, but less well-known institution can be just as good or even better than studying at one of the big-name places. Your chances of being awarded a scholarship will be better as well. With over 4,500 colleges and universities to choose from, there will be several really good options for you to consider. And no matter where you choose to go, you will likely have access to excellent facilities and a world-class education.

If you have decided that you want to get your degree at a college or university in the United States, please contact me. I can help you get there. See my Consulting Services page and then contact me to book your free initial consultation.

Thank you. Jessica Guiver American Education Consultant www.JRGuiver.com