Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Archive

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U.S. System of Higher Education
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The terms, college and university, are used interchangeably and mean the same thing in the U.S. As a general rule, colleges tend to be smaller and usually offer only undergraduate degrees, while a university also offers graduate degrees. Within each college or university you will find schools, such as school of arts and sciences or the school of business.

A high school education is usually required to become an undergraduate university student. Many institutions will not accept international students who are younger than age 17. There are sometimes exceptions to that general rule.

The Academic year will be slightly different for each university but normally runs from end of August/early September to the end of May. It may be divided into two terms of 18 weeks called semesters. Alternatively, the university may have "quarters" or "trimesters", which are about 12 weeks in length. In addition, universities very often provide six to eight week summer terms. These are optional and students attend if they wish to get through their degree faster, to decrease their course load during the regular terms, or to make up for courses not completed successfully during the regular academic year. There are at least two main holidays during the academic year: a two to four week break over Christmas and a one week “spring break” sometime between early March and mid April.

UNDERGRADUATE: A program leading to an associate (2-year) or a bachelor's (4-year) degree; generally following high/secondary school.

GRADUATE: A program leading to a master's degree or doctoral degree; advanced study generally following a bachelor's degree.

Associate Degrees

Degree granted by a college or university after the satisfactory completion of a two year full time program of study or its part time equivalent. The associate of arts (A.A.) or associate of science (A.S.) degree is granted after students complete a program of study similar to the first two years of a four year college curriculum. The associate in applied science (A.A.S.) is awarded by many colleges on completion of technological or vocational programs of study. Associate degree programs may be "terminal" programs, which lead into specific careers upon graduation, or "transfer" programs, which correspond to the first two years of a bachelor's degree and tend to be more liberal arts based. Under the latter option one could then transfer into the third year of a four-year bachelor's degree program.

Bachelors or Baccalaureate Degree

Degree received after the satisfactory completion of a four or five year full time program of study or its part time equivalent at a college or university. The Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) are the most common baccalaureates. There is no absolute difference between the degrees, and policies concerning their award very from college to college. International students cannot generally study part-time and must maintain full-time status during the academic year. One of the most attractive features of the bachelor's degree program in the United States is that it is highly flexible. You can usually choose from a wide variety of courses and create your own unique program of study. The degree is awarded after you complete a specified number of credits. The first year of study is called the freshman year; the second is called sophomore; the third, junior; and the fourth, senior.

Master's Degree

A master's degree is designed to provide additional education or training in the student's specialized branch of knowledge, well beyond the level of baccalaureate study. Master's degrees are offered in many different fields, and there are two main types of programs: academic and professional. A person who finishes graduate school in the U.S. earns an M.A., M.S. or Ph.D. degree (Master of Arts, Master of Science or Doctorate of Philosophy). The Ph.D. is the highest scientific degree in the U.S. This degree usually requires at least three years of study and a dissertation defense. M.A. or M.S. degrees are awarded after two years of graduate studies.

• Academic Masters: The Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S.) degrees are usually awarded in the traditional arts, sciences, and humanities disciplines. The M.S. is also awarded in technical fields such as engineering and agriculture. Original research, research methodology, and field investigation are emphasized.

• Professional Masters: These degree programs are designed to lead the student from the first degree to a particular profession. Professional master's degrees are most often "terminal" master's programs, meaning that they do not lead to doctoral programs. Such master's degrees are often designated by specific descriptive titles, such as master of business administration (M.B.A.), master of social work (M.S.W.), master of education (M.Ed.), or master of fine arts (M.F.A.). Other subjects of professional master's programs include journalism, international relations, architecture, urban planning, public administration (M.P.A.), and public policy (M.P.P.).

Doctoral Degrees

A doctoral degree is designed to train research scholars and, in many cases, future college and university faculty members. Receipt of a doctoral degree certifies that the student has demonstrated capacity as a trained research scholar in a specific discipline.

At the doctoral level, the Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy) is the most common degree awarded in academic disciplines. Other doctoral degrees are awarded primarily in professional fields, such as education (Ed.D. or Doctor of Education) and Business Administration (D.B.A. or Doctor of Business Administration). Doctoral programs involve advanced coursework, seminars, and the writing of a dissertation that describes the student's own original research, completed under the supervision of a faculty adviser.

The Ph.D. degree is awarded to those students who complete an original piece of significant research, write a dissertation describing that research, and successfully defend their work before a panel of faculty members who specialize in the discipline. This may take an additional two to three years. To earn a Doctoral Degree it may take anywhere from five to eight years beyond the bachelor's degree, depending on the field of study.

MBAs are traditionally two-year programs, though there are some one-year intensive programs. International students are allowed to work on campus up to 20 hours per week for the first year they are in the US. After the first year, international students can apply for permission to work off campus up to 20 hours per week if the work is directly related to their field of study, and must be approved by the international student office where the students are studying. Many international MBA students have full-time internships or jobs the summer following their first year.

Essentially there is no difference, rather online studies is one of many means of distance learning (distance education). Distance education is a type of formal learning in which student and instructors are in different places. It may be synchronous or asynchronous. If distance education is synchronous, instruction is given at a particular time and, usually, at specific locations. If distance education is asynchronous, instruction can be received by students wherever and whenever they desire, as long as they have access to the Internet or, in the case of correspondence education, to the mail.

Distance education can be accomplished through:

• Mail

•Telephones and voicemail

• One-way or interactive radio, television, satellite, audio, or video transmission

• Video cassette recorders (VCRs) or CD-ROMs

• Email and Online

For more detailed information on Distance Education please go to the following website: (will need to link to “distance education” section within the Short-Term Study section on the research choices & test section off the students home page

Yes. To find accredited online distance learning programs please search the following website for the Distance Education & Training Council for accredited programs:

Students transfer every year from other countries into U.S. degree programs and successfully complete their degrees. However, the structure of degrees in other countries rarely matches the structure of U.S. degrees, making the transfer process more complicated. The types of institutions in other countries also vary from those in the United States.

The transfer institution needs to consider a number of factors when granting credit for the courses you have taken at a non-U.S. institution. You may consider the following factors on which U.S. colleges & universities typically make decisions:

• Is your university or college recognized by the ministry of education in your country?

U.S. colleges are looking for institutions that are recognized by a ministry of education; however, if some other authority approves your college, it may still be acceptable. Decisions vary from college to college and often depend on what the situation would be for a similar college in the United States.

• How similar is the nature or character of the courses you have taken to those offered at the transfer institution?

U.S. schools usually assess similarity by looking at information from course descriptions, syllabi, or catalogs. If your institution is not well known in the United States, the college may have to do a more detailed evaluation with you when you arrive, and only then decide whether and how to grant transfer credit.

• How applicable are your courses toward the degree, and in particular the major, that you wish to pursue?

This will often involve evaluation of the courses by both the admissions office and the academic department to which you wish to be admitted. They will look at whether courses can be accepted for transfer credit first, and then at whether they can count toward the requirements for a specific major.

Applying courses toward a particular major is most difficult for professional programs such as engineering, architecture, or journalism, where course requirements are carefully structured and often dictated by accrediting bodies for the profession.

To make the transfer process run as smoothly as possible, you are advised to make sure all academic records provided are official and bear the original stamp or seal of the issuing institution. Submit course descriptions in English for all post-secondary courses taken. They should also include:

• Summaries or outlines of the major topics covered in each course (If an outline is not available, write a summary yourself and have it certified by your school as accurate.)

• The number of units or hours required in lecture and laboratory for each course on a weekly basis

• The length of the term or academic year, and, if it is not given elsewhere, the year in which you took the course

• Prepare a list of textbooks used in each course as this will help in any decisions that are made after you arrive at the campus about whether to grant credit for particular courses

• Provide information on the total number of courses, credits, or units required for the diploma or degree program from which you are transferring

Students who transfer into a U.S. institution may also be able to receive credit for their secondary school work if it is considered to be comparable to introductory college-level work in the United States. Ask each college about its own policy on this issue.

Can’t find your questions answered in these FAQs? Click on the Ask an Adviser button below to contact your local EducationUSA Advising Center.