A Primer on US Colleges

A Primer on US Colleges
  • Nitin
  • 03 Oct, 2019

When it comes to studying abroad, many students prefer the USA as one of their dream destinations for higher education. Today, the USA is among the leading study destinations for international students with having more than 150 top notch Universities listed in the QS World University Rankings. As many as 1.2 million international students are studying in these preeminent US colleges out of which more than 75% of students are Asian. Some of the most popular places to study in the US for international students are New York, California, and Texas. A large number of students enroll themselves for subjects like business, engineering, computer science, and mathematics, etc.

The United States is home to over 7000 colleges and universities. A lot of people get confused between the terms “colleges” and “universities”. In the formal language, a “college” refers to a part of the university among other colleges, which are divided by the subject areas and education level, etc. Unlike in many other countries, students ‘go to college’ after completing their ‘high school’ studies in the United States, no matter if it is a college or the university. The US education system allows its students to enroll themselves for dual enrolment program by which they can take up classes in colleges while being in high school.

Types of Colleges

The categorization of the US colleges is based on many factors such as the degree offered, courses types, and size of the college, etc.

Two and Four Year Colleges

The two-year colleges are also known as the Junior Colleges or Community Colleges. These colleges often offer an associate’s degree programs that can be of either one or two years at max.

The four-year colleges, on the other hand, are those colleges that offer dedicated four-year degree courses at the undergraduate level and two-year postgraduate degree courses.

Liberal Arts Colleges

There is another category of colleges in the US that is called Liberal Arts Colleges. These colleges offer four-year degree courses that emphasize the liberal arts course curriculums only. The USA used to have only liberal arts, theology, medicines and law courses at the higher education level until the 20th century; hence, these colleges are traditionally designed to focus on the aforesaid subjects. However, nowadays, such liberal arts colleges are more sophisticated and up to date.

Private Colleges or Universities

Colleges that are run privately and have no interference from the US government are called the Private Colleges. These private colleges/ universities are often smaller in size as compared to State colleges/ universities. The tuition fee and other expenses in Private colleges/ universities are typically higher than the state or public colleges/ universities.

There is another type of Private Colleges that are mainly focused on imparting education to students with the same religions and beliefs. These colleges offer admission to other students as well; however, a specific percentage of their total enrolment is reserved for students with similar religions. These colleges/ universities are also known as the Religiously-affiliated colleges/ universities.

State or Public Colleges or Universities

As the name suggests, state or public colleges are those that are supported and run by the state or Local government. There are 50 states in the United States and each state runs at least one state university. Other than that, there are several state colleges available in almost every state in the USA. A lot many of these state or public colleges can be identified by the term “State” in their names. Some such examples include Cleveland State University, San Francisco State University, Florida State University, and Pennsylvania State University, etc.

Residential Colleges

A residential college is one in which students are provided with three-time meals a day, fully furnished bedrooms, weekly cleanness facility, along with access to other facilities such as the Wi-Fi, library, college tutorials, air conditioning, 24-hour security, staff support, and sports, etc. These residential colleges and universities are segregated based on various factors such as gender, religion, and dietary, etc. Residential colleges/ universities are the prime choices for most international students. Thus, the US education system has increased its focus on providing more residential colleges lately.

Ivy League Colleges

There are 8 prominent colleges that are called the Ivy League Colleges. These Ivy League Colleges are the most prestigious, reputed and highly competitive athletic colleges in the USA. In the early 1960s, the athletic teams of these Ivy League colleges have gained much popularity and fetched the immense amount of funding. Since then, these Ivy League colleges have maintained the high standards of education and students’ performance till date. Even today, students graduating from Ivy League colleges are often considered more luminous, intellectual and successful than students from other schools. Ivy League colleges offer a lot many resources to invite smart and career-minded students from across the globe. These are the highly competitive institutions when it comes to providing admission. Only the top students get admission to the Ivy League colleges. The tuition fees in these institutes are often higher than in other colleges. However, they also provide bright students with financial aids and various scholarships as well.

Get a feel for the Ivy League Colleges by exploring the list below: (Tip: “Shortlist” a College you like and you can dig deeper later)

Harvard University

Yale University

Princeton University

Columbia University

 Brown University

Dartmouth College

University of Pennsylvania

Cornell University

College Characteristics

Credits System

As per the Credits provision, each course is assigned specific credits or credits. In a nutshell, these credits coarsely depict the number of hours per week a student should dedicate to the course. Usually, a course is given three to five credits as per the course curriculum.

Most schools and colleges prefer students to devote 12 to 15 credit hours per semester to a course. A student must accomplish a certain number of credit hours to proceed to the level of the degree.

Major and Minor Subjects

The US universities typically offer four-year undergraduate degree courses where students study a wide range of subjects in the first two years after which they can select one or more subjects to focus on. This formal commitment to one or more subjects is called ‘Major(s)’. Another positive aspect of pursuing an undergraduate degree in the US is to opt for a ‘Minor’ qualification. Meaning, you can take up another subject in an additional field along with your Major degree. For instance, you can opt for business management major along with a minor in Accountancy or Economics. This way, you can explore an additional field, which can or cannot be related to your major subject.

Classroom Structure and Environment

The United States colleges and universities own quite a dynamic classroom environment where the classes are held on various levels ranging from small classroom lectures and seminars for a few students to large lectures that are attended by a few hundred students. Such a classroom environment provides each student to participate in the discussions, share their opinions, give presentations and explain their point of view on various topics and subjects. This unique classroom environment attracts a lot of international students as they find if surprisingly amazing and fun to learn things. Other than that, some of the programs require students to learn through spending time in school laboratories.

What makes the USA one of the best destinations for study abroad is its diverse ethnicities, world-class education system, top-notch colleges and universities, and quality programs designed as per the global market values. The USA offers a pool of opportunities for students through its high academic standards, multicultural environment and an excellent support system for international students. When all's said and done, studying in the USA is a very good opportunity to kick start a career, especially for international students who literally have all choices in the world.


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