The United States facilitates top notch resources and qualitative education for wide variety of curriculums that enable students to pursue world-class education at the most renowned location. For every student aspiring education in USA it is essential to be aware of the structure of educational system in USA. The system comprises of 12 years of primary and high school education, which is mandatory for getting admission in any graduate college, university, or for any professional and technical schools. It is not compulsory to accomplish these 12 years of elementary education within United States. Therefore students from overseas are also welcomed for higher education in United States.
Usually the education for Americans starts at around 5 years of age. The tenure of primary schooling will be about five to six years. In this level students will be completing five grades of their education. Students have choice to select their education held either in public schools, or private schools, or home school.
Upon completion of five grades of education in primary school, students will enter high/secondary school. The tenure of secondary school will be about six to seven years, by which students will be completing their 12 grades. After completion of their secondary education, successful students will be obtaining a high school diploma which gives eligibility to get admission in any college or university. International students applying for graduation in U.S should have an equivalent grade of this diploma. After achieving high school diploma, students will join colleges or universities to pursue their undergraduate course of study. They offer two types of degrees:Undergraduate School
This is a two-year program offered, as the name suggests, as an ‘Associate degree, which is of two years duration. The program is mostly offered by Community, Vocational and Junior Colleges. Completion of this program enables the students to seek a transfer into the third year of the four-year Bachelor’s degree either in 4-year colleges or universities. Taking this route to study the first two years is very inexpensive for both American and International students, since the tuition and fees are very low when compared to other types of colleges.
Most colleges require good score in TOEFL (for establishing English proficiency) and Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) Reasoningscores for admission in their Associate Degree programs. In some colleges, admission is also possible with just a TOEFL score and good academics in 12th class. Note: For some top universities (like in Mathematics, Languages, Biology etc.), a good score in the relevant SAT Subject Test is required in addition to the SAT Reasoning Test score.
This is a four-year program at the undergraduate level. Most international students from wealthy countries such as Japan and China prefer to start their education in USA from this level. Statistics from India indicate that less than 10% of students join at this level. This is the first degree with which most students plan their career or profession. Hundreds of ‘majors’ (or specializations) in all the fields are offered at the Bachelor’s level, which makes education an attractive proposition for students all over the world.
In the U.S, the first year of Bachelor’s degree is called the Freshman Year, the second one, the Sophomore Year, the third, Junior Year and the fourth, the Senior Year.
For professional programs like Law, Medicine, Pharmacy, Physiotherapy etc., US universities offer professional programs leading to degrees such as MD (for Medicine), Pharm D (for Pharmacy) Doctor of Physiotherapy (DPT – for Physiotherapy) etc. These are known as the first professional degrees, completion of which entitles the students to practice as professionals in their respective fields (after meeting other requirements). Admission into most of these professional programs are based on good performance in entrance tests such as MCAT (for Medicine), PCAT (Pharmacy), LSAT (for Law) etc., after completion of a Bachelor’s degree in related subjects.
In near future, US universities are considering to convert the Business Administration program into a professional degree, by offering a DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) as the first professional degree.
The main difference between Indian and American systems for study of professional programs is that, while Indians can take up professional degree programs after completion of their secondary (+2) education, students have to first complete their Bachelor’s (a four-year degree) and then take up professional degree programs.
Graduate Schools and specialized colleges (Eg. College of Engineering, College of Management etc.) offer various degree programs such as Engineering, Arts and Sciences at the post-graduate level, leading to Master’s and Doctoral level degrees. These degrees are called the ‘Master of Arts (M.A), Master of Sciences (M.S), and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Duration of these programs range from one to five years, depending upon the course and level of study. Most of the Master’s level programs are of two years and Doctoral level are of four years duration.
Admission into Master’s level program is possible with a four-year degree from India. It is also possible to seek admission into the same, with a three-year degree from India. Some universities may ask to take additional pre-requisite courses to compensate for the fourth year requirement. Others ask applicants to complete a ‘Bridge’ program comprising a few additional courses, while simultaneously doing the Master’s program. Such ‘Bridge’ programs are mainly offered in the fields of Computer Science, Information Systems, IT and Business Administration. Also, some universities do directly accept the three-year degrees as equivalent to their Bachelor’s degree and enroll students from India into their Master’s programs, especially in MBA. Pre-requisite tests that are required for admission at the Master’s are,
For MS and MA programs – TOEFL and GRE General Test
For MBA and other Management related programs – TOEFL and GMAT
Note: For some programs at top universities (like in CS, Chemistry etc.), a good score in the relevant GRE Subject Test is required in addition to the GRE General Test score.
IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is becoming popular even in the US too and is being accepted by many universities now. For more information, please see: http://www.ielts.org/pdf/USA_Recognition_List.pdf
Admission into Doctoral level programs is possible normally after completion of Master’s. However, US universities are flexible in admitting even those with a Bachelor’s degree. But, the length of program might be longer than for those with a Master’s degree. Typically, the duration of Doctoral level programs is between 3 and 6 years, depending on the field of research and university.
Education in the US universities is on a semester system, the main one being the Fall semester, which starts in August/September. Almost all universities offer admission during Fall semester invariably. Many universities offer admission during the Spring semester, which starts in January. A few universities offer intakes during Winter semester, starting in November and also during Summer semester (in April). Colleges offering admission during three terms are known to be operating on a trimester system and those offering during all the four terms, on a Quarter system.
Most programs offer admission (especially in very good universities) during Fall semester only and many others during both Fall and Spring. While Summer intake is possible in a few universities, Winter is rare. Top universities offer only one intake during Fall, especially for MBA programs. And, some universities start their professional programs during Summer! It is best to verify which program is offered for what semesters in the universities you plan to apply for.
It is best to prefer admission during Fall intake, since that is the most popular semester and possibility of financial aid is more during this semester. Also, due to lesser/non-availability of faculty members, admission may be difficult and you cannot obtain credits during Summer and Winter semesters. More importantly, Visa could be a problem if one seeks admission during these two off-beat semesters as very rarely applicants prefer to go during these terms.
Education system in US allows students to seek a ‘transfer’ from one program to another (within the same university) and one university to another. During such transfers, whatever ‘credits’ the student obtain during their previous study will be transferred to the new course/university depending upon the policies of the new university.
Also, transfer is possible for international students from one level to another. For example, if a student who has completed a three year degree and wants to enroll in a Bachelor’s program in US, he/she could take a transfer into the third year of the Bachelor’s degree. While this may entail a loss of one year, that helps students to choose a specialization during the last two years at the Bachelor’s level and continue with their professional or career-oriented education.
Students are evaluated for their performance, based on the number of credits they obtain during their academic performance. These credits are calculated depending upon the performance in semester-end examinations, class room preparation, seminar participation, laboratory hours etc. In certain cases, ‘units’ or ‘semester hours’ are used instead of credits. For every course of study students will earn a particular number of credits per semester. Professors and advisers assist the students in organizing their course schedule for their academic year.
To complete a Bachelor’s degree, students are usually have to complete 112 to 120 credits (24/30 per year) for four years. At the Master’s level, students have to complete at least 36 credits (18 per year) for a two-year program. Please note that in order to maintain the legal status as a ‘student’, USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) specifies that a particular number of credits have to be enrolled for, by international students. For example, a minimum of nine credits per semester have to be enrolled for, at the Master’s level.
Sometimes, a student would be given ‘Grades’ based on his academic performance. After completion of a particular course successfully, he professors would award a letter ‘Grade’ for each course.
For every course/unit, the university will pre-determine the number of credit hours. For example, for most courses the no. of hours to be completed are THREE Credit hours. For some, however, even FIVE may be assigned. These letter grades will be assigned with a numerical value, as follows:
|A = 4||which is equivalent between||90 – 100%|
|B = 3||do||80 – 90%|
|C = 2||do||80 – 70%|
|D = 1||do||70 – 60%|
|F = 0 (Fail)||do||< 60%|
A Grade Point Average (GPA) will be computed based on the number of courses, number of credits (for each course) and the numerical value of a grade. The numerical grade for each course will be multiplied with the number of credits taken by the student and the total points thus obtained will be divided by the total number of credit hours.
Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) is the average of Grade Points obtained over all the semesters.
Since this is not the practice followed in India, it is neither advisable nor possible to convert the percentages or grades (given in India) into the GPA under the US System.
In is best to indicate the percentage or grade as given by your institution in your qualifying examination. However, if universities insist on conversion or equivalence, one option is to get the credentials evaluated.
If a student has completed his education outside of the U.S., he must have his credentials evaluated in order to have them understood and recognized by educational institutions, employers, licensing and certification boards in the U.S, such as Worldwide Credentials Evaluation Service (WES), Foreign Academic Credential Services (FCAS) etc. A WES evaluation, which is very popular, will provide you with the U.S. academic equivalents for your credentials and allow you to pursue further education or seek employment in the U.S. There is no U.S. government agency that evaluates credentials. Credentials are evaluated by universities and by private organizations such as WES.
A number of academic institutions have employees who evaluate international credentials. Many other colleges and universities require that international credentials be evaluated by an expert service such as WES. A WES evaluation compares your credentials with their U.S. educational equivalents by providing a document by document evaluation and/or course by Course evaluation. For more information, see: www.wes.org and www.facsusa.com