Education Systems


USA Higher Education - Degree & System

Degrees offered by US institutions of Higher Education

Core values

In the US, higher education is built around the liberal arts model, which balances depth and breadth. A college student should have some ability in all major areas of intellectual skill: critical reading, analytical writing, qualitative analysis, quantitative analysis, and abstract and symbolic reasoning. This is what General Education ensures.

However, student also needs to have some level of specialization. He or she will ideally be particularly strong in one or two of the above skill sets, and combine that with discipline-specific knowledge. That’s what a major is for.

On top of that, a college student needs to prepare to enter a career with career planning, experiential learning, and networking. If a student does all of this, navigating college and the professional world becomes much easier.

Bachelor’s Degree

It is important to note that undergraduate degrees in theUnited Statesfall into two categories: the Associate Degree, which is a two-year degree (either an Associate of Arts Degree or an Associate of Science Degree) and the Bachelor’s Degree, which is a four-year degree. 

After obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree, students can choose to further their education by continuing onto graduate school, where they can earn a Master’s Degree or Doctorate Degree (Ph.D.). Do note that professional schools such as business school, law school, medical school, and pharmacy school are also graduate level institutions that prepare students for careers ins specific fields and require that students earn a 4-year bachelor’s degree before matriculating. (Refer the list of Majors offered by US Colleges at the bottom).

Postgraduate Degree

There are close to 1,600 universities awarding postgraduate degrees in theUS, each offering its own curriculum and specialized fields of study.

Types of postgraduate degrees offered in theUS include a combination of research and taught components.

* Professional Master- the degree prepares you for a particular profession (e.g. business administration, architecture, social work, or public policy/administration, for example). Professional degrees generally require a set of mandatory core courses and electives, allowing students specialize or take courses outside the department. They mostly emphasize coursework and are unlikely to require a thesis. At the end of  some of these programs, students may need to complete an internship or a project.

* Academic Master – you generally complete the degree in two academic years (though there are a few one-year programs) and commonly lead to a career in academia or research. Students typically complete a thesis as part of their studies. In the humanities, these degrees may also involve meeting a minimum language requirement. Please note that some institutions will only offer admission for academic/research-based Doctoral degrees, although under circumstances they may award a Master’s degree to students who successfully complete the required coursework and Master's thesis, but do not go on to complete their Doctoral dissertation.

* Doctoral degrees – you’ll generally complete this degree in 4 to 5 years of study, though this will vary by university, its department and area of study. In general, the degree consists of two to three years of coursework culminating in oral and written qualifying exams before the student is admitted to doctoral candidacy and starts on two to three more years of dissertation research. A dissertation of publishable quality work is then required, followed by an oral exam or 'defense' to complete the degree. Depending on the department, students may apply for a two-year Master’s program and then continue on working toward the Doctoral degree or begin the Doctoral program straightaway.

* Medicine degrees - Medicine is a postgraduate degree in theUS. Students need to complete a first degree in a science related field before completing a four-year medical school degree. This is then followed by residency and internship programs to get a MD/DO medicine degree.

* Law degrees - Law is also a postgraduate degree in theUS. Students may complete a three-year JD degree following undergraduate study. Upon completion of the JD degree, students need to sit for a bar exam to become qualified to practice law in a given state. The JD degree prepares individuals to practise law in theUS. More often international students do a one or two-year LLM (Master’s in Law degree), if they have a first degree in law back in their home countries. Master’s in Law degree offers specialised study in a particular area of law, such as international law or tax law.


The US Bachelor Degree consists of 4 years:
Freshman/1st year - Sophomore/2nd year: General Education and Pre-major
Junior/3rd year - Senior/4th year: Major study
Semester/Quarter System
Many schools in the USA have a two-semester system, each semester lasting for roughly 15-17 weeks. The fall semester usually starts in late-August or September, and finishes just before or after Christmas. The spring semester begins in early- to mid-January and runs until May or sometimes June. 

Some schools use a semester system called the quarter system, each quarter lasting for about 10 weeks. There are also schools which schedule three-semester academic years, where each semester is 10-12 weeks
Academic requirements

Admission requirements vary between universities and colleges in the United States. The students must have graduated from secondary school. They have to fulfill the requirements for the specific education course to which you are applying. Most schools require results from a test like the SAT Reasoning Test (Scholastic Assessment/Aptitude Test), which is a standardized test for university admissions.

All Community Colleges and many universities do not need the SAT. Take for example, Albright College will accept students provide you are a high school graduate. These give a lot of advantages to overseas students.
Language requirements
Some schools in the US accept that you have obtained certificates at sufficiently high standard in English from secondary school. Many universities require that you complete a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test to prove your English skills.
Again, many community colleges do not need applicant to sit for the official English test as they provide the English as a Secondary course for them.
Credit System

Each course you take at a university in the USA is counted as a certain number of credits, also called hours or units. The students normally need between 130 (under Semester system) and 180 credits (under Quarter system) to graduate.

One credit is equal to 50 minutes of class time per week; completing a class that meets 3 times every week is equal to earning 3 credits. Full-time students usually earn 15 credits every semester. Students are assigned an academic advisor at the school who helps plan their credits and courses.

Grading System

Almost everything you do for a class in the United States effect your grade. Essays, written assignments, laboratory reports, class attendance and class participation, test and examinations.

The grade scale is usually from either A to F. For each grade, you need certain percentages. For example, to get an A (or 4) on a test, you usually need to correctly answer 90-100 % of the questions, to get a B (or 3), you need 80-90%, and so on. Other common grades are:
•I = incomplete
•W = withdrawal
•Audit = enroll in the course for no credit or grade, but attend class and complete assignments
•Pass/ Fail = enroll in the course for either a Pass or a Fail grade
Pass/ No Credit = enroll in the course for either a Pass or a No Credit grade, with no negative points
Examinations are usually given once in the middle of the term and once at the end. Professors often give short quizzes or tests in between, with or without notice. Many times you must write a research paper or complete a project assignment toward your final grade.
Grade point average (GPA) is a common measurement of grade in universities and colleges in the United States. The scale is from 0 to 4.0; students with a 4.0 GPA being the highest grade overall in every class.

List of common Majors offered by Colleges in USA

African Studies

American Studies

Asian & Pacific Area Studies

European Studies

Latin American Studies

Middle Eastern Studies

Afro-American (Black) Studies

Native American Studies

Hispanic-American Studies

Islamic Studies

Judaism & Jewish Studies


Agricultural Sciences

Animal Sciences

Plant & Soil Sciences

Agricultural Business & Management

Range Management

Agricultural Mechanization


Veterinary Sciences

Computer Sciences

Computer & Information Sciences

Computer Programming

Data Processing

Information Mgmt. Sciences & Systems

Computer Mathematics

Library Science


Bilingual/Cross-cultural Education

Special Education


Adult & Continuing Education

Elementary Education

Pre-School Education

Junior Education

Senior High Education

Art, Music, & Drama Edu

Home Economics Education

Physical/Health/Fitness Education

Science Education

Vocational/Industrial Education

Business Education

Foreign Language Teacher Education

Liberal Arts Education

Social Science Education

Mathematics Education

Computer Science Education

Religious Education


Aerospace Aeronautical 

Astronautical Engineering

Agricultural Engineering

Architectural Engineering


Biomedical Engineering

Ceramic Engineering

Chemical Engineering

Civil Engineering

Communications Engineering

Computer Engineering

Electrical Engineering

Electronics Engineering

Geological Engineering

Geophysical Engineering

Industrial Engineering & Design

Materials Engineering

Mechanical Engineering

Metallurgical Engineering

Mining & Mineral Engineering

Marine Engineering

Naval Architecture

Nuclear Engineering

Petroleum Engineering

Surveying & Mapping Sciences

Systems Analysis & Engineering

Engineering-Related Technology


Automotive Engineering & Tech.

Electrical Technology

Electromechanical Technology

Environmental/Energy Control Tech.

Engineering Mechanics

Occupational Safety & Health Tech.

Construction & Building Tech.

Aviation & Air Transportation


English & Literature

English Language

Classics & Classical Studies

Comparative Literature

Creative Writing


American Literature

English Literature

Speech & Rhetorical Studies

Technical and Business Writing

Foreign Languages

Foreign Languages/Literature



Asian Languages










Middle Eastern Languages


Slavic (other than Russian)

General & Interdisciplinary Studies


Conflict Resolution/Peace Studies

Women's Studies

Liberal/General Studies

Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies

Individualized Majors



Actuarial Sciences

Applied Mathematics


Medical & Allied health Care

Dental Schools

Dental Assisting Schools

Medical Schools - All Majors

Medical Assisting Schools

Nursing Schools

Pharmacy Schools

Veterinary Schools

Military Science & Protective Services

Military Sciences

Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement

Fire Protection & Security

Parks & Recreation Resources

Parks Administration

Sports, Recreation, & Leisure Studies

Equestrian Studies

Conservation Mgmt. & Protection

Forestry Production & Processing


Wildlife & Fish Management

Ecology Sciences

Environmental Sciences

Philosophy, Religion, & Theology


Religion & Theology

Philosophy & Religion

Biblical Languages

Bible Studies

Religious Education

Religious Music

Ministry & Church Administration

Public Affairs & Law

Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement

Public Affairs/Administration

Social Work & Social Services


Legal Assisting

Religious affiliation

Catholic Affiliation

Protestant Affiliation

Mormon Affiliation

Other Religious Affiliation



Biochemistry & Biophysics


Cell & Molecular Biology



Marine Biology

Biological Specializations

Physical Sciences



Atmospheric Sciences & Meteorology


Geological Sciences


Earth & Space Sciences

Science Technologies


Social Sciences

Social Sciences

Anthropology & Archaeology





International Affairs/Relations

Political Science & Government



Urban Studies

Sports (Men’s & Women's)

Alpine skiing










Cross-Country Running



Field Hockey





Ice Hockey


Martial Arts

Nordic skiing











Track & Field

Track & Field


Water Polo

Weight Lifting



Visual & Performing Arts

Visual & Performing Arts

Crafts & Artisanry


Design, Photography

Dramatic Arts

Film Arts

Fine Arts


Museums & Preservation



Three major philosophical beliefs that shape American public life.
1. Informed by the Jeffersonian ideals of limited government and freedom of expression, states, religious communities, and individuals established and maintain a range of higher education institutions and continue to protect these institutions from the levels of government control seen in most other countries.
2. The second set of influences is capitalism and the belief in the rationality of markets. American colleges and universities vie for students, faculty, and funding under the assumption that diversity and high quality are best achieved through competition rather than centralized planning.

3. The final major philosophical influence on American higher education is a widespread commitment to equal opportunity and social mobility. Higher education was an elite activity for much of its history, excluding individuals based on gender, religion, race/ethnicity, and social class. However, during the 20th century, economic and social changes transformed higher education into a primary gateway to the middle-class, and women and minorities made inroads against longstanding exclusion from mainstream higher education. Americans came to view broad access to higher education as a necessary component of the nation’s ideal as a “land of opportunity.”