Understanding the Educational System in America

July 25, 2017

The United States has many different types of institutions which offer post-secondary education. These include community colleges, colleges, and universities. There are around 4000 colleges and universities in the United States.


Community Colleges

Community colleges, sometimes called junior colleges, are two-year schools that provide affordable post-secondary education as a pathway to a four-year degree. In a nutshell, community college is an institution that offers a 2-year degree, called an Associate’s Degree. After a student attains this 2-year degree, they can transfer to a college or university, which are 4-year schools, to get their Bachelor’s Degree. It usually takes 2 years for a student to get a Bachelor’s Degree if they have already attained an Associate’s Degree.


Why do people go to community college as opposed to going straight to a college or university? People go to community college for numerous reasons, however, the most prevalent reason is that community colleges are cheaper, compared to colleges or universities. Attending a community college first can save a student thousands of dollars per year. The average cost of attending a public community college for an international student is $8,139 per year (tuition alone). By comparison, the average cost of attending a public four-year college or university is $22,815 per year (tuition alone).


Colleges and Universities


There is not much of a difference between a college and a university in America. These two words are used interchangeably by people, as they mean virtually the same thing. You can earn a Bachelor's Degree at either a college or a university. However, students in the U.S.A. prefer to use the word "college" rather than the word "university" when they talk about four-year undergraduate programs and the Bachelor's Degree. They use phrases like, "going to college" and "a college degree," when they talk about undergraduate programs at either a college or a university.


Students can enroll in a college or university right after they get their high school education.


Public vs Private Universities/Colleges


The major difference between public universities/colleges and private universities/colleges lies in how they are funded. This affects students because funding is tied to tuition prices. Most public universities and colleges are founded by state governments to give residents the opportunity to receive public college education. Today, state governments pay for most of the cost of operating public universities. This influx of public money from the government is why tuition is lower at a public university than a private university. 


Liberal Arts Colleges


Liberal arts colleges emphasize critical thinking and writing skills more than normal colleges/universities; they strive to help students think about topics from an interdisciplinary perspective. Liberal arts colleges usually have fewer options for majors, courses and programs. These colleges usually don’t have professional degree majors (for example, accounting, nursing. or engineering).


Students at liberal arts colleges, however, can later attend graduate schools to get their professional degrees. That doesn’t mean that students who graduate from a liberal arts school will be at a disadvantage if they decide they want to go to pursue a professional degree later. While a liberal arts school may not offer pre-med or pre-law options, for example, students can major in biology or political science, which will prepare them to apply to professional schools.

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