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Studying in the USA

Here are just a few of the reasons why more than 500,000 international students from around the world are furthering their education in the United States:

  • Quality: US universities are known worldwide for the quality of their facilities, resources, and faculty. Accreditation systems ensure that institutions continue to maintain these standards.
  • Choice: The US education system is unrivalled worldwide in the choice it offers of types of institutions, academic and social environments, entry requirements, degree programs, and subjects in which you can specialise.
  • Value: As an investment in your future, a US degree offers excellent value for the money. A wide range of tuition fees and living costs have made study in the United States affordable for thousands of students before you.
  • Flexibility: One of the most distinctive features of US universities and colleges is the flexibility in choice of courses within a college or university.

THE US BACHELOR DEGREE

One of the most attractive features of the bachelor 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, which are usually completed in four years of full-time study. The first year is called the freshman year; the second is called sophomore; the third, junior; and the fourth, senior. You may read that students in the United States often take longer than four years to complete their degrees. This may be because they change majors and need to accumulate enough credits in the new major field to earn the degree. Or it may be because they take less than a full-time course load per term for academic, personal, or financial reasons. International students, however, cannot study part-time and must maintain full-time status. Courses taken in the first two years are known as lower division courses, and courses taken in the final two years are called upper division courses. College catalogs usually assign a number to a course, which indicates the level of study as follows:

100 – 199 Freshman
200 – 299 Sophomore
300 – 399 Junior
400 – 499 Senior

Academic Calendar

The academic year will be slightly different for each university or college but normally runs from 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 time and a one-week “spring break” sometime between early March and mid-April.

The Credit System

Students at American universities complete their degrees when they have accumulated a certain number of “credits.” It usually takes somewhere between 120 and 140 credits to graduate. Sometimes the terms “semester/ quarter hours” or “units” are used instead of credits. Each individual course you take each semester earns a specified number (usually three or four) of credits/hours/units. Your academic adviser will help you plan your course schedule for the academic year.

Degree Courses

The individual courses that make up the degree program can be divided into the following types:

  • Core courses: These provide the foundation of the degree program and are required of all students. Students take a variety of courses in mathematics, English, humanities, physical sciences, and social sciences. Some colleges require students to take many core courses, while other schools require only a few.
  • Major courses: A major is the subject in which a student chooses to concentrate. Most students major in one subject; however, some colleges offer the option of pursuing a double major with a related subject. Your major courses represent one-quarter to one-half of the total number of courses required to complete a degree.
  • Minor courses: A minor is a subject in which a student may choose to take the second greatest concentration of courses. The number of courses required for a minor tends to be half the number of major courses.
  • Elective courses: These courses may be chosen from any department. They offer opportunities to explore other topics or subjects you may be interested in and help make up the total number of credits required to graduate.

Grades

American universities employ a system of continual assessment and assign grades for each course taken.
Almost everything you do for a class will influence your final grade. Examinations and tests, essays or written assignments, laboratory reports, laboratory or studio work, class attendance, and class participation may all be used to determine your final grade. This means it is essential to keep up with the reading and course work and to attend classes on a regular basis. The following is a general percentage-letter grade scale for classes taken at US colleges:

100 – 90% = A
89 – 80% = B
79 – 70% = C
69 – 60% = D
59 – 0% = F

What Is a GPA?

Each student completes his or her degree with a grade point average (GPA). A cumulative grade point average is the GPA for all courses taken throughout the degree program. Most universities use a GPA scale of 4.0, but a few universities use a scale of 5.0. To work out your GPA, take the numerical value assigned to the letter grade you achieve for each course (typically 4 points for an “A,” 3 points for a “B,” and so on), then multiply this number by the number of credits each course is worth. Finally, add these numbers together and divide by the total number of credits for all courses. For example:

Letter Grade
A
B
C

Numerical Value
4.0
3.0
2.0

Number of Credits
3
3
3

Total
12
9
6

 

Total

9

27

27 divided by 9 = 3.0 GPA

Most universities will also offer some sort of honors degree. To qualify for an honors degree, you must fulfill
additional credits or write an honors thesis; precise details depend upon the university and/or academic department. There may be different levels of honors: summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude, in descending order of distinction.

SOURCE: Extracts from “If you want to study in the United States” Books 1 & 4 U.S. Department of State, Educational Information and Resources Branch.
http://educationusa.state.gov/

Core courses: These provide the foundation of the degree program and are required of all students. Students take a variety of courses in mathematics, English, humanities, physical sciences, and social sciences. Some colleges require students to take many core courses, while other schools require only a few.

Major courses: A major is the subject in which a student chooses to concentrate. Most students major in one subject; however, some colleges offer the option of pursuing a double major with a related subject. Your major courses represent one-quarter to one-half of the total number of courses required to complete a degree.

Minor courses: A minor is a subject in which a student may choose to take the second greatest concentration of courses. The number of courses required for a minor tends to be half the number of major courses.

Elective courses: These courses may be chosen from any department. They offer opportunities to explore other topics or subjects you may be interested in and help make up the total number of credits required to graduate.