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Introduction to American Higher Education

One of the biggest hurdles an international student must face is understanding the educational system in the United States.  There are several different types of institutions of higher education and many different types of degrees.  It is important that you think about what sort of institution best fits your needs and abilities.

A community college (sometimes also called a junior college) is generally a two-year public or private institution that offers diplomas, certificates and/or Associates degrees.  Students often attend a community college in order to receive career or technical training.  You may also attend a community college and then transfer to a four-year institution in order to receive a Bachelors degree.  Community colleges are a great place to start if you feel like you need work on your English ability, or if you feel that your academic background does not match the requirements four-year institutions that interest you most.

The term college can sometimes cause confusion.  As an independent institution, a college describes a school that offers four-year Bachelors degrees in a variety of academic disciplines; however, colleges generally do not offer graduate degrees.  It is a common misconception that colleges are not as competitive as universities because they do not offer graduate programs; nothing could be further from the truth.  Some colleges have very competitive programs and offer students the same resources that universities have to offer.

A university offers four-year bachelor degrees in addition to graduate level programs (such a Master’s or doctorate level work).  Universities tend to be much larger than colleges and are often made up of many different schools (also sometimes called colleges), each of which focuses on a specific area of study. In the application process to a university, you may have to apply to the particular college that interests you, as well as to the university.

Technical or vocational schools (also know as trade schools) are institutions that provide training for a specific skill set for a certain type of profession.  Examples include programs in the culinary arts, automotive repair, welding, healthcare assistance and office management.  Students will often receive a certificate upon completion of the program.

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