Education System In USA (United States)- Higher Education, Degrees Offered, Level of Education, Types of Institutes

Education System In USA

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The US education system comprises the finest education facilities and is the most diversely populated study abroad destination with students from almost all over world. It is a dream of the international students from almost all countries in the world, to study in the USA across its public and private institutes. The education system of USA is rich in a variety of programs across a plethora of institutes around the country.

Most of the universities in the USA follow a semester (2 terms) or trimester (3 terms) based admission seasons. As an international student, you must have a degree equivalent to the US degree, translated in English (if not already in English) and evaluated by a recognized agency. Before applying to a US institute, you must consult with an educational advisor to know about the admission requirements and admission process. Furthermore, you must focus on the university-specific and program-specific admission requirements and arrange them accordingly at the earliest.

The cost of studying in USA is dependent on several key factors like type of university, level of study, chosen program, and campus location. You might spend anywhere from 8000 USD to 55,000 USD  in tuition fees to study in USA. For students unable to bear the burden of huge education expenses, a variety of scholarships to study in USA are available. After accomplishing education in USA, international students secure an average annual salary of 60,000 USD. With experience and leadership quality, one can earn up to 300,000 USD and more in USA.

Levels of US Education System


In India, the consecutive steps of education are primary, secondary, higher-secondary, bachelor’s (graduate), master’s and doctoral courses. In contrast, the different stages of the US education system includes elementary school, middle-school, high-school and then higher education. The US higher educational system observes 3 principal levels of study, namely, undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate.

Undergraduate Level: Bachelor’s degree

The US bachelor’s degree across all the universities is typically a 4-years degree program. You can start your bachelor’s degree either in a community college, a 4-year college or universities in USA for bachelor’s program. After completing your first two years of study in a community college, you can transfer to a 4-year college/ university.

In the initial two years of study, you will earn general knowledge and a foundation about a variety of disciplines before focusing on a specific field of study. You will have to choose your undergraduate majors in the beginning of your third year of study. International students can change their majors a number of times. However, switching majors can land you in studying more courses, requiring more time, effort and money.

Graduate Level: Master’s and Professional Degree

Completing graduate programs in the universities in the USA can give you value and recognition all around the world. A graduate degree is significant to secure a position in higher-level professional fields. You will do course work and research as a master’s thesis or project.

The country is selective in terms of admission to the graduate courses and allows individuals from selected countries. The graduate programs are generally 1-2 years long. For admission to the graduate courses, you might need the following additional documents along with the basic requirements:

  • GRE/GMAT score
  • LSAT for law schools
  • Academic and professional LOR
  • Work experience (if required)
  • Proof of financial availability
  • SOP
  • Immigration details

Postgraduate Level: Doctoral and Research Programs

Majority of the universities in USA offer a Ph.D degree only after completion of a master’s program. Some of the institutes, however, offer admission to the doctoral courses directly after the bachelor’s program. The postgraduate courses span around 3-4 years. For international graduate students, this span ranges around 5-6 years.

US Grading System

In the universities in USA, students are scored by a letter. Throughout the country, the standard grading scale is A-F. Courses are commonly graded using percentages, which are converted into letter grades. The US Grading Policy is tabulated below:

GradePercentage pointGrade Point Average (GPA) of 4.0 Scale

Understanding the grading system and GPA in the U.S. can be a bit of a task for international students. The grades can be interpreted in a number of ways. For instance, two students, both with 3.5 GPAs, but one of them attended an average high school, while the other attended a prestigious school that was academically challenging. The universities in USA might interpret their GPAs differently because of the difference in the academic standards.

Types of US Educational Institutes

More than 4,000 accredited institutions constitute the US education system. In the USA, there are 4 major types of registered educational institutes for higher education. Characterized according to their infrastructure, teaching procedure, funding, and curriculum, the types of US educational institutes are:

  • State college or university (Public institutes)
  • Private colleges or universities
  • Community Colleges
  • Institute of Technology

State College or University

Each of the 50 states of USA consists of at least 1 state university and several state colleges. Some of the larger states have more than 1 state university. These institutions are directly regulated by the government. The tuition costs at the state universities are comparatively the cheapest. Additionally, residents of the respective states can avail discounted tuition in their respective state universities of the US education system.

Private College or University

The private universities are not state-run and regulated privately unlike the state universities. Tuition fees at the private universities are comparatively high. The main source of income of the private universities is the tuition cost.

Private universities usually have a better staff-to-student ratio and more income for resources. This could be one of the many reasons why they rank higher than the public universities in the country. However, some of the private institutes preferably welcome students of specific religious beliefs.

All the Ivy League universities are private institutes. These institutions are known for their excellent standards of education and competitive eligibility criteria. Following are the Ivy League universities of USA:

UniversitiesQS Rankings 2022
Harvard University#5
Princeton University#20
University of Pennsylvania#13
Columbia University#19
Yale University#=14
Brown University#49
Cornell University#21
Dartmouth College#=191

Community Colleges

Community Colleges offer 2-year programs to the prospective students. Students can pursue associate degrees (transferable) and certificate programs at the community colleges. After attending community colleges, students transfer to four-year colleges and universities to complete their degrees.

Institute of Technology

The institutes offering a 4-year degree in science and technology are considered as institutes of technology. Some of these institutes offer graduate programs, while others offer admission in only short term courses.

Important Higher Education Organizations in the USA

Following are some of the renowned organizations offering accreditation to the colleges and universities in the US education system:

ACE (American Council on Education)

This organization represents presidents and chancellors of Higher Education in the USA. ACE has become one of the strongest voices for higher education in the U.S through its advocacy, research, and innovative programs. ACE advocates the strengthening of international education.

NAFSA: Association of International Educators

NAFSA stands for National Association of Foreign Student Advisers. It is a U.S.-based individual membership association for international education professionals. The organization focuses on advocacy and professional development of International students. NAFSA’s mission and membership cover all aspects of the international educational exchange.

IIE (Institute of International Education)

IIE works to promote closer relations between the people of the U.S. and those of other countries. The focus is on relations between US residents and people who come to the USA for study and training, educators and professionals.

The institute collaborates for a number of important programs with the U.S. Department of State, including the Fulbright Program and Gilman Scholarships. IIE also undertakes policy research, provides resources on international exchange opportunities, and offers support to international students in need.

AACSB International

AACSB is a globally recognized non-profit organization which provides accreditations, business education intelligence, quality assurance, learning and development services to over 1,700 member organizations and more than 840 accredited business schools around the world. However, since 2016, Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) does not recognize AACSB International as an accrediting agency.

Distinctive Features of US Educational System

As the USA is a large nation with a huge number of educational institutes and international students, most of the schools exhibit a distinctive characteristic feature. Although, all the features can not be framed together, some of the common unique features of the US universities are as follows:

  • Availability of a variety of programs: You name your favorite program and it is available in the US universities. For this reason, USA hosts the maximum number of international students in the world (1.1 million approx).
  • Research facilities: The state-of-the-art research infrastructure in the USA provides an added advantage to students planning for graduate research courses or postgraduate research programs (Federal funding of 138.9 billion USD).
  • Densely situated top universities: 5 of the top 10 institutes in the world belong to the USA according to QS World University Rankings, 2022. Around 4,000 accredited institutes in the USA offer a plethora of course options to international students with the highest technological facilities.
  • Limited Federal involvement: The US government barely interferes in the educational system. The institutions are solely responsible for taking major decisions related to education.
  • On-campus student life and athletics: USA manifests a vibrant environment for students from numerous cultures, beliefs and nationalities, studying under the same roof. The campus life is as enjoyable as the facilities of sports and athletics. Some of the US universities maintain olympic-level sports arena, ensuring world-class practicing facilities.
  • International exposure: USA is home to some of the big names like Google, Amazon, Apple, Walmart, Microsoft, Ford, FedEx, Citigroup and several others. Business and STEM programs in the USA ensure some of the best employment opportunities across renowned companies in the world. The average salary in the USA ranges between 50,000-70,000 USD per annum. However, students can earn up to 300,000 USD and above in medical and business sectors.

Differences Between US and Indian Education System

Although India and the US education system are structured differently from the elementary level. However, following are certain differences between the Indian and US higher-educational system you should keep in mind before applying:

Stringent subject combinationsFlexible subject options
Developing education systemTop-notch technological facilities across all disciplines
Priority on academic performancePriority towards fundamental learning and exploration
Affordable cost of study for middle-class studentsEducation cost is extremely high in comparison to the Indian institutes
Focus is on educational curriculumExtracurricular activities and recreation is given equal importance while learning
Government plays a vital role in structuring the education systemGovernment involves only in assisting students financially and plays almost no role in core academic decisions

The lifestyle in the USA after studies is pleasant with excellent living and medical facilities. After completing education from the universities in USA, the majority of students get employed to their desired position with satisfying salaries. This makes the USA the centre of attraction when it comes to study abroad to secure a bright career opportunity in the future.


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