Higher education in the United States
Higher education in the United States is considered one of the best education systems in the world. This system of education involves a great number of institutions and offers a comprehensive range of knowledge from art to high tech. Understanding the system itself is an indispensable prerequisite for choosing the right higher education institution.
The United States boasts a wide range of various institutions with different financing options, program duration, school size, etc. Such a comprehensive range provides every student with an opportunity to attain higher education, making college readiness a prominent aspect of high school.
In order to enroll with the desired school, one needs to start preparing on time, achieve excellent academic results and, of course, pass the entrance exam. In addition to the grades, one should not underestimate the importance of achievement assessments such as the ACT or SAT tests, and academic references.
Colleges and universities – what’s the difference?
Although the terms colleges and universities are often used interchangeably in casual conversation, there are certain differences. When a school is referred to as a college, it usually implies: a community college, a liberal arts college, or an institution within a university.
Universities, on the other hand, are institutions of higher education that offer a wide range of study programs, as well as higher education research opportunities. These institutions also offer graduate degrees such as Master’s and Doctorate. Universities are the most prestigious educational institutions, the Ivy League ones being preeminent among all higher education institutions.
When choosing a school, the student needs to make several important decisions. Among the crucial ones is deciding whether to opt for a college or a university. This choice primarily depends upon several factors: the specific program of interest, the desired level of education and the financing options available.
What does a college offer?
Colleges usually offer undergraduate two-year (associate’s degree) and four-year studies (bachelor’s degree), depending on the selected institution and program. Regardless of the duration, it is important to decide upon the college major right at the beginning (business, economics, finance, liberal arts, etc.). Although this seems like a crucial decision, many students change their majors during their studies. It is possible to opt for two majors, or one major with several minors.
Schools at this level usually do not offer a wide range of graduate programs like universities do and research possibilities are limited. Community colleges award bachelor’s degrees as one strategy to meet workforce demands, address affordability and increase access to educational opportunities. Additionally, community colleges have served as open-enrollment institutions with few, if any, admission requirements.
What do universities offer?
Universities, on the other hand, offer both undergraduate and graduate degree programs, where students can obtain Master’s and PhD degrees. Moreover, universities are larger, more complex educational institutions that can include several colleges. In such cases, each school specializes in a specific area of expertise (e.g., a business college). Certain universities are called institutes (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, South Florida Institute of Technology), emphasizing their research capacities.
At the end of the day, the decision comes down to the students’ ambitions and abilities, and the financial aspect also needs to be considered. Namely, in the USA, higher education is decentralized and largely independent from the state. This is why the question of student financing and financial aid is a very important one. There are numerous versions of student loans, and there are also scholarship options for the desired educational institutions.
How to prepare for college
In the previous segment, we have discussed the differences between colleges and universities. However, one should bear in mind that in everyday speech, both are practically synonymous. This is why we are now going to focus on the enrollment process itself. Most students begin planning their academic portfolios in their junior and senior years of high school.
- Getting acquainted with the admission criteria – a thorough analysis of the admission criteria can help the student focus on a realistic college option.
- More detailed approach to courses – certain high school subjects are extremely important for higher education and should be given special attention.
- Teacher assistance is crucial – excellent educators quickly recognize their students’ talents and special abilities and should help guide in the development of these skills and institutions of higher learning tailored to the students’ abilities.
- Extracurricular activities – during the admission process, schools also evaluate extracurricular activities, i.e., take into consideration the student’s character, their effort, as well as their behavior in social situations.
Since students do not always know a specific plan of study after high school it is important that parents team up with teachers and college counselors to consider options for the student’s higher education goals.
How to choose a college?
Choosing the right college or university is a crucial step in achieving one’s educational objective. After considering the field of studies and the duration of the degree program, location would be the next factor – some would like to stay close to home, while some are eager to experience life in another part of the country. These are all very important life choices, so the final decision should not be rushed.
The next step is to contact a college advisor, who will help make the right decision, in accordance with the desires (and possibilities). A visit to the desired college before making the final decision can be quite useful for a future student. If this is not feasible in person, there is always the option of arranging a virtual visit with the advisor from the desired institution.
Prioritizing college major, the field that will be in the focus of the studies, is important because it will significantly narrow down the options. One also ought to consider the additional factors, those not directly related to education, but quite important for the student’s lifestyle. These can be:
- Scholarship opportunities – a talented child may receive a scholarship that would considerably reduce the cost of the studies
- Choosing between a public college and a private one – public colleges are considered easier to enroll in and to complete a program of study, as well as cheaper, while private colleges are considered more prestigious and have a general reputation of providing a better quality of education
- Climate – whether the student is willing to switch climate and, for instance, leave Miami for Massachusetts
- Conditions on campus – the student will spend several years attaining higher education, so the quality of life on campus and around it is an important consideration.
One must bear in mind that each college has its own application requirements and deadlines. This is especially important when it comes to popular educational institutions that attract large numbers of candidates.
College admission process
The schools that provide higher education in the United States have certain general conditions for admission. These are primarily the following:
- ACT or SAT subject test (although often listed as not mandatory)
- Student G.P.A.
- Extracurricular activities and volunteer service
- Application essay
Extraordinarily talented individuals (especially in sports) can have an additional advantage; the financial aspect is also a plus (fee payment, or perhaps even making a financial donation to the school).
The number of undergraduate students taking SAT or ACT tests keeps growing every year, although many colleges state that it is not a requirement. It is considered that good results on these tests improve the chances of admission and many view these tests as an indispensable part of the enrollment process. When it comes to the graduate programs, the relevant tests are GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) or GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). Similarly, at many universities, these tests are not required, but they can help with enrollment and acceptance into a program.
In the American higher education system, the grades from school constitute the foundation of any application. They provide an insight into the candidate’s potential, and it is considered that high school students will transfer their high level of achievement to college. The school grades are just as important as the test results, as they provide an insight into the student’s long-term engagement.
Some universities also take into consideration whether a student improved during their time at school, for instance, whether their grades improved over time. If they improved during grades 9 through 12, this is considered an asset. On the other hand, impeccable early grades will not help much if the more recent ones are low, as this suggests a problematic trend that is likely to continue in higher education.
When applying for a specific program, it is especially important that the grades from the related subjects should be excellent (for instance, science and mathematics are paramount for engineering). Candidates who show potential in the most important subjects have the best chances, especially if they took part in competitions.
Essay and recommendations
Another requirement for enrollment with popular schools are essays and letters of recommendation. These documents provide an insight into the candidate’s personality. Based on the essay colleges get to know the candidate better and gain insight into their outlook on life and ambitions. This is an opportunity for the student to make a good impression; a well-written essay can often be crucial for enrollment.
On the other hand, letters of recommendation are highly valued as they are written by educators who teach the subjects that are of crucial importance for the desired college. The fact that a student has left a positive impression on a high school teacher is a positive indicator which is likely to prove relevant at the higher academic level. Recommendations can also be made by other individuals of authority who can confirm the student’s high achievements.
Higher education is just the beginning
Higher education is important because it provides outstanding knowledge required for a successful career in a selected field. This is the reason for such a complex enrollment system, as the objective is to make proper selection in a timely manner in order to provide an opportunity for the best candidates to express their full potential.
Of course, everyone who invests effort has a chance to realize their dreams; although the journey sometimes might take longer, the important thing is that the goal is always within reach.