Universities and colleges across the US have a lot of history behind them. As a result, schools in individual states--and even institutions within a state--have their own distinct character. The information below, however, is a general guide for international students researching American universities and colleges, and is applicable to schools in all states. For the most current and specific details, students should therefore also refer to individual state higher education agencies, as well as individual universities and colleges.
Definition In such a diverse country as the United States, higher education has grown into an equally diverse group of institution types in terms of size, location, age, mandate and affiliation. Universities that offer 4-year undergraduate (and often graduate) programs can be called "university" or "college," be Christian, Catholic, Jewish, women's, historically black, liberal arts-focused, private or public. And there are many possible combinations of the above (Christian and liberal arts; women's and Catholic and private, public and historically black, etc.). Most public universities (which range in size from 1,000 to over 52,000 students) are state universities founded and operated by state government bodies; private universities rely on endowments, gifts, student tuition and existing capital for their financing. Universities can be single-facility or, in the case of the state university systems, have multiple campuses (sometimes over 20!) throughout a state. They can found in big cities, small remote communities and everywhere in between.
Regardless of type, universities are usually divided according to academic field into Colleges or Schools: for example a university might have a College of Arts, College of Science, College of Engineering, etc. Sometimes within a College or School you will find individual departments. For instance, in a College or School of Engineering you might find departments of mechanical, civil, electrical, chemical, and environmental engineering. While there are some universities and colleges that focus on specific fields of study, most US schools offer a variety of degree programs in a range of academic fields.
The student body at most universities and colleges in the USA is made up of American students of every ethnic and economic background, as well as international students from around the world.
Delivery What will university give you? Depending on the program, American universities and colleges offer 4-year bachelor's degrees as well as 2-year associate's degrees and shorter diplomas and certificates. Some disciplines also offer the option of taking combined degrees, in which you graduate with two degrees after 5 years. Within degrees, students can take a major, double major, major and minor or honors options, which means students can tailor their degree according to their interests and skills. University programs tend to be more academically-oriented and theoretical -- knowledge for knowledge's sake -- than the more career-oriented community colleges. Programs at university are not necessarily focused on preparing you for a specific job or career (although some do); rather, many university programs provide the kind of broad-based exploratory education that can be applied to a wide variety of potential careers or lead you to graduate school. Today's universities work hard to make your education relevant and exciting through co-op, field schools, and other kinds of participatory learning. Check out our state-specific program pages to learn more about what you can expect from the different fields of study at universities and colleges in the state.
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