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There are so many schools in the U.S. How do I decide which schools to apply to?

A: Research your options and define your priorities. Contact the EducationUSA advising center nearest you and browse college search engines online.

Q: What’s the difference between a college and a university?

A: Colleges offer only undergraduate degrees while universities offer graduate degrees as well, but the terms are often used interchangeably.

Q: Are there age limitations to attend U.S. universities? 

A: In general, you must have completed high school and you must be at least 17 years of age.

Q: What is the academic calendar for universities in the United States?

A: The academic year usually runs from August through May with breaks for holidays. Most universities use either the semester system (two terms), the quarter system (students attend three out of four total terms), or the trimester system (three terms).

Q: What is the difference between "Undergraduate" and "Graduate" degrees?

A: Undergraduate programs follow high school and lead to an associate (two-year) degree or a bachelor (four-year) degree. Graduate programs follow a bachelor’s degree and lead to a master’s or doctoral degree.

Q: What are the different types of undergraduate degrees?

A: Associate: a two-year program that either leads to a specific vocation or transitions to a bachelor program. Bachelor: a four or five-year program where students earn credits in a wide variety of courses.

Q: What are the different types of  graduate degrees?

A: Masters: two-year degree providing additional specialization. Doctorate: five to eight-year program certifying the student as a trained research scholar and/or professor.

Q: Is it possible to take a professional degree program without first earning a bachelor's degree?

A: Yes, but they are highly selective and require a heavy courseload across a total of six years of study.

Q: Is it possible to obtain a bachelor's degree and a master's degree at the same time?

A: In a joint-degree program, students begin a graduate program in their fourth year of college, earning both degrees upon graduation.

Q: What is the length of study for MBA programs in the U.S.?

A: MBA programs typically last one to two years.

Q: Can you work while studying in the United States?

A: With permission of the International Student Office, international students may work on campus up to 20 hours/week their first year and can apply to work off-campus in subsequent years.

Q: What is the difference between online studies and distance studies?

A: Essentially there is no difference.

Q: What is distance education?

A: Distance education occurs when a student and an instructor are in different places. Learning occurs by mail, telephone, internet, or by other means.

Q: Is distance learning available at the graduate level?

A: Yes. To find accredited online distance learning programs, please search the Distance Education Accrediting Commission website.  

Q: Can I transfer to a U.S. university from a university outside of the United States?

A: Yes, although you may lose some credits and require extra time to complete your degree.

Q: What is the transfer application process?

A: You must fulfill the requirements of a freshman applicant, as well as any supplemental information required by the transfer institution.

Q: What is a community college?

A: Community colleges are typically state-supported and provide the first two years of a four-year undergraduate degree.

Q: Why should I attend community college?

A: Community colleges offer lower costs, easier admission policies, close ties to state schools,and many of the required courses connected to a degree.

Q: How do you transfer from a community college to a four-year university? 

A: The transfer process varies for each school. It is best to target the four-year institution early and determine what is needed to transfer.

Q: How can I find out if an institution is accredited?

A: Search the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Post-secondary Education website to see if an institution is accredited.

Q: How can I find out if a specialized program of study is accredited?

A: For specialized program accreditation, see “Accredited Institutions of Postsecondary Education,” available from American Council on Education.

Q: How can I find out which universities are rated best for a specific academic major?

A: Refer to college and university guides to find which institutions are known for excellence in different fields of study.

Q: What are English language proficiency requirements?

A: U.S. universities require an English language proficiency test before admission to ensure you can read, write, and speak fluently.

Q: I want to study in the United States, but my English proficiency isn’t good enough yet. What can I do?

A: There are a number of programs for English language study in the United States and online, as well as local possibilities.

Q: Do students have to study a fixed set of subjects or can they individually form their major?

A: It depends: Some degree programs are highly structured. Bachelors' degrees are very flexible and sometimes allow you to create your own program.

Q: When do you declare a major?

A: You do not declare a major until the end of you second year of school.

Q: What is a liberal arts college?

A: A liberal arts college offers courses in humanities, languages, math, social and natural sciences, and students take 25-50% of their courses in their major.

Q: What are the benefits of a liberal arts education?

A: A liberal arts college offers a smaller setting and teaches critical thinking and communication skills necessary in an ever-changing job market.

Q: What is the credit system in U.S. universities?

A: A credit is a value assigned to each course which reflects the number of hours the class will meet with the professor each week.

Q: What is a GPA?

A: Grade Point Average (GPA) is a numeric indicator for a student's academic performance, calculated on a scale of 4.0.

Q: What is the U.S. grading system?

A: Letter grades indicate a student's academic performance. Each letter grade has a numeric value which is used to calculate a GPA, on a scale of 4.0.

Q: How are grades determined in U.S. universities?

A: Grades are typically determined by quizzes, midterms, final exams, papers, projects, class attendance, and class participation.

Q: What is the difference between state and private universities?

A: State universities are funded by the state and are generally larger and less expensive than private universities.

Q: Are there opportunities for university exchange programs?

A: Contact the office responsible for international programs at your institution to ask if your school has exchange agreements with U.S. universities.

Q: How can an international student find out what academic subjects from their country are acceptable for a U.S. university?

A: Each U.S. university will want to review an international student's subjects and may ask the student to contact a credential evaluation agency.

Q: How can I apply for vocational training in the United States? 

A: U.S. institutions cannot issue I-20 forms for non-degree study, including vocational training. Community colleges offer technical/vocational study for an associate's degree.

Q: What’s the best general advice for an incoming student?

A: Attend the closest EducationUSA advising center's predeparture orientation. Then, when you arrive on campus, attend all orientation meetings scheduled at your college or university.


Question: Do colleges consider only your end-of-junior-year GPA or will they look at your transcript as a whole?

One of the big mistakes that some high school seniors make is to assume that junior grades are all-important and that senior grades aren’t on the transcripts that colleges see. On the contrary, first-semester senior grades can be critical in the admission process. Even early decision candidates usually find that their first-quarter senior marks come under scrutiny.

Admittedly, there is some element of inconsistency in the process. Depending on when your first senior grades are posted and when your application folder lands on an admission official’s desk, your initial evaluation may–or may not–take place with your senior marks in consideration. In many admission offices (and in a perfect world), if your grades come in after your initial “reading” takes place, the admission officer will be informed that updated information has arrived and will re-evaluate your case. Realistically speaking, however, that re-evaluation usually takes place, but sometimes it falls through the cracks. (The latter scenario is more likely if your GPA from junior to senior year changes just slightly. If there’s a huge difference, it makes an impact.)

It’s not uncommon for otherwise-strong students to experience a dip in grades at the start of senior year. This is probably due to a combination of things: college visits and applications are time-consuming and distracting, as are the leadership roles that seniors often hold. However, there is also the prevailing misconception in some high schools that senior grades don’t “count.” They sure do.

Likewise, the grades you earned as a freshman and sophomore are important, too. Granted, a “rising record,” as admission folks call it, is certainly better than a tumbling one, and if your grades have gotten better each year, admission committees will appreciate the improvement. However, low grades at the start of a high school career can damage admission odds, especially at the most selective colleges. This is largely true because so-so grades in the early years of high school have an effect on class rank that is usually irreparable. In other words, in most high schools, even straight A’s in 11 and 12 won’t allow those who didn’t start off with a bang to climb to the top of the class. Sad but true.

Finally, many high school students complete all or most of their school graduation requirements at the end of junior year and look forward to 12th grade as a time when they can indulge in some of the electives that interest them: psychology, ceramics, photography, law, etc. Unfortunately, at the most competitive colleges and universities, admission officials are apt to label such offerings as “fluff.” Never mind that some of these classes are truly challenging, and some applicants who take them will go on to earn advanced degrees and distinguish themselves professionally in these areas that they first discovered at age 18. From the all-too-exacting elite-admission point of view, physics trumps philosophy every time; calculus beats out economics. It’s always tough to tell an aspiring artist, who’s waited a dozen years to study silk-screening as a senior, that another year’s wait is in order if Ivy applications are on the line, but–in most cases–that’s the state of affairs in admissions today.

Bottom line: Seniors need to stay on their toes all the way until the ink is dry on that sheepskin in the summer. Frosh and soph grades don’t count as much but can be deciding factors at the more competitive institutions.