Types of US degrees and institutions to study at

With the summer kicking off for UK-based students, now is the perfect time to start writing up and refining a list of US institutions you plan to apply to. For further guidance on this, be sure to read our blog entry on selecting and shortlisting US universities. Here’s a quick explanation of the different types of degrees and different institutions you can study at in the US.

There are around 4,500 undergraduate institutions across the US, offering different degree types and experiences, and having different expectations.

Degree types:

– Associate’s degree: This is an academic programme taken at undergraduate level (post-secondary school) requiring two years to complete and usually having a vocational focus. It aims to give students transferable skills and basic technical and academic knowledge, and is required to go on to complete further studies or to enter the workforce. It is a level of qualification somewhere between a high school diploma and a standard undergraduate bachelor’s degree.

– Bachelor’s degree: This is an undergraduate academic programme which tends to last four years in the US. Students pick majors and minors, and depending on their chosen area of focus, they graduate with either a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS). Graduates can either decide to pursue further studies, such as going to graduate school, or instead opt to start working.

– Specialist degree: This includes degrees such as Engineering or the Performing Arts, and compared to the standard bachelor’s degree, specialist degrees tend to have different requirements and application procedures depending on each institution. Non-specialist institutions can also have separate music conservatories or schools of engineering within the university. Applications to these separate schools may often have different requirements and admissions procedures to standard undergraduate degree admissions.

– Law and Medicine are postgraduate degrees meaning that, to apply, students need to have completed or be in the process of completing at least a bachelor’s degree.

University versus College:

A ‘university’ is a group of schools for studies after secondary school. At least one of these schools is a college where students receive a bachelor’s degree. The other schools in a university are known as ‘graduate’ (also known as ‘postgraduate’) schools where students receive advanced degrees such as masters (MA) and doctorates (PhD). Institutions which only offer undergraduate degrees are usually simply called colleges.

Liberal arts colleges tend to be small institutions with a low student to faculty ratio. Typically, there are very few, if any, postgraduate students. Some liberal arts colleges are women’s colleges: institutions whose student bodies are completely or mostly female.

Public versus Private institutions:

Public institutions are part of state’s education system and receive funding from both that specific state and the federal government. They often have lower fees than private institutions, even for out-of-state students. International students are considered as out-of-state applicants for all public universities across the US.

Private institutions receive the majority of their funding from fee-paying students, private donors and federal research grants. Although the fees may be higher than public institutions, they can have generous funding opportunities which may be available, making the net cost of attendance, especially for international students, reasonably affordable.

American universities overseas:

Many US universities have campuses and locations overseas. This may be a highly appealing route, particularly for international students who wish to receive an American university education yet still remain somewhat close to their home during their studies.