USA – Education System

The US higher education system is the largest, most diverse, and complex in the world. It has a broad range of educational options, which means that it can cater to the entire spectrum of student interests and aptitudes. Whether you want to study at a top US university, a college, vocational, ESL or a high school, a thorough understanding of how the American education system works is essential for an international student to make the right academic choices.

The Education System in USA is subject to local control, meaning locally elected bodies, typically at the city, state and institutional level decide upon the curriculum, admissions standards, and funding for schools, colleges, and universities. This means that the federal government has relatively little command over how education is managed in the US.

Post-secondary educational institutions are evenly divided between either public or private insitutions. Whether a higher-education institution is public or private has no relationship to educational quality, although the most competitive ones tend to be private. Be it public or private, an institution sets its own admission standards.

The American Education System requires that students complete 12 years of primary and secondary education prior to attending university or college. This may be accomplished either at public or private schools. These twelve years of schooling may also be completed outside the USA, thus giving foreign students an opportunity to pursue the benefits of the American Education System

Pre-school and Kindergarten

American students begin either in preschool or kindergarten for 1–3 years before progressing to elementary (primary) school. In most states, the age at which a child must start school is 6. In most cases, children must be 5 years of age to enter kindergarten.

Elementary and Secondary (K-12) Education

Students attend elementary until Grade 6. They then progress to one of the following: a junior high school for two years, a combined junior/senior high school (generally Grades 7–12), or a four-year high school (Grades 9 – 12).

Elementary (primary) and secondary (high) schools are similar across the US. However, there are minor variations from state to state. Individual states have control over what coursework is taught in the schools within their borders, as well as in the requirements that students must meet in order to graduate with a high school diploma. Therefore, what courses and subjects are offered will vary depending on where the high school is located. Many international students choose to study at one of the top USA boarding schools.

US public high schools are free for all students, including foreigners. However, private high schools are more popular because they offer options that are not available at public high schools. These may include advanced math and science courses, a broader selection of foreign languages, and better art, music and athletic programs.

The goal of most international students who attend high school in the US is to eventually be admitted to a top US college or university. Therefore, the most important consideration is – how will the high school I have selected give me access to the best colleges.

American students normally graduate high school at age 17 or 18.

Charter Schools

An increasingly popular category of public schools in the US is the Charter School. This kind of school receives public funding but less than other general public schools – this trade-off allows the charter school to act more independently than other public schools.

Charter schools generally have different curriculum, teaching methods, and niche focuses than general public schools, though their students are required to take state exams.

Post-Secondary Education

The US has more than 4,500 post-secondary institutions. The types of post-secondary education systems include the following :

  • State College or University – State colleges offer a more affordable post-secondary route. They often have a wide range of degree programs available. Students also have access to a vibrant campus life, extra-curricular activities, and state of the art teaching facilities. The largest public colleges in the US have over 60,000 students enrolled.
  • Private College or University – Private colleges offer students with smaller class sizes that helps the students build a relationship with their professors and advisors. They have a smaller list of degree programs but students have the option to customize their degrees and will be part of more discussion- based classes. Among the private colleges are the prestigious Ivy League institutions.
  • Community College – These are public institutions that generally offer 2-year associate degrees, diplomas or certifications, but an increasing number also now offer 4-year degrees. The courses offered at community colleges are often more diverse than at PET schools, and can range from career training to academic to general interest. They attract students from different backgrounds and with different goals – students just out of high school, students who want to study only for two years, professionals who want to update their skills or change their careers, and students who eventually transfer their credits to attend a university. More than half of the students who attend a community college intend to transfer to universities.
  • PET (Professional Education and Training) Institutes – These schools, mostly private are for students with a strong sense of what they’d like their career to be upon graduating – and whose desired careers depend upon specialized technical or vocational training. Diplomas, certificates and associate degrees take from 6 months to 4 years to complete. Some PET Institutes offer degrees that are admissible in applications for graduate school.
  • Institute of Technology – Institutes of technology are universities that specialize in engineering, technology, applied sciences and natural sciences. Students can attend a 4 year program to receive a bachelor’s degree. Some institutions have graduate programs and also offer short-term courses. Each type of institution provides students with a unique schooling experience, giving students the flexibility to choose the path that works best for them and their career.

Education Pathways for International Students

Students who wish to study in the US may first need to attend a pathway program to help them meet the entry requirements to get into their desired program. This may include partaking in intensive English programs, bridging courses, and undergraduate and graduate pathway programs.

Intensive English Program (IEP)

An IEP prepares international students for all levels of English. This program acts as a pathway to undergraduate conditional admission for students who want to attend an American institution. In some cases, students have the opportunity to get admissions without a TOEFL or IELTS score if an IEP is successfully completed.

Bridging Courses

Bridging courses are short courses that range from a few weeks to a few months in duration. These courses help students meet the subject-specific pre-requisites and requirements for admission. Bridging courses are offered in a variety of subjects.

Other Pathways

Pathway programs help international students build their knowledge and qualifications required to apply for a bachelor or master program in the US. These programs are typically one year in length. By taking a pathways course, students are able to build the necessary language skills, narrow down a major, increase their chances of admission, and provide them with additional time to adjust to life in the US.

Required Tests

Admission at US colleges and universities can be very competitive for international students. Much depends on the school in question and the qualifications of the international student. To be accepted by a top US school, a student must have good grades, completed challenging coursework, obtained sufficient financing and developed a strong command of the English language.

Each school sets its own international student admission requirements. Different schools will have different minimum requirements for grades as well as for standardized tests such as TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc. Even within the same school, there may be different requirements pertaining to admissions for international students, depending on the major selected. Typically, the higher your grades and test scores, the better your chances of being accepted by at least ONE TOP school.