Undergraduate Education

The terms “college” and “university” are used interchangeably and mean the same thing in the U.S. As a general rule, colleges tend to be smaller and usually offer only undergraduate degrees, while a university also offers graduate degrees. Within each college or university you will find schools, such as the school of arts and sciences or the school of business.

A high school education is usually required to become an undergraduate university student. Many universities will not accept international students who are younger than age 17. There are sometimes exceptions to this general rule.

ASSOCIATE DEGREES

A degree granted by a college or university after the satisfactory completion of a two-year, full- time program of study or its part-time equivalent. The associate of arts (A.A.) or associate of science (A.S.) degree is granted after students complete a program of study similar to the first two years of a four-year college curriculum. The associate in applied science (A.A.S.) is awarded by many colleges on completion of technological or vocational programs of study.

Associate degree programs are offered at two-year colleges, most of which are public community colleges, though some are private institutions called “junior colleges”.

BACHELORS OR BACCALAUREATE DEGREE

A degree received after the satisfactory completion of a four year, full-time program of study or its part-time equivalent at a college or university. The Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) are the most common baccalaureates. There is no absolute difference between the degrees, and policies concerning their award vary from college to college. International students cannot study part-time and must maintain full-time status.

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Community colleges are, sometimes, called junior or two-year colleges. There are more than 1,700 such colleges in the U.S. Most community colleges are state-supported. A few are independent or private entities. Community colleges provide the first two years of a four- year university degree.

In addition to academic programs leading to college degrees (e.g., associates degrees), community colleges offer vocational education and technical training as well as intensive English programs in a smaller class setting.

Community colleges usually have strong ties with their state universities. This makes it easier for the student to transfer to one of these universities to complete the last two years of a 4- year Bachelor’s Degree after completing their Associates Degree at a community college.

The cost of a community college is significantly less than a four-year university, and although they are less expensive, you can still receive an excellent education. Many American and international students attend the first two years of study in a community college with lower costs and easier admission policies. Community college students take many of the required subjects connected to their degree, and then transfer for their last two years to a four- year university. An SAT exam is not required to attend a community college.

Search for community colleges at American Association of Community Colleges.

To be eligible for admission to a U.S. college or university, you must meet certain minimum entry requirements. These include a secondary school diploma or examination results, English language ability, and in many cases, a score from one of the U.S. aptitude tests; either the SAT or ACT. Each university will have their own requirements for admission, so it is important to research what may be required by the universities that you are interested in attending.


Early Decision and Early Action Plans at U.S. Universities

Students applying to a university under an Early Decision plan submit their application by the Early Decision deadline (usually in November), and can expect to learn whether or not they have been admitted to that university by mid-December. They are only allowed to apply Early Decision to one university. The university may make one of three decisions. The application may be accepted, denied, or deferred (placed together with the applications of students who apply by the regular deadline). If a student is accepted to a university under Early Decision plan, he or she is required to commit to attending that university, and applications from other universities must be withdrawn.

Early Action plans are similar to Early Decision plans in that students may apply early and learn of their acceptance, denial, or deferment by mid-December. In most cases, unlike the Early Decision plan, students admitted at this time are not committed to attend that university.

Students should only apply to a university under an Early Decision or Early Action plan if that university is clearly their first choice, and they are sure they would accept the offer of admission. Therefore it is very important that students spend adequate time thinking about what they want from a university and doing research to find the universities which match their interests and needs.

If you think that your class marks or extracurricular involvement from the year of secondary school in which you are applying will contribute to your application, or if you think your SAT or TOEFL results will be significantly higher if you take the test after the Early Decision/Early Action deadline, it may not be a good idea to apply for an Early program.

Some student counselors believe that it is advantageous to apply under an Early Decision or Early Action plan, if you are qualified, with the thought that a student’s chance of admission is greater if they apply early. First, applying under an early plan indicates to the university that that university is clearly your first choice; the university, therefore, may view the applications of early applicants more favorably. Others think that since early plans reduce the number of spaces available to those who apply by the regular deadline, the competition among those applying by the regular deadline is keener. An application submitted by an early deadline may also be looked at more carefully when there are fewer applicants.

Many university admissions officers, however, say that applying under an early plan does not put the student in an advantageous position as far as the admissions decision is concerned. They say that they maintain equal standards for both early plan and regular deadline applicants.