Education in the U.S.

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The terms college and university often refer to the same level of education, post-secondary. Colleges and universities are at the same level of education and neither term is considered to be more or less prestigious. Colleges are typically private whereas universities are typically public, however this should not be confused with community colleges which is like an intermediate level. The United States has 4 major levels of study (after high school or "secondary school"):

  • Associate's Degree- can be obtained after high school but before a bachelor's, it is not required but can help students gain admission to university
  • Bachelor's Degree- also called "undergraduate" where students typically earn a B.S. (Bachelor of Science) or B.A. (Bachelor of Arts)
  • Master's Degree - also called "graduate school" where students earn M.A. or M.S. - for a complete list of Master's Degrees at SIU click here
  • Doctoral Degree - also called Ph.D. but students take courses to earn a Ph.D. through the graduate school

The American school year is traditionally understood as 3 semesters: Fall, Spring, and Summer. Exceptions do exist but the "semester system" is the most common as opposed to the "quarterly system", or the "trimester system".

Typically an academic year is understood as just the fall and spring semesters. Students generally do not take the summer semester of classes, which is why fewer classes are offered over the summer. The summer semester is also much more condensed.

Americans may use the terms "credits", "hours", or "credit hours" to mean the same thing. So typically a student would take 1 course equal to 3 credit hours. Courses can be worth more or less hours, but 3 is the most standard at SIU.

An American bachelor's degree typically takes 4 years to complete if the student follows the customary course of study:

  • 120 credit hours =
  • 2 semesters per year (fall and spring) =
  • 15 credit hours per semester =
  • 3 credit hours per course

This system can vary widely depending on each individual student. If a student for example, takes 12 credit hours in 1 semester then he/she would be effectively 1 class behind. However, he/she could take 1 course over the summer and still be on track to graduate in 4 years.

Or a student could chose not to take off the summer semester and instead take 2 extra classes during that time. If he/she were to take 15 credit hours in the fall, 15 credit hours in the spring, and 6 credit hours in the summer, then the student would have 36 credit hours a year instead of 30. Which would allow him or her to graduate a full semester early.