Education System in the USA

Education System in the USA

The US is a free country and so is its education system. The states enjoy complete autonomy over its education system and the only contribution of the federal government is in terms of the funding it provides.

The education system in the US is divided into the following stages:

  • Elementary school
  • Middle school
  • High school
  • Post-secondary (College)

The US has schools, colleges, and universities, both state-run and private institutions.

The US has more than 4,000 institutions; some of the world’s top universities in the US include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, Harvard University, California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the University of Chicago. Here are the various types of higher education institutes in the US:

State-run Institutions

There is at least one state-run university in each state. The tuition fees and overall costs are lower than in the private institutions but the facilities are state-of-the-art and on par with the leading private institutions.

Private Institutions

The private institutions are comparatively more expensive than public institutions.

Community Colleges

These institutions offer two-year certification courses and associate degrees. Students, after completing the two years of study at community colleges can transfer to universities and colleges, along with the credits that they earn at the community college (to complete their degrees).


Further Classification of Universities

Types of Universities Some of the universities are
Ivy League: an athletic conference of eight American colleges, especially from the Northeast. Deemed to be the best colleges, there is high competition for admissions.
  • Brown University
  • Cornell University
  • Columbia University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Harvard University
  • Princeton University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Yale University
Public Ivies: This is not an official classification. It is a confederation of more than 30 state-run universities which have earned a reputation for their illustrious academic programmes and provide an Ivy-League-like experience. The costs are, however, comparable to other state-run institutions. University of California (Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Riverside), University of Michigan Ann Arbor, University of Texas Austin, University of Virginia Charlottesville
Liberal Arts Colleges: The liberal arts colleges follow an all-inclusive philosophy that helps build a strong foundation through undergraduate courses in humanities, languages, arts, and social sciences, which helps students to choose their area of specialisation for higher studies. A smaller cohort facilitates a higher student-faculty ratio. Bowdoin College, Amherst College, Wesleyan College, Wellesley College, Middlebury College, Carleton College
Specialist Institutions: These are smaller institutes and universities that offer specialised courses in music, applied and visual arts, etc. Of course, these specialised courses are also available in some of the universities such as Yale and Harvard. Berklee College of Music, California Institute of the Arts, Musicians Institute, Curtis Institute of Music
Research-Intensive Institutions: These universities offer superior-level research facilities and lay the platform for students who wish to pursue doctoral studies. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Harvard University, Princeton University, John Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania


Types of Degrees and Qualifications related to Study in USA

Types of Qualification Description
Associate Degrees These are 2-year programmes which are equivalent to the first two years of a Bachelor’s degree and are more job-oriented which are enough for kick-starting a career
Bachelor’s Degrees 4-year undergraduate courses in USA that offer core courses along with majors, minors, and electives and are a rock-solid foundation for a full-fledged career
Master’s Degrees (Two types: Academic and Professional) Academic– 2-year programmes which offer specialisations in STEM, humanities, and arts. Students can lay a firm grounding and also move on to doctoral studies in their respective discipline.

Professional – The professional master’s degree programmes span from 1 to 3 years depending on the discipline and help students to proceed to a particular profession.

MBA Degrees Around 2 years’ MBA programmes in USA for those interested in attaining a top leadership position or launching their own company. Some business schools offer a 1-year MBA program (Accelerated MBA) as well
Doctoral studies/PhD Students are required to carry out their study under the guidance of a faculty advisor and earn a PhD after successful completion of the dissertation. Usually, a PhD in USA takes about 5 to 8 years to complete


Academic Year and Intakes

Most American universities follow the semester system and have two intakes namely, the Fall intake (August – December) and the Spring intake (January–April). Some universities also have the trimester system for a few programmes wherein there is also a Summer intake (May – July).

Technically, the Fall semester is the beginning of the academic year and thus, attracts the maximum number of applications for admission. There are a limited number of seats in the Spring and Summer (if available) intakes which also makes them highly competitive. Moreover, since you will be joining one semester late, you will have to catch up on the missed lectures and topics.



The pedagogy in American classrooms has evolved over the years to meet the requirements of the increasingly multi-ethnic population in the country. Flexible and accommodating, the courses are structured in a way to facilitate overall understanding. The classes are guided by faculty who follow an interactive and practical approach to teaching and also guide the students outside the classrooms to assist them in their learning.

American universities also foster wholesome learning through a dynamic ambience for extracurricular activities. Besides academic clubs, there are sports clubs, literary clubs, and several other clubs that help students come together and work towards a common goal.

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