One country, countless study options – the study system in the USA is more diverse than almost any other higher education system. This has to do with the fact that the state has very little influence on US universities. The result is a colorful university landscape. Academic freedom has traditionally played an important role in the United States.
Role of the federal government and states
The study system in the USA is organized on a decentralized basis, it is considered to be versatile and flexible. This can be traced back to the fact that in the USA there is neither a central education department as a state supervisory authority nor a national higher education law.
Accreditations as a means of quality assurance are not awarded in the USA by state institutions, but by non-profit, non-governmental organizations.
The responsibility for education and upbringing lies with the individual federal states (state governments), and in some cases with the local communities. The greatest authority, however, have the US universities themselves.
The study system in the USA provides that universities and US colleges act largely autonomously. You decide independently about the range of courses, the admission of applicants and the tuition fees. The same applies to the recognition of academic achievements and the grading system. Therefore, even the structure and costs of a single degree program at different universities can differ significantly.
Structure of the study system in the USA
The study system in the USA is divided into sections
- Undergraduate studies
- Graduate Studies
Such a two-stage structure is firmly anchored in the Anglo-American region and can now also be found in Germany.
The undergraduate studies are the first degree at a university. The course usually takes four years to complete. Two years of study are usually required to study in the graduate area.
The “classic” US degrees
Even if the study system in the USA is made up of around 2500 different academic degrees, there is still a “classic” study path in the USA, a country located in North America listed on zipcodesexplorer. It begins with the undergraduate studies. The tripartite system of bachelor, master and doctorate has existed in the USA since the late 19th century.
The four-year bachelor’s degree in the USA leads to a bachelor’s degree. As usual for the undergraduate sector, it begins with a Studium Generale. This is made up of various courses from the humanities and natural sciences. The aim is to provide students with well-founded general knowledge at the beginning (liberal arts education).
In the second half of the course, the students choose their main subject or subjects (majors) and define the focus of their studies. The choice of minors (Minors) is often also possible.
The study system in the USA provides that students with a bachelor ‘s degree can pursue a master’s degree in the USA. The master’s degree belongs to the graduate studies and consists of a certain amount of courses and a certain amount of personal research.
The following distinction must be observed for the master’s degree in the USA:
- Academic Master: academic, scientifically oriented courses with a thesis
- Professional Master: job-oriented programs that prepare students for specific professional fields in the field of dentistry, law or economics
Following the master’s degree, there is the option of adding a doctoral degree. The doctoral degree is also assigned to the graduate area and takes an average of three years, sometimes longer. The most widely awarded doctorate among research doctoral degrees is the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.).
In addition, the study system in the USA differentiates between job-related doctorates such as the Doctor of Medicine (DM) or the Juris Doctor (JD). They are professionally oriented (professional degrees) and are awarded without additional doctoral work.
Study system in the USA and its country-specific degrees
The study system in the USA has other degrees that may be of interest to international students:
- Associate Degrees
Associate degree programs are assigned to undergraduate studies within the study system in the USA and lead indirectly to a bachelor’s degree.
With an associate degree, moving to the third year of a bachelor’s degree at a college or university is usually easy. The advantage: studying at a community college is significantly cheaper than studying at a university.
The Transfer Degree Programs are particularly relevant for international students, as they pave the way to a bachelor’s degree at a university in the USA. The Terminal Degree Programs are a kind of vocational training. Since there is no equivalent German qualification, they are not recognized in Germany. It is therefore advisable to complete your bachelor’s degree in the USA.
Certificates and diplomas as an opportunity for further training
At many universities in the USA there are different further education programs, which on average end with a diploma or certificate after three to four months. They specialize in a certain subject area and have a high level of practical relevance.
On the one hand, there are vocational preparation programs within the study system of the USA, which can be completed as a first degree after high school and lead to a professional qualification.
On the other hand, many universities offer graduate diplomas / certificates or advanced certificates. Such postgraduate courses at graduate level serve professionals as advanced training in a specific area. They are an alternative to a master’s degree, but can often also be credited towards such a degree. The entry requirement is a bachelor’s degree.
Important to know: Certificates and diplomas are firmly anchored in the study system in the USA, but they do not have the status of an independent degree in Germany. On the further career path, however, they often represent a useful additional qualification.
Shorter study stays in the USA
If you do not want to complete a complete study abroad in the USA, the study system in the USA has various short-term programs available. International students therefore also have the opportunity to complete a shorter study visit to the USA. You have the following options to choose from:
- Semester abroad: flexible Study Abroad programs that offer access to an extensive range of courses. A semester abroad can be completed as part of exchange programs or university collaborations or as a free mover. The choice of course is largely free. There is no grading of the students according to semester or course of study.
- Summer Sessions / Summer Schools: three to six weeks of intensive study in the summer months, outside of the regular academic year. Summer sessions are usually characterized by a wide range of courses and low entry barriers. Participation is partially possible for students aged 16 and over.
- Language courses: general language courses, academically oriented courses, subject-specific language courses or language courses to prepare for language tests such as the IELTS or TOEFL. The course duration varies depending on the type of course.
Study system USA vs. study system Germany
In the USA there is no dual training system like in Germany. As a result, both professional and academic education in the United States is shifting to higher education. The result is a number of country-specific degrees within the study system in the USA, which do not exist in this form in Germany. These include the associate degree, certificates and diplomas.
The degrees known in Germany, such as the Bachelor, Master and Doctoral degree, sometimes have a different structure in the United States. Bachelor students only attend general education courses in the first two years and specialize in the second half of their studies. The course is usually much more practice-oriented and more school-based than in Germany.
In addition, the study system in the USA stipulates that a bachelor’s degree usually lasts four and not three years. This can lead to problems with the recognition of their degree for Bachelor graduates from Germany. In some cases, it is necessary to complete additional postgraduate studies in the USA in order to gain access to a master’s program.
In the graduate area, universities differentiate between academic and job-oriented master’s programs – another specialty of the study system in the USA. There are also differences when it comes to doctorates: on the one hand there are research doctorates, above all the Ph.D., and on the other hand there are application-oriented professional doctorates. The latter do not require a scientific doctoral thesis. The courses are open to Bachelor graduates.