For many, the American school and university systems in the USA can appear confusing due to their local governance. There is no country-level education system or curriculum and the federal government does not govern or operate American public schools. Each state does so through its own Department of Education which sets the guidelines for schools in that state. Public schools receive their funding from the individual state and through local property taxes. The amount of tax dollars that are given to public schools is decided upon by the legislative body of the state.
It is advisable to visit schools an take a tour and make an appointment with an advisor or the principal.
Students in elementary, middle and high school (grades 1-12) do not pay tuition. College and university students do pay tuition but can earn scholarships or apply for loans.
The control of most public schools lies in the hands of local school districts which is governed by a school board. The school board members are elected by community members or appointed by the local government. They ensure that policies are implemented and that state guidelines are met
Three levels of school are typical in the USA:
- Elementary – grades 1-5 – ages 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
- Middle – grades 6-8 – ages 11, 12, 13
- High – grades 9-12 – ages 14, 15, 16, 17
Education is compulsory for all students until ages 16 to 18 depending on the state. Most high school students graduate at the age of 17 or 18 and only graduate after completing a variety of courses in including math and English. The grading scale is A=Excellent, B=above average, C=average, D=below average, and F=failing.If a student fails a course, he/she must repeat that course.
The academic year usually starts in mid August and ends in early June. This varies slightly from state to state depending on weather conditions and geography. Students in the first year of high school are called ‘freshmen’, second year is ‘sophomore’, third year ‘junior’ and fourth year ‘senior’.
On graduating high school, students have a choice of joining the workforce, vocational training for a particular trade, 2 year college (junior college or community college) or 4 year college/university. Students can earn an Associates Degree at a community college which can then be transfered to a university where they can take another two year course to complete a bachelor’s degree. Community college tends to be cheaper, closer to the student’s home and class sizes tend to be smaller than in a university.
Admission requirements vary from university to university, but basically the criteria is based on the student’s high school performance and coursework, their grade point average (GPA), their participation in extracurricular actives and the SAT and ACT exam scores, which they take in high school. Sometimes a written essay and a personal interview are required.
At University students pursuing a bachelor’s degree are called ‘undergraduates’. Those pursuing a Master’s or Doctoral degree are called ‘graduate students’. American undergraduates will state that they are ‘going to school’ or ‘going to college’ which means they are attending university somewhere. Their ‘major’ is the special subject they study after their two year’s of liberal education. Law and medical programs are specialized.
Courses at college or university are assigned a number of credit hours ranging from 1-5. A certain number of credit hours have to be attained in certain subjects in order to graduate in the major of your choice. Once you have graduated you may then choose to continue your education with a Master’s degree and the a doctorate.
In order to be considered for a graduate program you must have a Bachelor’s degree. Students my be required to supply a sample writing piece and there may be a requirement for a minimum score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). This tests verbal skills and reasoning, critical thinking, analytical writing skills and quantitative reasoning.
After the courses have been completed a final thesis is required for a Master’s program. If a student pursues a Doctoral degree, they study until all credits have been earned and then exams are taken, both written and orally. After passing these exams student begin writing their dissertation which must be orally defended before a committee before the degree is given.
There are many schools, colleges and universities to choose from in the USA and students are advised to spend time researching the rules, regulations and requirements before applying. Visits are highly recommended and many high school seniors spend much of their vacation time in their senior year, visiting colleges and universities to find their best fit.
The Bradenton/Sarasota area boast a wealth of colleges and universities. There truly is something for everyone, ranging from the arts to medicine.
Below are just a few of many to choose from:
Argosy University – in class and online degree courses in Counseling, Education, Psychology and Business
Eckerd College – Program for Experienced Learners
Everglades University – degrees in business and environmental sciences
Keiser University and Center for Culinary Arts
Manatee Technical Institute