Small Liberal Arts Colleges: There are hundreds of small liberal arts colleges throughout the United States enrolling anywhere from fewer than 1,000 students to several thousand. They are usually dedicated primarily to the undergraduate study of the traditional arts and sciences disciplines: humanities, sciences, and social sciences.
The Ivy League: Although these schools are among the oldest and most famous in the country, the Ivy League itself was not officially formed until the 1950s–as an athletic conference! Members of the Ivy League are: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania (a private college, not to be confused with Penn State University). All these schools are in the Northeastern U.S. Ivy League colleges stress undergraduate liberal arts education, but they also have noted graduate and professional schools. Tuition at these private schools is among the highest in the country, and admission is generally highly competitive.
College or University?
Americans love to have variety in their personal lives and always like to have choices. This is reflected in the wide variety of institutions of higher learning existing in the U.S. The most prominent types are:
University – The broadest type of educational institution, comprising both undergraduate and graduate schools. Universities often have several colleges, schools, or faculties (e.g. School of Engineering, College of Business, College of Liberal Arts, Faculty of Arts & Science) and offer several levels of academic degrees (B.A./B.S., M.A./M.S., M.B.A., M.D., J.D., Ph.D.)
College – generally a four-year undergraduate academic institution (that’s less complex and often smaller than a university.) Colleges primarily offer Bachelor’s degree programs and sometimes a limited number of Master’s-level programs. (Colleges do not usually offer Doctoral programs.) Sometimes the term “college” is used for a specialized kind of degree-granting institution, such as a teacher’s college or a technical college.
The oldest U.S. colleges are generally liberal-arts colleges, meaning that they provide a broad education in a variety of Arts & Sciences subjects, rather than specific technical or vocationally oriented programs.
Professional school – is a graduate program where people study for specific professions, such as: lawyer, (law school), doctor (medical school), veterinarian (veterinary school), dentist (dental school) or business person (business school). Usually professional schools function as part of a larger university, but some are “free-standing” and function on their own.
In the U.S., people generally attend professional schools only after completing an undergraduate program. (Some universities offer programs where students can attend a professional school at the same time as an accelerated college program.)
It is important for the international student to understand that the U.S. education system is highly decentralized. Unlike most other countries, the United States does not have a Ministry of Education in Washington, D.C., which standardizes education across the country. There is a cabinet-level post of Secretary of Education, but it is a position with very little authority over day-to-day functioning of universities and their programs. The Secretary of Education cannot dictate uniform educational curriculum across the country. The methodology with which a student selects his/ her college to study in the USA, becomes very important for this very reason.
Each of the fifty states in the United States is autonomous regarding policy of its own colleges and universities. Each state and each school operates independently of the others. Therefore, there are various systems in place, which are often quite different from state to state. All states make some form of public–i.e. partially government-funded–college and university education available, but these systems are all organized differently. Colleges and universities are accredited by voluntary, self-governing, regional associations (for example the Middle States Association of Colleges and Universities, the New England Association of Colleges and Universities, etc.) and not by governmental agencies. This accreditation is very important however, since many educational programs will only recognize other accredited programs
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