Graduate study, conducted after obtaining an initial degree and sometimes after several years of professional work, leads to a more advanced degree such as a master’s degree, which could be a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), Master of Business Administration (MBA), or other less common master’s degrees such as Master of Education (MEd), and Master of Fine Arts (MFA). Some students pursue a graduate degree that is in between a master’s degree and a doctoral degree called a Specialist in Education (Ed.S.).

After additional years of study and sometimes in conjunction with the completion of a master’s degree and/or Ed.S. degree, students may earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or other doctoral degree, such as Doctor of Arts, Doctor of Education, Doctor of Theology, Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Pharmacy, Doctor of Physical Therapy, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, Doctor of Podiatry Medicine, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Doctor of Psychology, or Juris Doctor. Some programs, such as medicine and psychology, have formal apprenticeship procedures post-graduation, such as residencies and internships, which must be completed after graduation and before one is considered fully trained. Other professional programs like law and business have no formal apprenticeship requirements after graduation (although law school graduates must take the bar exam to legally practice law in nearly all states).

Entrance into graduate programs usually depends upon a student’s undergraduate academic performance or professional experience as well as their score on a standardized entrance exam like the Graduate Record Examination (GRE-graduate schools in general), the Graduate Management Aptitude Test (GMAT – Business schools), the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), or the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Many graduate and law schools do not require experience after earning a bachelor’s degree to enter their programs; however, business school candidates are usually required to gain a few years of professional work experience before applying. 8.9 percent of students receive postgraduate degrees.

System of Education in the US

Currently, the state and national governments share power over public education, with the states exercising most of the control. Some states have a statewide school system, while others delegate power to county, city or township-level school boards.

The U.S. federal government exercises its control through the U.S. Department of Education. Education is not mentioned in the constitution of the United States, but the federal government uses the threat of decreased funding to enforce laws pertaining to education. Under recent administrations, initiatives such as the No Child Left Behind Act and Race to the Top have attempted to assert more central control in a heavily decentralized system.

Nonprofit private schools are widespread, are largely independent of the government, and include secular as well as parochial schools. Educational accreditation decisions for private schools are made by voluntary regional associations.

American college and university faculty, staff, alumni, students, and applicants monitor rankings produced by magazines such as U.S. News and World Report, Academic Ranking of World Universities, test preparation services or another university itself such as the Top American Research Universities by the University of Florida’s The Center. These rankings are based on factors like brand recognition, selectivity in admissions, generosity of alumni donors, and volume of faculty research. In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, 27 of the top 50 universities, and 72 institutions of the top 200, are located within the United States. The US has thereby more than twice as many universities represented in the top 200 as does the country with the next highest number, the United Kingdom, which has 29. A small percentage of students who apply to these schools gain admission.

Included among the top 20 institutions identified by ARWU in 2009 are six of the eight schools in the Ivy League; 4 of the 10 schools in the University of California system (Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco); the private Universities of Stanford, Chicago, and Johns Hopkins; the public Universities of Washington and Wisconsin; and the Massachusetts and California Institutes of Technology.

Also renowned within the United States are the so-called Little Ivies and a number of prestigious liberal arts colleges. Certain public universities (sometimes referred to as Public Ivies) are also recognized for their outstanding record in scholarship. Some of these institutions currently place among the elite in certain measurements of graduate education and research, especially among engineering and medical schools.

Each state in the United States maintains its own public university system, which is always non-profit. The State University of New Yorkand the California State University are the largest public higher education systems in the United States; SUNY is the largest system that includes community colleges, while CSU is the largest without. Most areas also have private institutions, which may be for-profit or non-profit. Unlike many other nations, there are no public universities at the national level outside of the military service academies.

Prospective students applying to attend four of the five military academies require, with limited exceptions, nomination by a member of Congress. Like acceptance to “top tier” universities, competition for these limited nominations is intense and must be accompanied by superior scholastic achievement and evidence of “leadership potential.”

Aside from these aforementioned schools, academic reputations vary widely among the ‘middle-tier’ of American schools, (and even among academic departments within each of these schools.) Most public and private institutions fall into this ‘middle’ range. Some institutions feature honors colleges or other rigorous programs that challenge academically exceptional students, who might otherwise attend a ‘top-tier’ college. Aware of the status attached to the perception of the college that they attend, students often apply to a range of schools. Some apply to a relatively prestigious school with a low acceptance rate, gambling on the chance of acceptance but, as a backup, also apply to a safety school.

Lower status institutions include community colleges. These are primarily two-year public institutions, which individual states usually require to accept all local residents who seek admission, and offer associate’s degrees or vocational certificate programs. Many community colleges have relationships with four-year state universities and colleges or even private universities that enable their students to transfer to these universities for a four-year degree after completing a two-year program at the community college.

Regardless of perceived prestige, many institutions feature at least one distinguished academic department, and most post-secondary American students attend one of the 2,400 four-year colleges and universities or 1,700 two-year colleges not included among the twenty-five or so ‘top-tier’ institutions.

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