Understanding the American Education System

The American Education System is well-developed and well-structured system of education. It is provided in public, private and home schools. According to a 2014 survey conducted by Pearson, the country spends the most on a student’s education than any other country. And the trend of home-schooling is also a continuing one in the United States with approximately 2-8 per cent students being home-schooled per annum, according to a 2014 report.

The structure of the education is as follows:

Pre-School and Pre-Kindergarten

This stage basically refers to the stage in a child’s life before he or she starts his or her formal schooling. This is non-compulsory education; however, it is highly encouraged by teachers and educators as it is believed to form a child’s basis for education. A child in the United States can begin this from anywhere between two and a half to four and a half years in age. Many community-based programmes, commercial enterprises, non-profit organizations, faith communities, and independent childcare providers offer preschool education in the States. A preschool may provide general training and early childcare development or may have a particular focus, such as providing arts education, religious education, sports training, or foreign language learning, along with providing general education programmes.

Primary and Secondary School

Students in America attend primary and secondary school for a total of 12 years. K-12 students can either choose to attend a tax-funded public school or a privately funded private school. Schools and institutes choose textbooks that are mapped to the pre-set benchmarks for students to use. The most common curriculum one uses is Common Core. The largest public-school system in the United States is in New York. These grades are known as the first grade to the twelfth grade. At the age of about six years, American children begin their primary school, which is most commonly called “elementary school.” Elementary school consists of students in classes kindergarten till about class six. The basics of all subjects are taught in elementary school and usually teaching is conducted inside classrooms.

The Secondary school consists of two stages namely “middle school” or “junior high school” and the “high school.” Here students are given more independence as they move from one classroom to the other in order to attend their classes. Middle school usually includes seventh and eighth, but some districts prefer to include ninth as well. High school students are required to study a variety of subjects without specialising in one. These mandatory subjects include English, Mathematics, Sciences, Social Sciences, one foreign language, Physical education and some form of art education.

Students in these grades are commonly referred to as freshmen (grade 9), sophomores (grade 10), juniors (grade 11) and seniors (grade 12)

A student gets a diploma or certificate when he or she graduates from high school. After graduating high school (12th grade), the students may choose to study further in a college or a university. College or university study is known as “higher education.” A University is considered to be the most prestigious form of study in the States and a university offers graduate, post-graduate and other professional programmes.

Academic Year

The school calendar in the United States usually begins in August or September and continues till about May or June. The academic year in most U.S schools is composed of two terms called “semesters.” Some schools may use a three-term calendar known as the “trimester” system. At the end of each semester, a student gets a cumulative grade (which is the sum total of their academic and extra-curricular credits or accomplishments) printed on a marksheet known as a transcript.

Each course contains a certain number of credits or credit hours. The number of credit hours is approximately the same as the number of hours a student spends in class for that course each week. A normal course is typically worth three to five credits. A full-time program in most schools is worth 12 or 15 credit hours. A certain number of credits needs to be met for a student to graduate or to clear that particular semester.

The Levels of Study in The United States

First Level: Undergraduate study

Usually it takes roughly four years to earn a bachelor’s degree in the United States. In the first two years of study, one is generally required to take a wide variety of classes in different subjects, commonly known as prerequisite courses. These subjects include Literature, Science, Social Sciences, the Arts, History, and the like. In case one wants to specialise or ‘major’ in a particular subject area, you should choose it at the beginning of your third year. You will be required to take a certain number of classes in this field in order to meet the degree requirements of your major. For example, if someone’s major is French, they will earn a Bachelor of Arts in French.

What the American Education system is famous for is a very unique characteristic of the American higher education is that it is flexible, and you can change your major multiple times if you want.

Second Level: A graduate in pursuit of a master’s degree

A student with a bachelor’s degree who wants to advance his or her career and grow in his/her field must think about pursuing graduate study. This degree is usually required and compulsory for higher-level positions in specific subjects such as library science, engineering, behavioural health and education. To gain admission to such courses, a student needs to take the GRE (graduate record examination). Some master’s programs also require specific exams, such as the LSAT for law school, the GRE or GMAT for business school, and the MCAT for medical school.

Graduate programs in pursuit of a master’s degree typically take one to two years to complete. For example, the MBA (Master of Business Administration) is an extremely popular degree program that takes about two years. Other master’s programs, such as journalism, only take one year. The majority of the student’s time in a master’s program is spent in classroom study and the student is required to prepare a long research paper called a “master’s thesis” or complete a “master’s project” as part of his or her final submission.

Third Level: A graduate in pursuit of a Doctorate Degree

Many graduate schools consider the attainment of a master’s degree to be a prerequisite for earning a PhD (doctorate). But at other schools, students may prepare directly for a doctorate without earning a master’s degree. It may take three years or more to earn a PhD degree.

In the PhD programme, in the first two years most candidates enrol in classes and seminars. The next year is spent conducting first-hand research and writing a thesis or dissertation. This paper must contain views, designs, or research that have not been previously published and are original or novel ideas of the student. A doctoral dissertation is basically a discussion and summary of the current scholarship on the chosen topic. Most universities in the United States which award doctorates also require their candidates to have a reading knowledge of two foreign languages, to spend a required length of time “in residence,” to pass a qualifying examination that officially admits candidates to the PhD program, and to pass an oral examination on the same topic as the dissertation.

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