Studying in the U.S.
Higher education in the United States is quite multi-faceted and decentralized. It is characterized by competition and autonomous institutions of higher learning. Presently, there are around 4,180 colleges and universities in the US. Of these, over 1,700 are so-called "two-years institutions," and 2,450 are "four-year instutitions". In addition to the roughly 1,700 public institutions (which are operated by the states, cities, or counties in which they are located), there are also more than 2,480 private colleges and universities. "Community colleges" make up the bulk of the American two-year institutions and are quite practical for beginning students wishing to take introductory or general language courses. There are currently over 14 million students registered at US institutions of higher learning, and the vast majority of these students - some 11 million - study at public universities and colleges. Women make up the majority (over 56%0 of American university students. Also of interest is the high percentage (nearly 40%) of part-time students, who attend university while employed full-time.
Undergraduate and Graduate Studies
Besides academic courses of study, institutions of higher learning in the U.S. also offer praxis-oriented programs for advanced vocational training. Such programs are found mostly at two-year "community colleges." In addition to certificates adn diplomas, a student can earn an "associate degree" after two years of study.
The typical academic degree earned by American students is the "Bachelor of Arts" (BA) or respectively the "Bachelor of Science" (BS). These degrees are awarded following the completion of four years of studies. In the first two years of their studies, American students take a number of required courses in general subject areas. After the second year, American students take a major (or two), and spend the remaining two years taking courses in these academic disiplines (although they are not limited to them). After having earned the "bachelors," most Americans end their "academic careers" and look for jobs. One calls the four-year course of study for thet BA/BS the "undergraduate studies." Those who decide to pursue their education further can earn a Master of Arts or Master of Science, repectively, in one or two years. These so-called "Master's Degrees" are offered only at universities, and not at colleges. Likewise, only universities offer professional degrees, as for example the Juris Doctor (for law), the Doctor of Medicine (for medicine), and the well-known Master of Business Administration, or MBA. It usually takes two to four years to complete these professional degrees.
Earning a doctorate (Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D.) in the United States takes between four and six years. The first phase of one's doctoral studies usually lasts two years and is conducted with an extensive examination in all the subject areas studies until that point. This examination is knows as the "preliminary examination" or alternatively as the "qualifying examination." Following the successful completion of this examination, the student may begin his reseach for his doctoral dissertation.
Continuative studies which lead to the M.A./M.S., professional degrees, or the Ph.D., are known as "graduate studies."