Higher Education in the United States

Higher education in the United States is an optional final stage of formal learning following secondary education. Higher education, also referred to as post-secondary education, third stage, third level, or tertiary education occurs most commonly at one of the approximately 7200 degree-granting institutions, either colleges or universities in the country. These may be public universities, private universities, liberal arts colleges, community colleges, or for-profit colleges.

Types of colleges and universities

Colleges and universities in the U.S. vary in terms of goals: some may emphasize a vocational, business, engineering, or technical curriculum while others may emphasize a liberal arts curriculum. Many combine some or all of the above, being a comprehensive university. In the US, the term “college” refers to either one of three types of education institutions: stand-alone higher level education institutions that are not components of a university, including 1) community colleges, 2) liberal arts colleges, or 3) a college within a university, mostly the undergraduate institution of a university. Unlike colleges versus universities in other portions of the world, a stand-alone college is truly stand-alone and is not part of a university, and is also not affiliated with an affiliating university.

Admission process

Students can apply to some colleges using the Common Application. With a few exceptions, most undergraduate colleges and universities maintain the policy that students are to be admitted to (or rejected from) the entire college, not to a particular department or major. (This is unlike college admissions in many European countries, as well as graduate admissions.) Some students, rather than being rejected, are “wait-listed” for a particular college and may be admitted if another student who was admitted decides not to attend the college or university. The five major parts of admission are ACT/SAT scores, GPA, College Application, Essay, and Letters of Recommendation. Not all colleges require essays or letters of recommendation, though they are often proven to increase chances of acceptance.

International students

The US is the most popular country in the world in terms of attracting students from other countries, according to UNESCO, with 16% of all international students going to the US (the next highest is the UK with 11%). 671,616 foreign students enrolled in American colleges in 2008-9. This figure rose to 723,277 in 2010–2011. The largest number, 157,558, came from China. According to Uni in the USA, despite “exorbitant” costs of US universities, higher education in America remains attractive to international students due to “generous subsidies and financial aid packages that enable students from even the most disadvantaged backgrounds to attend the college of their dreams”.

The States in Photos