The choice of college is important

Study system in the USA

One country, countless study options - the study system in the USA is more diverse than almost any other university system. That has to do with the fact that the state influence on American Universities very low is pronounced. The result is a colorful university landscape. Academic freedom has traditionally played an important role in the United States.

Role of the federal government and states

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The study system in the United States recognizes a large number of university degrees, including academic and professional degrees.

The study system in the US is organized in a decentralized manner, it is considered versatile and flexible. This can be traced back to the fact that in the USA there is neither a central education department as a state supervisory authority nor a national higher education law.

Accreditations as a means of quality assurance are not awarded in the USA by state institutions, but by non-profit, non-governmental organizations.

The responsibility for education and upbringing lies with the individual states (state governments), partly also in the local communities. The greatest authority however own the US Universities self.


University autonomy

The study system in the US calls for universities and US collegesact largely autonomously. You decide independently about the range of courses, the admission of applicants and the tuition fees. The same applies to the recognition of academic achievements and the grading system. Therefore, even the structure and costs of a single degree program at different universities can differ significantly.


Structure of the study system in the USA

The study system in the US is divided into sections

  • Undergraduate studies
  • Graduate Studies

Such a two-stage structure is firmly anchored in the Anglo-American region and can now also be found in Germany.

Both Undergraduate studies it is the first degree at a university. The course usually takes four years to complete. Two years of study are generally required to study in the graduate area.

The "classic" US degrees

Even if the study system in the USA is made up of around 2500 different academic degrees, there is still a “classic” study path in the USA. It begins with the bachelor's degree (Undergraduate studies). The tripartite system of Bachelor, Master and PhD has existed in the US since the late 19th century.

Bachelor Degree

The four-year bachelor's degree in the USA leads to a Bachelor Degree. As usual for the undergraduate sector, it starts with one Studium Generale. This consists of various courses from the humanities and natural sciences. The aim is to provide the students with sound general knowledge at the beginning (liberal arts education).

In the second half of the course, students choose their major or theirs Main subjects (Majors) and define the focus of the course. The choice of minor subjects (Minors) is often also possible.

Master Degree

The study system in the USA provides that students with a bachelor's degree can pursue a master's degree in the USA. The Master Degree belongs to the Graduate Studies and is made up of a certain amount of courses and a certain amount of personal research.

The following distinction applies to the Masters in the USA:

  • Academic Master: academic, scientifically oriented courses with thesis
  • Professional Master: Job-oriented programs that prepare for specific professional fields in the field of dentistry, law or business

Doctoral degree

Following the master’s degree, there is the option of adding a doctoral degree. The Doctoral degree is also assigned to the graduate area and takes an average of three years, sometimes longer. The most frequently awarded doctorate among the Research Doctoral Degrees is the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.).

In addition, the study system in the USA differs job-related doctoral degrees like that Doctor of Medicine (D.M.) or the Juris Doctor (J.D.). You are professionally oriented (Professional Degrees) and are awarded without additional doctoral work.

Study system in the USA and its country-specific degrees

The study system in the USA has other degrees that may be of interest to international students:

  • Associate Degrees
  • Certificates
  • Diplomas

Associate Degrees

Associate Degree-Programs are within the study system in the US Undergraduate studies assigned and lead via detours to a bachelor's degree.

With a Associate Degree Switching to the third year of a bachelor's degree at a college or university is usually possible without any problems. The advantage: studying at a community college is significantly cheaper than studying at a university.

The most relevant for international students Transfer Degree Programsas they pave the way for a bachelor's degree in college in the United States. Both Terminal Degree Programs it is a kind of vocational training. Since there is no equivalent German qualification, they are not recognized in Germany. It is therefore advisable to complete your bachelor's degree in the USA.

Certificates and diplomas as an opportunity for further training

At many universities in the USA there are different continuing education programs, which on average after three to four months with a Diploma or Certificate to lock. They specialize in a certain subject area and have a high level of practical relevance.

For one, there is within the US study system pre-employment programswhich can be completed as a first degree after the Abitur and lead to a professional qualification.

On the other hand, many universities offer Graduate Diplomas / Certificates or Advanced Certificates at. Such graduate-level postgraduate courses serve as working professionals Advanced training in a certain area. They are an alternative to a master’s degree, but can often also be credited towards such a degree. The entry requirement is a bachelor's degree.

Important to know: Certificates and Diplomas Although they are firmly anchored in the study system in the USA, they do not have the status of an independent degree in Germany. However, on the further career path they often provide one useful additional qualification represent.


Shorter study stays in the USA

If you do not want to complete a complete study abroad in the USA, the study system in the USA has various short-term programs available. International students thus also have the opportunity to complete a shorter study trip to the USA. You have the following options to choose from:

  • Semester abroad: flexible Study AbroadProgramsthat offer access to a wide range of courses. A semester abroad can be part of an exchange program or university cooperation or as a Free movers to be completed. The choice of course is largely free. There is no grading of the students according to semester or course of study.
  • Summer Sessions / Summer Schools: three to six weeks Intensive study in the summer months, outside of the regular academic year. Summer sessions are usually characterized by a wide range of courses and low entry barriers. Participation is partly possible for students aged 16 and over.
  • Language courses: general language courses, academically oriented courses, subject-specific language courses or language courses to prepare for language tests such as the IELTS or TOEFL. The course duration varies depending on the type of course.

Study system USA vs. study system Germany

In the US there is no dual training system like in Germany. As a result, both professional and academic education in the United States is shifting to higher education. The result is a number of country-specific degrees within the study system in the USA, which do not exist in this form in Germany. This includes the Associate Degree, the Certificates and Diplomas.

The degrees known in Germany, such as Bachelor, Master and Doctoral degrees, also have a different structure in some cases in the United States. Bachelor students only attend general education courses in the first two years and specialize in the second half of their studies. The course is usually much more practice-oriented and more school-based than in Germany.

In addition, the study system in the USA provides that a Bachelor degree usually four and not three years lasts. This can lead to problems with the recognition of their degree for Bachelor graduates from Germany. In some cases, it is necessary to complete an additional postgraduate course in the USA in order to gain access to a master’s program.

In the graduate area, universities differentiate between academic and career-oriented master’s programs - Another peculiarity of the study system in the USA. There are also differences when it comes to doctorates: on the one hand there are the research doctoral degrees, above all the Ph.D., and on the other hand the application-oriented degrees Professional doctorates. The latter do not require a scientific doctoral thesis. The courses are open to Bachelor graduates.