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USA Education

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Columbia University
By Momos (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The United States has created an education system that is one of the best in the world. It serves high quality education to students from kindergarten through high schools and higher education too. 

The US has federal system of education that connotes education is responsibility of state and local governments. Each state government can decide school policies as there is no country level education system exists in the US [1]. Curriculum is determined at the district level. Every state has different set of goals for schools and every school must reach them. Every state has its own Education Department and laws regulating the hiring of school personnel, finance, student attendance, and curriculum.

School curriculum has a wide variety of subjects besides science, arts, literature and language. Societal issues like stress reduction and relaxation, alcohol and drug abuse prevention, and physical fitness are given due importance in curriculum. States also determine the number of years of compulsory education. 

Free and compulsory education is provided from ages 5 or 6 years to 16 or 18 years as per state the state policy. In most states, education is mandatory from the age of five or six to sixteen; but in some states teens have to stay on in school until age 18.

Learning standards are the goals by which states and school districts must meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) as mandated by No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) goal is to educate every child of the USA who are in poverty or minorities. It is the main law for K–12 general education in the United States it penalizes schools that don’t show improvement.

USA Department of Education

The mission of the US Education Department is to promote student education for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. They collect data of American's schools and bring into light national attention on key educational issues. 

Educational Details
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

Some of the initiatives by Education Department
Early Learning
Green Strides
Investing in Innovation
Let's Read. Let's Move
Promoting Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income (PROMISE)
Race to the Top Fund
Rural Education
School Improvement Grants
Student Art Exhibit Program
White House Initiatives

K-12 (Age 5 years to 18 years)

K-12 education refers to all primary and secondary education, from the first grade of formal schooling, through secondary graduation (12th Grade). It comprises Elementary Schools, Middle Schools and High Schools. Most parents send their children to either a public or private institution. Elementary schools starts at 7:30 am , middle schools/junior high school starts at 8:30 am , and high schools at 8:15 am. 

There are generally four patterns involve in the USA education system:
  • Elementary school (K-5), middle school (6-8), high school (9-12)
  • Elementary school (K-6), junior high school (7-9), senior high school (9-12)
  • Elementary school (K-8), high school (9-12)
  • Elementary school (K-6), and junior and high school combined (7-12)

Public Education vs Private Schools

Public Schools exist everywhere in the USA with the funding available from local, state and federal government. Policies related to curricula, teaching, awards, competitions, employments are decided by elected school boards. State governments set syllabus for students and compulsory exams at the end of the course. 

Private schools do not receives any funding from state and federal government and they are free to decide their own curriculum and school related policies.

Read on Public Schools vs Private School

Structure of US Education

Most children in the USA enter schools around the age of five or six. They start from day care or pre-kindergarten followed by five years of primary school, three years of middle school and four years of high school. After earning a diploma in secondary education they are eligible for admission to higher education. Education is mandatory until age 16 or 18 years of age.

Elementary Schools

Elementary school includes kindergarten through fifth grade. Elementary students are generally in one classroom with the same teacher most of the day. Upon successful completion of their elementary education, students then proceed to middle school, also known as junior high school. Elementary education includes Early Childhood Education and Pre- School or Pre- Kindergarten.

Early Childhood Education

Day Care is one of the early childhood educations while their parents are busy working. It involves academic training and social or fun activities. Day Care is not free and usually offers daily program for up to 12 hours. 

Pre- School (Pre-Kindergarten or Pre-K)

Pre-K is the first formal classroom based learning a child attends in United States. It begins at the age of three or four to prepare children for kindergarten education by equally focusing on their social and physical development. Children learn about alphabets, colors, games and other basic skills. They generally offer three- four hours session per day. Pre-K play an important role in early childhood education.

Tips for choosing Pre- school

Middle School

Middle school (also known as junior high school) includes 6th, 7th and 8th grades where they move from class to class each period with a new teacher and new mix of students. Children generally stay in the classroom on an average of 6.5 to 7 hours. 

High Schools

Students in their first year are called freshman in the high school, sophomore in second year and senior in their last and fourth year. Students with high school diploma can enroll in post secondary education. Students get grades for all their courses during their high schools. GPA or Grade Point Average is used as a selection criterion to apply to colleges and universities. Students in 12th grade also take SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Tests), or ACT (American College Tests) to apply for certain colleges and universities. 

Higher Education

Higher Education is followed by High school in USA. Higher education in the United States offer diverse academic programs in various disciplines and home to world’s top universities. There are more than 4500 accredited higher education institutions consisting higher education offering different types of degrees.

The higher education in the United States is flexible and probably the reason for the world’s most sought after education destination.

Undergraduate Program

Students take undergraduate study to achieve a bachelor's degree in a field of concentration known as a major. Some students opt for community colleges for two years before applying at another college for four years. Community Colleges award them associate degrees after two years. Those seeking to continue their education may transfer to a four-year college or university. Admission criteria involve the GPA and through exams like SAT and ACT.

The USA undergraduate education system is split into two main areas, 2 year programs and 4 year programs. 

Two Year Program
These schools are also known as junior or community colleges. These colleges are run under state agencies or state universities. Students in two year program get associate degrees. There are different types of associate degrees A.S. degree ( or Associate of Science degree) and A.A. degree (or Associate of Arts degree). A student is required to earn 60 semester credit hours which typically takes two years.

Four Year Program
The four undergraduate classes are commonly called freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years. The curriculum in this program include study in history, humanities, English composition, social sciences, mathematics and natural or physical science. After finishing this curriculum, students are asked to select a specific field of study as the major. The final two years are directly related to major. 

Degrees in law and medicine are not offered at the undergraduate level instead they are completed as professional study after earning bachelor's degree. The two types of bachelor’s degrees typically offered are B.S. degrees (Bachelor of Science degrees) and B.A. degrees (Bachelor of Arts degrees).

Other, more specialized bachelor’s degrees include:
Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.)
Bachelor of Design (B.Des.)
Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.)
Bachelor of Science in Public Affairs (B.S.P.A)
Bachelor of Social Work (B.S.W.)
Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng.)
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.)
Bachelor of Architecture Degree (B.Arch.)

To read more on Higher Education, click here.

Graduate Degree

After undergraduate degrees students pursue master’s degree or graduate degree. Graduate school awards advanced degrees to the students in professional fields such as engineering, law, medicines or nursing. There are different types of master’s degree offered in the U.S., but the two most basic are the Master's of Arts (M.A.) and Master's of Science (M.S.). There are six to eight advanced courses in addition to project or thesis in Master's degree. 

Doctoral Degree or Ph.D

The doctoral degree is the highest degree one can earn in the USA. The degree requires five to eight years of study after bachelor's degree. It is designed to prepare students for college faculty and research scholar positions, as well as for other careers that require advanced knowledge and research skills.

Online Degree Program

There are various accredited online schools offering diplomas or degrees. It gives flexibility to to take the online courses from office or work. Assignments can be submitted from home or email questions to instructors at any time. This is a great opportunity for housewives or for people doing full time jobs. International students can also apply for these Online degree programs. 

For the complete structure on USA Education click here.

Standardized Tests for admission in USA Colleges

The first step to get admission in USA Colleges and Universities is to clear these exams depending upon the choice of field of study. These tests are important to check the skills and aptitude of candidates who are generally from different backgrounds and countries. 

Tests for Undergraduate Programs

SAT ( Scholastic Aptitude Test )

SAT is a standard test for college admissions in the United States.Format of SAT includes literary, writing and analytical skills of the students. There is no eligibility criterion for appearing in this exam. A student can take it during junior or senior years of High School.

Click here to know about SAT Eligibility, Registration and Format

Tips for SAT Exam

ACT ( American College Testing )

The ACT test is another standardized test for college admission in the United States. It is one of the most widely used undergraduate admissions test for some colleges and universities. It consists of a multiple-choice section covering four skill areas (English, mathematics, reading, and science), and a Writing Test, which is optional, measuring skill in planning and writing a short essay.

Click here to know about ACT Eligibility, Registration and Format

Some of the other tests for Undergraduate Programs are AP, PSAT- NMSQT, CLEP, SSAT, NCLEX, TOEFL, and IELTS.

Tests For Graduate Programs

GRE ( Graduate Record Examination )

Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is a test to get an admission in most of the graduate schools in the USA. Format of this exam includes verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking skills. The importance of a GRE score can be used for a admission or for a selection process.

Click here to know about GRE Eligibility, Registration and Format.

Tips for GRE Exam


GMAT exam is mandatory to apply for business schools in United States, Europe and many other countries. The test useful to assess quantitative, analytical, verbal, writing, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to a graduate management program, such as an MBA GMAT is a registered trademark of the Graduate Management Admission Council.

Click here to know more about this exam.

Some of the other tests for Graduate programs are MCAT, USMLE, LSAT, MAT.

Student Financial Aid in USA

U.S. Department of Education helps in providing grants, loans, and work-study funds to students attending college or career school. Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a program run by US Department of Education which is the largest provider of student financial aid in the nation. Federal student aid includes Grants or Scholarships, loans and Work-study.

Grants or Scholarship

Students can get grants and scholarships through college or career school, state government, federal government, or a private or nonprofit organization. Grants are given according to the need, while scholarships are given according to merits. Grants and scholarships doesn’t have to be repaid. Some of the federal grants available in USA are:


A loan is money borrowed and must be paid back with interest. Student loans can come from the federal government or from private sources such as a bank or financial institution. Loans offered by the federal government, called federal student loans generally have lower interest rates. The U.S. Department of Education has two federal student loan programs:
To read more on Financial Aid, click here.

Credit System in USA

Credit system is designed to assess student's progress in their studies. Students have to earn certain number of credits to attain degrees. Each course is worth a certain number of credit points determined by contact hours, workload and outcome. The more work and effort a student is required to put into a course, the more credits that course is worth.

Credit Hours- students usually receive credit hours based on the number of "contact hours" in class in a week. Credit hours are count towards award of degree either bachelors or Masters. A student is required to attain certain credit hours for instance, for bachelors a student may require around 110 to 140 credits and for Masters, a students may require around 30 to 40 credits. 

Contact Hour- A contact hour is any lecture or lab time when the professor is teaching the student.

A standard full-time study load is usually 30 credit hours per year. Typically, in order to graduate with a degree, universities expect students to complete:

120-130 credit hours for a Bachelor’s degree
30-64 credit hours for a Master's degree

Grade Point Average (GPA)

The cumulative grade point average is the GPA for all courses taken throughout the degree program. Students complete their degrees with a Grade Point Average (GPA). Most universities use a GPA scale of 4.0, but a few universities use a scale of 5.0. A pattern is followed like 4 points for an “A,” 3 points for a “B,” and so on. Multiply this number by the number of credits each course is worth. Finally, add these numbers together and divide by the total number of credits for all courses. 

The following is a general percentage “letter grade scale” for classes taken at U.S. colleges:
100 – 90% = A,
89 – 80% = B,
79 – 70% = C,
69 – 60% = D,
59 – 50% = E and
49 – 0% = F

Home Schooling in the USA

Before 1970, Home Schooling was practiced only in rural areas. But after that, more families began to homeschool their children. It is still a subject of legal debate; not about the right to home school but about the amount of state regulation in it.

Today parents opt for homeschooling for their children for a variety of reasons. They want to teach their children according to family religious beliefs. Some parents also concerned about increasing cases of drugs and violence in schools. 

To read more on Home Schooling click here.

Parental Involvement

USA Education welcomes and encourages the involvement of Parents through local Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) attached to every school. PTAs meet regularly takes place and includes the discussion on curriculum, school hours, facilities and other activities. Parents are asked to attend PTAs and show an interest in the children's education. School also organizes Parents Days where parents can meet teachers and examine everything carefully. 

Guide for Parents for USA Education

USA Education for International students

USA is home to many popular universities known in the field of Science, Technology and Management. USA hosts more international students than any other country in the world. Schools such as Harvard University, Stanford University, MIT, etc are all world famous and welcome international students. International students who successfully complete their US study are highly sought-after by employers worldwide. 

USA does have a Department of Education but it is by far the smallest federal department. It doesn't work on schools or colleges curriculum. Every school, college and university decides for themselves how best to teach its students and that has helped a lot in achieving the world class universities. US degrees are recognized throughout the world for their excellence. 

Why Study in the USA

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law can be applied to all schools that receive funds from the US Department of Education. Rights are transferred to students as soon as they reach the age of 18. Parents can asks schools to correct records in case they believe records are misleading or inaccurate. 

Schools must have permission from parents in order to release any information regarding student's record. However, they can disclose records under following conditions:
  • Appropriate parties in connection with financial aid to a student;
  • Specified officials for audit or evaluation purposes;
  • Other schools to which a student is transferring;
  • State and local authorities, within a juvenile justice system, pursuant to specific State law
  • School officials with legitimate educational interest;
  • Appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies;
  • Accrediting organizations;

Contact Details

Family Policy Compliance Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202-8520 For the complete information on USA Education, click here

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