Learn about the academic system in the US

By Annie Rose Stathes, edited by Valeri Boyle
Published June 3, 2014

The United States is teeming with quality higher education institutions suitable for people with a variety of goals, desires, and backgrounds. The country is large and diverse, and the majority of college campuses throughout the U.S. offer unique opportunities by way of study and lifestyle to students. In addition, many college campuses throughout the U.S. serve diverse populations of people, allowing for students to have fun, innovative, and expansive experiences.

There are numerous accredited institutions offering high quality education in the U.S. According to the QS World University Rankings of 2013, many of the top-ranked colleges are in the United States. In fact, 19 of the 50 top-ranked schools in the world are spread throughout the country. Some of those colleges, all ranked within the top 20 schools in the world, include: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Standford University, Yale University, the University of Chicago, the California Institute of Technology, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, Cornell University, and Johns Hopkins University. These colleges and universities, along with 30 others, rank within the top 200 colleges and universities in the world. Numerous other schools rank within the top 500, and even those not ranked provide accredited, high quality, and well-respected education and degree programs.

Colleges and universities throughout the U.S. typically offer undergraduate and graduate programs and most commonly divide their academic years into quarters or semesters. Within these structures, certificate programs typically take six months to one year to complete; bachelor’s degrees four to five years; master’s degrees two to three years; and PhDs and other graduate degrees four to six years. Most schools’ academic years begin in August and end in May. However, many schools give students the option to take courses in the summer, and many graduate-level programs require summer enrollment.

Many people believe that the official language of the United States is English, but in reality, the US does not have an official language. However, the U.S. does embrace English as its national language, and the majority of colleges and universities are English-language schools. Because the majority of schools in the US are English-language schools, you will need to take and pass the TOEFL—a test that measures your ability to understand and use English at the college level—to gain admittance to most colleges and universities in the United States. To read more about how to prepare for the TOEFL, visit here. Also, if you want to study languages alongside English, consider studying in states such as Louisiana, California, and Hawaii (to name a few), that also offer some curricula in languages such as French, Spanish, and Hawaiian to serve their native populations and populations of people for whom English is a second language.

Living in the United States

The United States is comprised of 50 states, each belonging to one of four official regions: the Northeast, the Midwest, the South, and the West. Each region, and in fact each state, is quite unique with its own culture, history, social-make-up, climate, and geography. Within these regions, you’ll find a variety of landscapes including seacoasts, wetlands, mountain ranges, plains, forests, rolling hills, desert, marshlands, and more. The U.S. is a large country with close to 3 million square miles within its North American landmass.

Students in the U.S. can choose to study in small, medium, or large cities, and, because the country is so diverse, students can likely find a climate and environment perfect for their needs. Additionally, well-known and high quality colleges and universities can be found throughout the country.

Living and studying in the United States has become an increasingly popular option, especially for students from India, China, Korea, and Japan. The United States’ economy has integrated more thoroughly with the economies of many Asian countries, and many students interested in understanding, analyzing, and participating in the marriage between the two regions have chosen to study in the U.S. Students in Canada have also become increasingly interested in studying in the U.S. not only to better understand the relationship between the two North American countries, but also to study abroad without having to move too far from home. 

Why Should I Earn an Education in the U.S.?  

There are many great reasons to study abroad in the United States. Following is a list of just some of them:

  • While earning a potentially well-respected degree, students can explore a beautiful region of the world and perhaps take a side trip or two to Canada and Mexico.
  • To students from non-English-speaking countries, the U.S. presents an opportunity to practice and hone their English skills in academic, social, and professional settings.
  • With 50 states spread across a large and biologically, culturally, and socially diverse landmass, students may find a climate, environment, and culture that best suits their desires and needs.   
  • Many states in the U.S. have diverse populations comprised of people from around the world. Cultural diversity can be a welcomed trait for students missing home and longing to connect with people from their home-countries. At the same time, other states across the U.S. provide environments for people who want to be fully submersed in American culture.
  • The United States is a global powerhouse increasingly connected to countries throughout the world. By studying in the United States, students can prepare for careers in which a command of the English language and experience with American culture is a must.  
  • The costs of living vary significantly throughout the U.S. allowing for more potentially affordable options for students dependent on lower costs of living.
  • The United States is a relatively stable and secure country providing a safe and comfortable option for students who want to study abroad while still enjoying developed and predictable environments.  


Annie Rose Stathes is a Colorado-based writer, teacher and political scientist. Her background is in international affairs and she holds a Master of Arts degree in Political Science.