An Associate Degree is a highly practical oriented, 2-year program offered in Community Colleges and at some universities. These include Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) degrees and students may enroll on completion of 12th grade. On obtaining an Associate Degree, a student may transfer to a 4-year undergraduate program at the 3rd year level or lower depending on the college and courses taken. Some community colleges also have automatic enrollment agreements with a local 4-year university and these programs are often called 2+2 programs.
An Undergraduate or a Bachelors Degree is a 4-year program for which, students generally enroll on completion of 12th grade. The undergraduate program is divided into two divisions, the lower division and the upper division, each lasting two years. General education classes and basic classes in the major are taken in the lower division and more specialized classes in the major are taken in the upper division. A student is required to pick a major by the end of the second year at the latest. The list of majors available for a student to choose from is extremely vast. The program is highly flexible in terms of the courses one can opt for. The university specifies the total number of units or credit hours a student must complete as well as the number pertaining to the selected major and minor, in order to graduate.
Professional degrees such as law, medicine and dentistry are usually not offered at the undergraduate level. A student with any undergraduate major may apply as long as the pre-requisite courses for the degree have been completed.
Starting early in one’s career, US universities give undergraduate students the flexibility to gear the program to match their goals. In addition, the experience of being part of a multitude of extracurricular opportunities on campus is unmatched.
A Graduate Degree tends to be a 2-year program depending on the university and field of study. Students generally enroll after completion of a 4-year undergraduate degree. Common graduate degrees are Master of Science (MS), Master of Engineering (MEng) or an Master of Business Administration (MBA). In general, MS degrees require a student to write a thesis while an MEng degree may require project work but no thesis. These requirements however, may vary based on the program of choice. Other graduate level programs at US universities include Law, Master in Public Health (MPH), Master in Health Administration (MHA), Master in Education (MEd), Master of Arts (MA), Master of Architecture (MArch), Master in Exercise Science (MES), Master in Kinesiology (MK) among others.
Graduate students are required to complete a certain number of units or credit hours highly focused on the selected major, in order to graduate. A large number of courses include project work for a hands-on learning experience.
Professors teaching graduate level courses are usually pioneering researches in their field of study. Students may have opportunities to work, either part time or full time, on cutting edge technology at a research lab on campus. Teaching assistantships may also be offered, usually after the first year of coursework, based on the student’s grasp of the subject and perceived ability to teach.
Students may enroll in the Doctorate or Doctor of Philosophy program in their area of interest. PhD programs are available only in select universities based on the field of study. Students may enroll after a graduate degree or for some majors, even immediately after an undergraduate degree. Unlike in most other countries, a PhD from a US university requires the student to complete required coursework in addition to research work. In the path to obtaining a PhD, a student must pass qualifying exams which may be focused on the general research area or concentrated on the student’s research topic.
PhD programs tend to be funded, however a student must ensure top research and academic performance in order for funding to continue till the degree is obtained.