Undergraduate Study

Types of Institutions

There are approximately 3,200 accredited degree-granting institutions in the United States. College is a generic term for any form of post-secondary education. The word never applies to secondary level education. There are several types of colleges:

  • Two-year community colleges / junior colleges – award associate degrees at the completion of two years of full-time study. Many students transfer to a four-year college or university to complete a bachelor’s degree in an additional 2 years.
  • Four-year colleges – award bachelors degrees upon completion of four years of full-time study. There are over 1,800 colleges in the States, about one third of which are private institutions. Colleges tend to focus on undergraduate education rather than research.
  • Liberal arts colleges – most are private institutions and focus on undergraduate studies in the humanities, social sciences and sciences. There are over 900 liberal arts colleges in the States.
  • Universities – generally offer a broad range of both undergraduate and graduate degree programs, and has an emphasis on research. Universities can vary considerably in size and the diversity of the programs they offer. There are more than 700 universities in the States.

There are both public and private universities and colleges in the United States. There is no distinction in quality between the two types. Private institutions usually charge higher tuition fees. The same fee normally applies whether the applicant is an in-state resident, an out-of-state resident, or an international student. Public institutions have two levels of tuition rates, one for residents of the state and the other for all other students.

Most bachelors’ degrees in the United States are earned through a broad program of study. It is often possible to complete up to two years of study before having to choose a major, the area in which more concentrated studies are done in the final two years. It normally takes four years to obtain a U.S. bachelor’s degree. The Australian system of three years to obtain an ordinary degree does not exist in the United States.

The U.S. academic year runs from approximately 1 September to May or June, with a summer break between June – August.

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements vary significantly from one college to another. Some institutions are very selective, while others accept most applicants. In general, the following components of your application will all be taken into account in the admissions process:

  • Your academic record (the most important factor)
  • Your application essay
  • Your scores on standardized tests such as the SAT I, SAT II or the TOEFL
  • Letters of recommendation, if required

As a general rule, American universities and colleges expect international applicants’ records to reflect at least 12 years of primary and secondary schooling, and to meet the entrance requirements of the tertiary institutions in their home country. Pacific Island students have the advantage of adding geographical diversity to the composition of the student body, which many admissions officers find highly desirable.