Wide Academic Choice
The U.S. educational palette is incredibly diverse: you will definitely find a university that you want to call “home” and study programs you love. The U.S. educational system offers:
• Programs at over 4,900 accredited colleges, universities, and institutes;
• More than 2000 fields of study;
• Public and private universities;
• Small liberal arts colleges, big research universities, and everything in between;
• Co-ed and women’s or men’s only colleges;
• Academic and vocational training, and many more options.
In addition, a variety of settings (for example suburban or rural areas, etc.), coupled with a myriad of climates, further diversify your choice – describe your dream university in details, and most likely the USA has it!
You may have noticed that U.S. higher education institutions come under various names: colleges, universities, institutes (e.g. Middlebury College, Princeton University, or Massachusetts Institute of Technology). "School" is also used in informal communication, like in "at my school in Florida we have many students from Romania".
So what are the differences between the three?
Universities are larger and have a more comprehensive offer: undergraduate and graduate programs (Master's and Doctorate).
Institutes commonly provide in-depth undergraduate to post-doctoral training in a group of closely related subject areas, like technology, arts etc. (e.g. MIT includes a School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, a School of Architecture and Planning, a School of Sciences, and the Sloan School of Management).
Romanian students generally choose to enroll at 4-year colleges or universities to get their Bachelor's degree. An alternative to this path, more U.S. student-friendly though, is to start your undergraduate education in a 2-year college and get an Associate degree, then transfer to a 4-year institution to complete your degree.
Most U.S. schools enroll both men and women, but there are also single-sex colleges. The College Board lists around 50 women's colleges and over 60 men's colleges.
Some institutions are public (around 40%) and some private (around 60%). Public universities sometimes include the words "state university" in their title. They tend to have a big student population and generally accept more students than private universities. The largest universities in the U.S. are all public, for instance Michigan State University, Ohio State University, University of Texas.
Liberal arts philosophy
The seven liberal arts of the medieval university curriculum were Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy. What does this have to do with modern liberal arts education at U.S. universities?
The liberal arts philosophy is a unique feature of the U.S. higher education system and one of its greatest strengths.
Some of the advantages of pursuing a liberal arts education include:
- It fosters a spirit of free inquiry: you are encouraged to reflect upon the world around you, examine and analyze it;
- It emphasizes the importance of effective communication, strength of character, flexibility and creativity of thought;
- A liberal arts education provides you with the tools to identify, understand and rigorously evaluate arguments from a wide array of topics;
- You are encouraged to follow your passions and interests, not what others assume that will lead to marketable skills;
- It develops mental habits that help you develop your own opinions and beliefs, based not on the authority of others, but on your own sound judgment;
- It deepens the specialized knowledge of a discipline with a comprehensive world view.
No institution can teach you in four years everything you will need to know in life. But by teaching you how to learn and how to organize ideas, the liberal arts institution will enable you to learn faster, more thoroughly, and permanently.
"In order to ensure a broad liberal arts education, Trinity requires students to take at least one course in five areas – Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences, and Numerical and Symbolic Reasoning."
Ştefan Timiraş, student at Trinity College, CT, class of 2015
The personalized curriculum distinguishes the U.S. system from others in the world. Instead of focusing on a particular subject for the whole duration of your university studies, you are encouraged to choose from a variety of courses in your field of interest. This helps you become a well-rounded person, more sensitive and perceptive regarding the world around you.
The curriculum generally consists of four types of courses:
- Core courses: general courses, also called foundation courses, which must be taken by all students, usually during the first two years. These account for one third of the degree and they include subjects such as English, a foreign language, natural science, social science, and math; However, not all colleges have core courses (e.g. Amherst College, MA, Brown University, RI, Hamilton College, NY);
- Major courses in the field on which you choose to concentrate. While some students major in one subject, we have seen students who chose to pursue a double or even triple major in related fields or completely different ones. Students declare their major in the first two years of study, so they have ample time to make their decision. Major courses usually amount for a quarter or more of the total degree requirements;
- Minor courses in a subject or subjects in which a student chooses to take the second greatest concentration of courses. Minor courses tend to be half the number of major courses;
- Elective courses, which the student chooses from any field they are interested in, to ensure a well-rounded college experience.
Each student is assigned an academic adviser – a professor, librarian, etc. - who helps the student navigate the university’s offer of academic courses and plan for a balanced personal curriculum.
Suppose you are an Olympic in Physics and decide to pursue this subject at university too. Do you think you will just be automatically enrolled on a Physics course for first year students, no questions asked? No. You will be matched with a course that matches your preparation and needs so that you feel neither bored nor overwhelmed by coursework, and allows you to explore different fields before specialising.
U.S. academic culture is characterized by meritocracy. This means credit is given fairly and enthusiastically whenever it is due, be it that a student shows special aptitudes or interest for a subject or they come up with a great proposal for a new club or activity on campus.
In the U.S., universities are at the forefront of research, so you will constantly be in contact with professors who not only pass on knowledge from their field of study, but are actively contributing to exploring uncharted academic territory, an exciting (and usually remunerated) activity that you could be a part of.
"Complementing academics, University of Richmond has one of the biggest undergraduate summer research programs in the country. Last summer, the university funded 217 students, with many others being funded by professors’ external grants. You can do research in any discipline, from sciences to history, art, or foreign languages. Most research takes place on campus, but sometimes your projects make you travel. Some of our friends spent their summer studying climate change effects on plants in an Oregon forest, scuba diving in Florida Keys to study tropical reef sponges, studying indigenous populations in Central America, or doing archaeological excavations in Greece. "
Ana Neferu, class of 2013, Catalina Cumpanasoiu and Alexandra Badiceanu, class of 2015, University of Richmond, VA
There’s more to Penn than schoolwork and friends. Many people do their own research; sometimes even multiple research projects! The university normally pays for the expenses of undergraduate students who participate in conferences. In addition, many students who do research receive funding for their projects through the university and get published in top journals while working with some of the best professors in their field. The university encourages research and scholarship, along with academic achievement. If you are interested in other areas than research, there are over 200 clubs to join and even be a president of. If the club you’re looking for does not exist, you can start your own!
Laura Micu, University of Pennsylvania alumna
Law, Medicine, Dentistry, Business
In Romania, if you want to be a lawyer, dentist, or doctor you enroll in law, dentistry, or medicine Bachelor’s courses and go on 4 or 6-year undergraduate programs. Not so in the USA.
For example: Business You first get a BA in Economics, Physics, Literature etc. (4 years of study) and then you go on an MBA = Master of Business Administration (1-2 years of study). Consequently, you will get an MBA after around 4-5 years of study.
Want to know more? Full details in the Graduate Admissions section
My fulbright experience
Students at the advising center