Quick Facts 1 - Overview
What is the difference between US University vs College? Public vs Private University? Arts vs Science degree? Major vs Minor? Learn about this and much more here. The following quick facts cover areas that you really should know and understand as an international student.
You will find answers to common questions regarding the wider US university system that most international students are not entirely certain about. This section is very helpful for all prospective international students looking to apply for admission to a university or college in the United States. Throughout the years we have been asked many questions by international students about studying in the USA, and we are now sharing these questions and answers with you.
After you have finished this section, make sure to click on the shortcuts for more quick facts relating to classes, exams, campus, employment, admission etc.
What is the difference between University and College?
College and university are two terms that are used interchangeably and are frequently used to refer to a four-year education institution that offers Bachelor’s (undergraduate), Master’s (also referred to as postgraduate or graduate) and Doctorate (PhD) degrees. In the U.S.A., college is not “lower” than a university in terms of educational value and degree granting capabilities. College can, and often do, offer the same level of academic programs as a university, such as Bachelor’s degrees, Master’s degrees, and Doctorates (PhD’s). Note: This does not apply to Community Colleges, which are two-year institutions granting Associate’s degrees.
The term “college” has two meanings. A college can 1) be a stand-alone higher education institution granting Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate degrees (in other words, it is the same as a university), and 2) it can also be a “school” (specific area of study) within a university. Examples of this would be a university that may have a College of Business, College of Nursing, and College of Engineering (these can also be called School of Business, School of Nursing, or School of Engineering). The use of the terms school or college bear no significance.
In every-day life, the vast majority of Americans say that they are “going to college” when they are studying at the bachelor level, regardless if the institution actually is a college or university. However, this is only for the bachelor’s level. When pursuing a Master’s, you would typically say you are “going to grad school” or “studying for my masters.”
What is the difference between a Public and Private University/College?
A public university or college is a US higher education institution that is directly supported by public (government) funds and whose officials are either publicly elected or appointed. Many public institutions have the name of a particular state in their name, such as the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Generally, but not always, public universities or colleges are less expensive to attend than private universityies/colleges.
A private university/college is an institution which is privately funded as opposed to publicly funded (government funded). Most private universities/colleges are non-for-profit, and many of the most prestigious institutions in the USA are private. Primarily a private university/college generates revenue from tuition fees, endowments, and donations. Private institutions tend to have higher tuition fees and are free to set their own admission requirements.
Generally speaking, there is no major difference between a private and public university/college in terms of academic value and excellence.
What is a Community College?
Community college, also known as junior college or two-year college, is a two-year higher education institution granting Associate’s degrees, vocational degrees, diplomas, and certificates. Typically, international students will graduate with an Associate of Arts or Associate of Sciences degree and continue their pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree by transferring to a four-year university or college, where they complete the remaining two years of study to earn a Bachelor’s degree. The two years you study at community college level are the same as the first two years at a four-year university/college. Once you graduate from community college you will transfer in to the third year of a four-year Bachelor’s degree. Community colleges are less expensive and have less stringent admission requirements than a four-year university/college.
When am I a Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior?
During your first academic year as an undergraduate student you will be called a freshman. Typically, a freshman is a student that has taken less than 30 credits/units.
During the second academic year as an undergraduate student you will be called a “sophomore.” Typically, a sophomore is a student that has taken 30-59 credits/units.
During your third academic year as an undergraduate student you will be called a “junior.” Typically, a junior is a student that has taken 60-89 credits/units
During the fourth academic year as an undergraduate student you will be called a “senior.” Typically, a senior is a student that has taken 90 or more credits/units.
What is the difference between an Arts Degree and Science Degree?
It used to be that a student earned an Arts degree when majoring in language or history, and earned a Science degree when majoring in physics and chemistry. However, that is not the case anymore. Technically, the primary difference is the foreign language requirement. Usually this means that a student that studies a foreign language as part of its degree will earn an Arts degree. But there is also one additional and notable difference that coincides with this. It is common for a student pursuing a Science degree to be required to take a higher number of units/credit hours to meet the major requirement than a student pursuing an Arts degree. As a loose example, this means that a student pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in business may have to take a total of 54 credits/units (of lower and upper division courses) to meet the major requirement, while a student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in business only have to take a total of 46 credits/units. Both degrees still require the completion of approximately 120-128 credit hours, but as the example showed, the difference is in the number of credits/units a student has to take to fulfil the major requirement. In the USA, your degree will consist of major courses, general education (core) courses, and elective courses.
What do Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, and Summa Cum Laude mean?
When speaking of honors, people generally mean Latin Honors, which is awarded to students with a high grade point average (GPA) – i.e. good grades. There are three honors; Cum Laude (meaning “with honor”) which requires a cumulative GPA between 3.500 and 3.799, Magna Cum Laude (meaning “with great honor”) which requires a cumulative GPA between 3.800 and 3.949, and Summa Cum Laude (meaning “with highest honor”) which requires a cumulative GPA between 3.950 and 4.000.
What are the difference between Major and Minor?
Major is the primary (main) academic field of study in which a student wants to receive a degree. Examples of majors could be Marketing, Bioengineering or Biology. In a conversation you can express your major by saying either “my major is…” or “I am majoring in….”
Minor is a secondary academic area of study taken by undergraduate students in addition to the major. The minor does not have the same high study load as a major and requires few credits/units to complete. The decision to complete a minor is generally initiated by the student and is rarely an official program requirement. A minor does not have to be related to the student’s major. For instance, if you are majoring in International Business you can minor in Biology if you intend to embark on a career in the pharmaceutical industry. Alternatively, if you are a Journalist major you could minor in a second language if you wish.
What is the study of Humanities?
The humanities are academic disciplines concentrating on human life and ideas. Humanities include academic areas such as history, literature, art, philosophy, languages, religion, and music.
Regardless of your major, you are very likely to take a humanities class either as a general education or elective class.