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The American Higher Education System

Higher Education System in the USA


The higher education system in the USA is different from the French system. In France, the first level of studies — the licence — lasts three years, the master’s lasts two years, and the doctorate is usually three years long. Compared to this structure, the higher education system in the US presents several advantages:


The main difference between the two systems has to do with the courses’ structure. French students do not get to pick and choose between modules. The structure of the course, the classes they take and the semesters in which they take them is established by the university. This leaves very little leeway for them to adapt their degree to their personal interests.


In the US, the degree structure is more flexible and mainly à la carte. Each course (or class) is assigned a certain number of credits. To complete their degree, students must have studied and validated a given number of credits. Each semester, students select courses from a wide selection offered by their department of studies. In doing so, they also get to choose their own workload: from two to six courses a semester in general. The more courses they study each semester, the more credits they validate and the quicker they graduate. As a consequence, students get to build a curriculum that is flexible and mirrors their personal interests.


The grading system in the USA also differs from the one used in France. Grades are expressed in percentages (for instance 60% instead of 12/20). Each percentage band corresponds to a letter: A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D and F. For instance, the percentage band corresponding to an A+ is 90-100%, while the one corresponding to a B is 72-75%. For a course to be validated, students must obtain a minimum average of C, which corresponds to 60-63%. The average of all the courses of a semester is called the Term Grade Point Average (TGPA); this in turn will help determine the Grade Point Average (GPA).


Vocational and professional training in the USA

There are over 4,000 institutions providing post-baccalaureate training in the USA. Here is more information to help you find your way among the variety of study programs.


Community colleges

  • Community colleges are very popular in the USA. They train students through two-year programs at the end of which they earn an Associate of Arts Degree or a Diploma.
  • Community colleges are also a gateway to a Bachelor’s degree. During their time at a community college, students validate credits which they can use to transfer to an undergraduate college or to a university.
  • Community colleges also deliver certificates which are essentially short courses that can last between several weeks to several months. The English level required to join a Community college is usually around 5.0 or 5.5 on the IELTS.


Undergraduate colleges

  • Undergraduate colleges provide education at the undergraduate level, up to a Bachelor’s degree. Although in Australia, New-Zealand, and in the UK a Bachelor is equivalent to a French licence (three years of studies), in Canada and in the USA, it is equivalent to a maîtrise (four years of studies).
  • Undergraduate colleges are usually larger than community colleges and offer a wider range of courses. Students can earn the same diplomas as in a community college, as well as a Bachelor’s degree in four years, or even graduate certificate (one year of studies after a Bachelor). Undergraduate colleges usually offer more and better facilities than community colleges.
  • Extra-curricular activities and student groups are very frequent in undergraduate colleges. They foster student integration and help them create new bonds.
  • The English level required to join an undergraduate college is usually a 6-6.5 IELTS score.


Universities in the USA

  • Universities are higher education institutions delivering degree programs at the Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate level.
  • Admission to Master’s degrees is extremely competitive. Each candidate’s application is reviewed in details. A good GPA is often a requirement to be accepted in a post-graduate program.
  • Beyond a good GPA, students applying to a Master’s degree in the USA must show English proficiency. Universities usually ask for a minimum IELTS score of about 7.0 to 8.0.



Admissions are by application only. International students must show English proficiency. To do so, they have to take the IELTS or the TOEFL. Study Experience holds various partnerships with institutions providing intensive preparation to both these exams. Contact us for more information.

The application must include previous transcripts and diplomas as well as a cover letter, a CV, and recommendation letters. Students are encouraged to submit their application at least six months before the start of classes.


Tuition Fees

We tend to associate American universities with outrageous tuition fees. Although some prestigious schools do charge a lot, there are many ways to reduce the cost of your education in the USA.

Community colleges are a great way to save money. Students can complete their first two years of study in a community college where tuition fees usually do not exceed $6,000 before transferring to a prestigious university.

Many public universities also offer much cheaper tuition fees than their private counterpart, although their facilities and the quality of their courses equals that of those private universities.


To find the option that will suit your own personal needs and goals, do not hesitate to reach out to a member of our team. We will help you decide on the best institution for your studies and support you through the application process.

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