Need expat info for USA?

Connect with fellow expats in the USA
Join exciting events and groups
Get information in our USA guides
Exchange tips about expat life in the USA

Universities in the US

Columbia University is one of the eight prestigious Ivy League schools.

US Universities: An Introduction

US universities offer a wide range of academic programs, majors, minors, and cross-curricular activities. Studying at one of the many US universities can grant you a number of future opportunities and prepare you for a brilliant career. If you can afford the high tuition fees most US universities require, that is. US universities often charge a considerable amount of money for tuition, depending on their reputation and academic standards. Quite a few students from US universities end up with a high-class education and a lot of debt.

Therefore, it is important to collect a lot of information in advance and decide wisely at which US university you or your children might wish to earn a degree. US universities (not only state universities, but also private universities in the US) usually offer a lot of scholarships and options for financial aid. However, US universities differ greatly as to which degree courses they offer. So, if you would like to specialize in applied physics, you should probably apply to a different US university than if you are interested in studying modern dance.

Higher education is a profitable business in the US, and US universities are thus competing for students and their tuition money. However, they also offer their students a lot of information prior to their studies, a wide range of academic options during their time as full-time students, as well as alumni events and networking opportunities afterwards.

The System of Higher Education

As mentioned above, US universities differ greatly in the sum they charge for tuition, but also in their academic programs, majors, and minors. There is no general description for different majors, their entrance requirements and the mandatory classes for such a degree course: Every university chooses all these for itself. So, make sure to research each university individually to make sure they offer exactly what you are interested in and that you can fulfill their entry requirements.

Academic studies in the US consist of undergraduate degrees and graduate studies. The first four years belong to the undergraduate program. During this time, students receive a general education in several different fields; they have the option to specialize and graduate in one distinct field with a Bachelor’s degree.

When they have completed their B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) or B.Sc. (Bachelor of Sciences), many people start looking for jobs or take some time off to travel or get involved in volunteer work. Others apply for grad school in order to further pursue their academic ambitions. Grad schools focus strongly on one distinct field (such as law) and will lead to a Master’s degree, a PhD, or a professional doctorate such as the J.D. (Juris Doctor – the US law degree).

Different Types of Institutions of Higher Learning

As far as the academic institutions themselves are concerned, there is a difference between universities, colleges, and community colleges in the US. Universities offer both undergraduate and graduate programs in various fields, including professional degrees in law and medicine. Colleges, however, only offer undergraduate programs which lead to a Bachelor’s degree. Both universities and colleges can be state-run or private institutions.

Community colleges, on the other hand, do not always offer academic programs leading to a Bachelor’s degree. Instead they rather offer a two-year educational program that will lead to an Associate degree. Most students take courses at a community college not in order to earn a full degree, but rather to gain some credit points for their future studies at a regular university or college.

This can be an attractive option because community colleges are comparatively cheap. Earning some credit points in advance can also lighten your workload later on, especially if you have to work part-time during your degree program.

Ivy League and Prestigious Colleges

Due to the high competition among different schools, some have a more distinguished reputation than others. Some universities enjoy a long tradition and offer a top-notch education paving the way for well-paid jobs, competitive graduate degrees, and doctorate programs. The Ivy League schools – a specific group of eight private colleges and universities – belong to this category.

If you apply to one of these schools, though, you should keep in mind that they are not only very expensive (Columbia, for instance, charges over $46,000 a year for tuition fees alone), but also very competitive.

Even though a degree from an Ivy League college or university will undeniably be of advantage later on, other colleges and universities may offer just as high teaching standards or strong academic support for your research projects. Their alumni network or on-campus organizations may be excellent, too. Although the Ivy League schools are the most famous, the US has a lot of other colleges and universities that also have distinguished academic programs.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.