Reading 4U: Undergraduate Education


Amencan colleges and universities vary a great deal in size. Some colleges have student bodies of just a few hundred, while some state university serve more than 100,000 students on several different campuses. At smaller schools, students generally get to know their classmates and professors better and are less likely to feel lonely and confused. Larger schools offer a greater selection of courses and more activities to attend and participate in. When selecting a college, the student must consider which type of environment best suits his or her needs.

  There are two main categories of institutions of higher learning: public and private. All schools get money from tuition and from private contributors. However, public schools are supported primarily by the state funding. As a result, tuition is generally lower at public schools, especially for permanent residents of that state.
  Schools can also be grouped by the types of programs and degrees they offer. The three major groups are community colleges, four-year colleges, and universities. Community colleges offer only the first two years of undergraduate studies (the freshman and sophomore years). The number of these schools has grown very rapidly in the past 40 years. In 1950, there were about 600 in the U.S.A. Today, there are about 1,300, and they serve about five million students (about 55% of all college freshmen). Most community colleges are public schools, supported by local and/ or state funds. They serve two general types of students (a) those taking the first two years of college before transfering to a four-year school for their third and fourth (junior and senior) years; and (b) those enrolled in one-or-two-year job training programs. Community colleges offer technical training in many areas of study, such as health services, office skills, computer science, drafting, police work, and automotive repair.
  Newcomers to the U.S.A often ask, "Exactly what is the difference between a college and a university?" Some assume that the difference is merely one of size, but it is more than that. A university is bigger than a college because of scope of its programs is much greater. A university offers a wider range of undergraduage programs and also offers graduate studies. Part of the responsibility of a university is to encourage its faculty and its graduate students to do research that will advance human knowledge. Colleges, on the other hand, are primarily undergraduate schools with no commitment to train students for research.
  Many excellent colleges are "liberal arts" schools, which means that they offer studies in the humanities, languages, mathematics, social sciences, and sciences. Liberal arts colleges generally do not offer degrees in engineering, business, journalism, education, and many other specific vocations that a student can train for at a university. However, students at a liberal arts college (like college students elsewhere) still major in a specific area of knowledge.
  Some colleges specialize in training students for one particular occupation (as agricultural colleges and teachers's colleges do). Many provide higher education in one specific occupation - for example, conservatories for music students, seminaries for students of religion, and fine arts schools for artists. For those wishing to prepare for military careers, the United States government maintains four special academies.
  At the college level, the academic year is about nine months long (usually from September until early June or from late August until May). After completing four academic years with acceptable grades in an approved course of study, the student earns a bachelor's degree. Some students complete colleges in less than four years by attending summer sessions. At most college, the academic year is divided into either two or three terms, excluding the summer session. Colleges grade, from highest to lowest, run A, B, C, D and F. F is a failing grade; if a student receives an F in a particular course, he or she does not get credit for having taken the course. College students must maintain at least a low C average in order to remain in school.