Episode 58: Higher Education in the USA

Welcome to Slow American English, the podcast for learners of American English. I’m your host, Karren Tolliver.

This is episode number 58: Higher Education in the USA

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I’ve already told you about the school system for kids in the US in Episode 28. Today I will describe the optional higher education system, also called post-secondary education system, which comes after high school.

This higher education system in the USA isn’t regulated by the federal government. Because of this, there are many types of schools, such as public, private, small, large, religious, secular, urban, suburban, rural and online.

Most Americans use the word “college” to mean “university”, although there is actually a difference. A university is a collection of smaller colleges. Each college focuses on a specific area of study. There can also be standalone colleges that aren’t part of a university. Universities usually also offer masters and doctorate degrees.

Good schools are usually accredited, or approved by an official association, to make sure they meet a minimum standard. Accreditation also means a student’s degree is recognized as valid by other schools and employers.

More vocabulary:

  • major – main area of study for undergraduates; students can change their major multiple times until the third year
  • minor – second area of study for undergraduates requiring fewer classes
  • campus – the physical area of a college
  • dormitory/dorm – housing for students; if a student lives on campus, he or she lives in a dorm
  • ivy league – informal phrase for a group of prestigious colleges such as Harvard
  • tuition – fees paid to the college for classes; does not include dorm expenses, books or meals
  • freshmen – students in their first year of undergraduate study
  • sophomores – students in their second year of undergraduate study
  • juniors – students in their third year of undergraduate study
  • seniors – students in their fourth year of undergraduate study
  • community college – a smaller, local school offering a two-year associate degree

Many colleges require a student to take a standardized test before starting a four-year program. The most well-known such test is the Scholastic Aptitude Test, usually called the SAT.

Levels of post-secondary study:

  1. Undergraduate students work toward a four-year bachelors degree. The first two years are usually general classes like literature, science and history. Each class earns the student course credits. Students can complete these courses at a community college then transfer the credits to a four-year school.
  1. People with bachelors degrees might want to get a masters degree. They need to take the GRE test (Graduate Record Examinations) first. A university usually also has a masters program in addition to the colleges for undergraduate degrees. Masters degrees usually require about two years of courses and a thesis, which is a long research paper.
  1. After a masters, some students want to continue their education and get a doctorate, or Ph.D. This requires three or more years of courses and research, plus a dissertation, which is the doctorate research paper.

College is very expensive. Many students get scholarships, grants or student loans to help pay for it. A scholarship is money from an organization or school given to the student based on academic or sports performance. Grants are government money given based usually on low family income or other factors. Either the government or financial institutions can lend money for education. Scholarships and grants don’t have to be paid back, but student loans do. Many people graduate with heavy student loan debt, which is a big problem.

Some state universities offer free or reduced tuition programs. New York State recently became the first to offer free tuition for a full four-year or two-year program that isn’t based on academic performance. Other states offer similar programs, but they have more requirements.

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That’s the podcast for this time. Slow American English is written and produced by Karren Tolliver. Copyright 2019. All rights reserved.

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Theme music is written and performed by SW Campbell and used by permission. Find more music by this artist at www.Soundclick.com/swcampbell.

This has been Slow American English. I’m Karren Tolliver. Thank you for listening.