Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

From Kindergarten to PhD: How to Talk about Education in English

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Wed, Apr 24, 2013 @ 07:14 AM

English vocabulary for education in the USAAre you an international professional who has recently moved to the U.S. with your family?

Are you confused about the education system in the United States?

Not sure if there is a difference between "college" and "university"?

Wondering when your high schooler will have to declare a major field of study?

If you are starting your new life here, you might feel overwhelmed and you are probably looking for answers. Today's post will give you some great hints to get started. Check it out.



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Levels of High School and College




5 Common Questions about Education in the U.S.


#1: What is the difference between college and university?

If you are a native speaker of French, Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian, you should be careful not to misunderstand the word "college." When someone "goes to college" they are usually between the ages of 18 and 22.

When we talk about this stage of education and life, we usually don't use the word "university." We say, "he is in college" or "he is going to college next fall."

educational norms in the USHowever, when we talk about the specific institution, it could be a college or a university.

If it is a 4 year institution that only offers an undergraduate degree (bachelor's degree) it is called a "college."

If it is a larger institution that offers both a four-year undergraduate degree and also provides graduate degree study, it is called a "university."

So, you could be a college student attending a large university and you would still say that you are "in college."

In Australian English, this stage of education is often called "going to uni (university)," but we don't use that term in the U.S.




#2: Do American students take a gap year between high school and college?

While the gap year is common in Australia and England, it is not as popular in the U.S.

This might be because many American students come out of college with a lot of student loan debt and feel the pressure to get a job right away.



#3: When do most American students do an internship?

This depends on what the student is studying, but some students do an internship in high school, during college semesters or summers and/or during graduate school in order to satisfy requirements to complete their degree.

It is also becoming more common to see people doing internships later in life if they decide to change their career paths. It is easier to change your career path in the US than it is in many other countries.



#4: When do American students choose a major?

Many American colleges emphasize a liberal arts education which allows students to gain general skills in speaking, writing, communicating, and reasoning.

Most college students wait until their junior year to begin courses in their major, which is the field that they want to focus on.

education in the USUnlike many other countries, just because a student majors in English literature, for example, doesn't mean that he or she will work as a writer or a professor.

There is a lot of flexibility and movement between career fields when people first get out of school.

What you major in is not necessarily what you will end up doing in your career.




#5: What skills are valued in American schools?

  • Independent thinkingstudents in school USA

  • Creative problem solving

  • Ability to critically assess an idea, rather than memorize facts

  • Interpersonal skills, ability to work well with team members

  • Improvement of weaker skills, perseverence

  • Process over final product



The education system in the U.S. might be very different from the education system in your home country. Take the time to speak with American people to learn more about the system. Good luck!



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Infographic photo credits: ralph and jenny, woodleywonderworks, hoyasmeg, Navy Hale, Keiki School, flickingerbrad, Mitch Loeber, Elmira College, CECAR Climate and Ecosystem Change Adaptation, Phillie Casablanca Other photo credits: wrightbrosfan, RDECOM, Dawn

Topics: English Lessons, United States Culture, Expatriate Support, Vocabulary Workshop

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