At the undergraduate level, the US offers both 2-year Associates and 4-year Bachelor's degrees. The type of degree that is best suited for you depends entirely on your individual needs and strengths.
Two-year colleges in the US offer Associate’s degrees, which are an alternative to the more traditional four-year Bachelor’s degree programs. Known as community, technical or junior colleges, these two- year institutions offer study in a wide range of subjects to post-secondary students of all ages and academic levels. Students studying at a community college may either receive a stand-alone two-year qualification, the Associates degree, or transfer to a four-year Bachelor’s programme in a 2 + 2 format. In addition to educational flexibility, two-year colleges are also known for their affordability with relatively low tuition rates in comparison to four-year institutions. According to College Board, the average two-year community college charged $6,500 (£4,047) in tuition per year in 2010, as opposed to $19,595 (£12,202) charged per year for out-of-state students at public four-year institutions and $27,293 (£16,996) per year at private four-year institutions.
These institutions are referred to as two-year colleges as this is the normal amount of time needed to complete the Associate degrees they award. The Associate of Arts (A.A.) and the Associate of Science (A.S.) degrees are offered in a wide variety of subjects designed to ensure that students acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to either continue toward a Bachelor’s degree, transferring for their final two years to an accredited four-year university, or to competitively enter the workforce.
An Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree is awarded for more practical programs of study designed to prepare students directly for employment or to assist those already employed to update their skills. Additionally, certificates of completion are also awarded in specific programs that typically require less than two years of study.
There are over 1,100 two-year colleges in the US. With so many colleges on offer, narrowing your search is no easy task. However, it can be an exciting and surprising process.
It is advisable to begin by considering factors such as academic courses offered (in particular 2 + 2 transfer options if applicable), class size, atmosphere, location and cost when narrowing down your choices of two-year colleges.
Keep in mind that as many students attending two-year colleges are residents of the local community, the majority of community colleges do not offer on-campus student housing. Although some institutions will offer on-campus accommodation for international students, it is more likely that you will have to find local accommodation with the assistance of a housing office or an international student adviser.
Students with an Associate degree may decide transfer to a four-year Bachelor’s degree program after completing two years of study at community college. This process is made possible through agreements between particular institutions which guarantee that courses taken at a specific accredited two-year college will transfer into credit at a particular four-year college.
It is important to note that agreements are more likely to occur between institutions within a state university system (i.e. a community college in Ohio and a four-year university in New York are less likely to have a reciprocal agreement than two institutions in the same state).
Community college tuition and fees average $6,500 per year, which is significantly lower than at 4-year colleges and universities. Students can lower the overall cost of a bachelor’s degree by taking the first 2 years of course credits at a community college.
Most community colleges have agreements with 4-year colleges and universities (called articulation or “2 + 2” transfer agreements) which allow students to transfer their community college credits toward a university degree. Thus, students first go to a community college for 2 years of study, obtain an associate degree, and then complete 2 years at a university to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Good to Know: Many state universities give preference to qualified students who transfer from a community college in that state.
Because community colleges provide their own assessment and offer Intensive English Programs (IEPs) to students who require additional English proficiency, TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores are not always critical to the admissions process. Further, some community colleges will accept an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) score in place of the TOEFL score.
Community college students enjoy a great deal of personal attention from their professors. Additionally, community colleges seek out faculty with work experience in their subject area, adding a real-world perspective to students’ studies.
The average community college class size is between 15 and 20 students which allows professors to devote more time to individual students and for students to interact with each other. Small classes are highly beneficial for international students who may need to adjust to the pace of U.S. academic life and practice their English-language skills.
International students with F-1 visa status are eligible to do one year of Optional Practical Training (OPT) in their field of study immediately following completion of an associate degree, and a second year of OPT immediately following completion of a bachelor’s degree.
Because of their strong ties with business and industry, most community colleges are equipped with state-of-the-art technologies, classrooms, and facilities. Community colleges lead the nation in educating students in cutting-edge fields such as biomedical engineering, biotechnology, robotics, laser optics, Internet and computer technologies, and geographic information systems.
Community colleges offer programs in all major fields of study which can transfer to 4-year colleges and universities. Majors range from art to political science to zoology. Programs especially popular among international students currently include business, engineering, computer science, computer graphics, Internet technology, multimedia, hotel management, restaurant management, psychology, accounting, early childhood education, and environmental conservation.
Because community colleges have strong ties to their surrounding communities, they offer international students both a rich academic environment and a unique opportunity to experience many aspects of life in the United States—both on and off campus.
Community colleges are committed to attracting a diverse student population and ensuring that all students succeed. The colleges offer a variety of support services and cross-cultural programs, including tutoring, advising, career planning, study skills and counselling — many of which are designed specifically for international students.
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