Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Making an American Undergraduate (bachelor’s) education come true – Part 2

The American Undergraduate Degrees and how they are different from the Indian Bachelor’s Degree

In India, a student usually enters a college or university after Plus Two, enrolling into a specific degree with a major, selected at the time of applying to the school. In the three or four years of the bachelor’s degree program, the student takes a predetermined series of courses in a predetermined order. In other words, the student’s college coursework and route to graduation is charted out very clearly at the time of entering the program. At the end of three or four years, the student gets a B.A., B.Sc., B.E., B.Tech., or B.Arch degree.

The American undergraduate program on the other hand is extremely flexible, and can be completed in three to seven years (or more), with the student taking as many courses as they can afford to pay for, in the areas that interest them. Students do not have to declare a major until they have completed two years of college, or some level of basic coursework. The average American undergraduate degree program takes four years, and the student completes around 120 credits of study in subjects that include General Education, Core Requirements, and Free Electives.
Interestingly, a lot of American students do not complete all of their undergraduate coursework at the same institution. They do the courses in multiple institutions. The choice of these institutions is determined by factors like cost, proximity to home town, choice of courses offered, and the ease of getting into the institution. The varieties of institutions that offer college level courses are community colleges, four-year colleges, private and public universities. Community colleges are two year public institutions that offer Associate Degrees. Four year colleges give the two year Associate and the four year Bachelor’s Degrees. Universities can offer the Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral programs and degrees.
This movement from institution to institution is possible because of a concept called “College Credit Transfer”. Any student who applies to a US university will see the following options listed in the choice of programs – First Year student, Transfer Student. This is because a lot of students find it more convenient to study closer to home at a Community College or a 4-year College, and then transfer for the final two years to a four-year College or to a university.

 (See this section on Wikipedia for a concise description of how college transfers work: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/College_transfer).
Two year degrees come in a variety of flavors: Associate of Arts, Associate of Science, Associate of Applied Sciences, and very specific two year degrees that train for a specific career or vocation. The two-year Associate of Arts degree is awarded after two years and sixty credits of course work. The course work can be targeted towards a specific major such as sociology or economics, or it can be in General Studies. The course work can be transferred to another institution for a higher level degree, if that institution accepts the level of the coursework.
So while getting an Associate degree, a student who aims for higher education should be smart enough to target the requirements of the next level of study while choosing the coursework for the Associate degree. The structure of the Associate degree starts with the next degree, the Bachelor’s degree, and the major that the student is interested in. This will help the student work backwards and structure the Associate degree to fulfill the requirements of the bachelor’s degree. Knowing which university the student wants to go to makes this process easier, as the student can then tailor the associate degree according to the university’s requirements.