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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between “colleges,” “universities” and “institutes”?

Degree-granting institutions in the United States can be called colleges, universities or institutes.  Colleges tend to be small and offer only undergraduate degrees, while universities also offer graduate degrees.  An institute usually specializes in degree programs in a group of closely related subject areas, such as institutes of technology and institutes of fashion.

What is the difference between public and private universities?

Public or state universities are founded and subsidized by U.S. state governments (for example, California, Michigan, or Texas) to provide low-cost, high-quality education to residents of that state.  Public universities tend to be large, and tuition costs are generally lower than those of private universities.  Also, in-state residents (those who live and pay taxes in that particular state) pay lower tuition than out-of-state residents.  International students are considered to be out-of-state residents.  You will pay higher tuition costs, and you may have to fulfill higher admission requirements than in-state residents.

Private universities are funded by a combination of endowments, tuition fees, research grants, and gifts from past graduates.  Tuition fees tend to be higher than at public universities, but there is no distinction between state and non-state residents.  Colleges with a religious affiliation and single-sex colleges are private.

What are community colleges?

Use the American Associaton of Community Colleges website to search among the most than 1,700 community colleges in the United States.

What is an Associate Degree?

The Associate Degree usually takes two years to complete.  It is awarded by two-year colleges and is usually an Associate of Arts (A.A.) or an Associate of Science (A.S.) degree.  Associate degree programs may be “terminal” programs, which lead to specific careers upon graduation or “transfer” programs, which allow the student to transfer into a four-year bachelor’s degree program as a third-year student.

What is a Bachelor’s Degree?

The Bachelor’s Degree – or Undergraduate degree – usually takes four years to complete and is awarded by four-year colleges, universities and institutes.  The most common are a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and a Bachelor of Science (B.S.).

What is a Master’s Degree?

The Master’s Degree provides additional education or training in the student’s specialized branch of knowledge beyond the level of a bachelor’s degree.  Master’s degrees are offered in many different fields, and are either a one-year or a two-year program.

What is a PhD or doctoral degree?

The doctoral degree trains research scholars and future college and university faculty members.  The doctoral degree certifies that the student has demonstrated capacity as a trained research scholar in a specific discipline.  Most doctoral programs are completed in three to five years, but many can take longer.

How do I begin my search for a U.S. university?

Ask yourself a few questions before you start searching for a university:

  • What do I want to study?
  • Does my secondary (or undergraduate) coursework prepare me for the demands of this major?
  • Can I meet the admission requirements?
  • What kind of environment do I want to live in? (large city, small town, cold climate, close to family, etc.)
  • Do I want to go to a small school (under 5,000 students), medium school (5,000 – 20,000 students), or a large school (more than 20,000 students)?
  • What is my budget and how much can my family afford?
  • Do I want to go to a public or a private university?
Do I want to attend a university that has services for international students?

There are some excellent search engines that can help you narrow your search.  Visit the EducationUSA website to start your online search for schools.

When should I start searching for a university?

You should start 12 to 18 months before you want to arrive in the United States to study.  For example, if you plan to start studying in the United States in September 2012, you should start your search in January 2011.

How many universities should I apply to?

If you have done good research online and have selected your schools carefully, you will probably only need to apply to 5 or 6 universities.  Remember that you must pay an application fee to each university that you apply to, so only apply to those universities that are a good match for you.

How can I find the best university to apply to?

You want to search online for the BEST university in your field of study with the conditions and environment that are BEST for you.  You want to find a university where you will be successful academically (in school) and socially.  Do not focus only on big-name, well-known universities.

Instead, look carefully at the universities that offer your field of study and programs that match your goals.

Which standardized tests will I need to take?

In general, the Official TOEFL test is required for all international students, regardless of your intended field of study.  Students who want to study for an undergraduate degree are often required to take the SAT Reasoning Test.  Some competitive universities also require scores from the SAT Subject Tests.  Students who want to study for a masters or a doctoral degree are usually required to take the GRE Test.

Where can I take a preparation course for a standardized test (TOEFL, GRE, etc.)?

The U.S. Embassy does not offer language or test preparation courses.  You can find those courses at your local TOEFL Center.  Some private companies also offer test preparation courses.  Learn all the details before you register for the class so you know what benefits you are paying for.  Check with other students to get a recommendation about effective courses and good teachers.

What if I apply but my TOEFL score is low?

You need strong English language skills to be successful at a U.S. university.  If your academic grades are good, but your TOEFL score is a little low, you may be able to take an Intensive English Language program at a U.S. university.  The university may offer you “conditional admission.”  That means that you must take the Intensive English Language program to improve your English.  If your English skills improve, you will be able to start your regular coursework.

Read the university website carefully.  Some universities will require you to take another TOEFL test at the end of the English Language program.  At other universities, you need to pass the English Language Program course to move into regular coursework.

If your TOEFL score is very low, you are not ready to study in the United States right now.  Continue studying English, taking courses, and practicing every day.  Then take the TOEFL test later.  If you have been working hard, your score will increase.

When are the university application deadlines?

If you want to apply for a program that starts in August or September, you will need to apply as early as November of the previous year.  For example, to start a program in September 2011, you will need to apply in November or December 2010.  Application deadlines are usually 6 to 9 months before the program starts.  Every university has its own deadlines, so check that information carefully on the university website.
Some universities have “rolling admissions.”  Applications can be submitted throughout the year, and decisions are made on a monthly basis.  But apply early!  If you wait, there may not be any places available.

The university asked that my transcripts (records) be reviewed by a credential evaluator.  What does that mean?

Some universities evaluate the transcripts of international students themselves.  Other universities ask the students to pay an outside company, called a credential evaluator, to evaluate the transcripts.  Because the educational systems are different between Iraq and the United States, the university wants to see how your previous coursework compares to the courses required for U.S. students.

Follow the directions on the university’s website.  Some universities will tell you which credential evaluator they want you to use.  Other universities will let you choose the company to do the evaluation.  If you need to send your transcripts to a credential evaluator, you will need to pay a fee.  For a list of evaluators, go to the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services website.

How do I find out if a college or university is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education approved accrediting agency?

The U.S. Department of Education has an online database, which provides the names of postsecondary institutions and programs accredited by a recognized accrediting organization.  You can search online to find out if the college or university is accredited.  Accreditation means that the school has met certain standards of quality and financial stability.

I want to study online because I cannot leave Iraq to study. How do I search for a suitable program that is accredited?

Distance education is a popular way to study.  You will want to confirm that the college or university is accredited by an accrediting agency.  There are MANY online colleges and universities that are not recognized.  If you are not certain, please contact the Education Adviser at the U.S. Embassy for assistance when selecting programs.   BaghdadEducationAdv@state.gov

You can use the search engines at the EducationUSA website to find Distance Education programs.

Remember that to study online you will need access to a computer and a good Internet connection.  Also, many online courses are the same price as classroom courses in the United States.  You will need to register for the course online and pay the tuition fee online as well.