There are over 124,000 public and private schools in the United States; over 2,000 postsecondary non-degree career and technical schools; and over 4,000 degree-granting institutions of higher education. Of the higher education institutions, over 1,600 award associate degrees and some 2,400 award bachelor's or higher degrees. Over 400 higher education institutions award research doctorates.
This large and diverse array of accredited educational institutions is complex, but there are ways to make it manageable and to locate appropriate institutions and programs for your needs.
U.S. bachelor degree programs usually include requirements for breadth as well as depth of study, and students will fulfill what are called liberal or general studies requirements for introductory knowledge in several subjects as well as a concentration in one or more subjects, called a “major.” Students are assigned a faculty advisor, usually in the intended field of study, who assists the student in developing a plan of study that is coherent and uses the general education requirements to support the major. Many students become exempt from the general requirements through faculty examinations, presentation of Advanced Placement (AP) examination scores (3 or higher), or presentation of an International Baccalaureate (IB) or other advanced or honors secondary qualification.
The master’s degree is the first graduate-level qualification, or second cycle degree, in the U.S. higher education system. Master’s degrees may be considered terminal professional degrees in some fields, such as the fine arts, or they may be considered as second degrees that may or may not lead to PhD studies. In some subjects, such as the behavioral and natural sciences, it is increasingly common practice to proceed directly from the bachelor’s degree to enrollment in PhD studies without being required to earn a master’s degree. In these subjects, the master’s degree is often considered unimportant for professional purposes except as an intermediate qualification that students may petition for in cases where they need such a degree for employment purposes.
Master’s degrees generally take two years to complete, but the time period may be shorter or longer depending on how the degree program is structured (12-month versus 9-month academic years, for example), whether the student is enrolled full-time or part-time, the degree requirements and the prior preparation of the student. (Some students may require additional preparation prior to undertaking certain types of research, or may require interdisciplinary training if their research field crosses subject fields or if they have changed academic subject concentrations from the undergraduate level.)
The most common academic master’s degrees are the Master of Arts (MA or AM) and Master of Science (MS or SM). However, there are many different master’s degree titles, especially in the professional fields.
Reference U.S. Department of Education