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The opportunity to choose from a wide range of American universities and U.S. college programs is one of the greatest advantages of the U.S. educational system. American schools range from large research universities with more than 30,000 students to small colleges with fewer than 1,000 students. Options range from universities with graduate and professional studies in medicine, law, and many other fields to schools offering only the two-year associate degree. Similarly, schools can be found everywhere from urban schools in large cities to rural institutions located far from metropolitan areas.

At U.S. colleges, admission policies vary from school to school

The admission requirements for students educated outside the U.S. educational system will vary from institution to institution. The educational preparation that is required to apply to a university in your own country will usually enable you to apply to a U.S. college or university. Since U.S. colleges and universities have the authority to determine their own admission and advanced-standing policies, you should always ask each institution what specific educational qualifications they require from students educated in your country. TOEFL scores are commonly required of students whose first language is not English.

American universities use three academic calendars

U.S. colleges operate on three main types of academic calendars to divide the year into academic terms called semesters, trimesters, and quarters. The academic year at colleges in the U.S. is approximately nine months long, no matter how it is divided. The semester system divides the school year in half, resulting in fall and spring semesters. It is used by about 70 percent of U.S. colleges. Schools that use the trimester and quarter systems divide the same nine months into three 3-month terms.

During the summer term at American colleges, the fourth quarter in the quarter system, enrollment in classes is usually optional. For most institutions the academic year runs from late August or September to May or June. Increasingly, many schools operate all year long. Students in a U.S.A. university can often pay their tuition to take courses over the summer term.

There are usually two examination periods in each term, one in the middle and one again at the end. Holiday schedules at American colleges vary with each school, but there are usually a number of short holidays in each term, a longer break in December and January, and a week-long vacation period in the early spring. International students who want or need to stay on campus during holiday periods at American universities should find out from the housing office if this is possible and if there is any additional charge.