The American education system offers international students the most diverse set of education options in the world.
The American education system requires that students complete 12 years of primary and secondary education prior to attending university or college. This may be accomplished either at public (or government-operated) schools, or at private schools. These 12 years of schooling (or their equivalent) may also be completed outside the USA, thus giving foreign students the opportunity to pursue the benefits of the American education system and obtain a quality American education.
Generally the academic year in the US, is divided into a semester or a quarter system. There are generally 3 semesters - Fall (begins in September and ends in December), Spring (begins in January and ends in April) and Summer sessions, which begin in May. The Fall and Spring semesters are generally 4 months each. The Summer session is optional and a student may either attend the summer session or visit relatives. In a quarter system the academic year is broken into 4 parts or 4 quarters, which is the Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer. Each quarter is approximately 3 months.
Students who have obtained a bachelor's degree can continue their education by pursuing a Master's degree. This is usually a two-year degree that is highly specialized in a specific field. Admission to a graduate program usually requires a minimum of 15 or 16 years of formal education. That is, 12 years of primary and secondary schooling and further 3 or 4 years of college education. This depends on the course and the requirements of the University that they intend to study at.
Students who want to advance their education even further in a specific field can pursue a doctorate degree, also called a PhD. A PhD degree can take between three and six years to complete, depending on the course of study chosen, the ability of the student, and the thesis that the student has selected.
Students who have completed high school and would like to attend college or university must attend what is referred to as an undergraduate school. These are schools that offer either a two-year degree (called an associate degree) or a four-year degree (called a bachelors degree) in a specific course of study. That course of study is called the major. While most schools that offer a four-year degree will admit students who have not yet chosen a major, all students are required to select (or declare) a major by their second year at school. Students who complete an associate degree can continue their education at a four-year school and eventually complete a bachelor degree.
Upon completion of fifth grade (the last year of primary school), children enrolled in the American education system advance to secondary school. Secondary school most commonly consists of a total of seven years, referred to as sixth through twelfth grades. The ninth through twelfth grades are most commonly referred to as high school. Upon completion of twelfth grade, American students are awarded a certificate called the high school diploma.
American children start school at the age of five years. The first year at school is called kindergarten. It is required of all American children enrolled in the American education system. The second year at school is considered the first year of primary school and is referred to as first grade.