The American School System (USA)
The School System In The USA
The United States provides all children from kindergarten to high school with the opportunity of a free public education. The ideal is that all children have and equal opportunity to an education but in reality, although schools are public and free – the quality of the schools depends upon the funds provided to the various school districts. As such, school districting greatly influences the quality of the many different schools.
How is this so?
The public school system in the USA is funded by the government which is funded through taxes. Taxes are collected on much that is owned and earned and this is directly related to the quality of the schools because a highly funded school is able to afford a higher quality of everything from faculty to better facilities and more rigorous academic programs. So in essence, although everyone is entitled to a basic education, the schools aren’t always equipped with the same resources. For this reason many states offer Magnet schools and Charter schools as a way of providing a more even playing field when it comes to access to a quality education. I won’t talk about private schools in this article as those schools are only available for the selected few. This includes Islamic schools.
Public schools or base schools vary by neighborhood and the student population is determined by the districts that the schools are zone in. Generally speaking, the children of one particular neighborhood within a specific zip code or district will be required to attend the school in their area. As a result, all of the children in the neighborhood will be accepted into the base school of the area, even if the school is full.
A magnet school, however, is a school that can house students from different neighborhoods and many times emphasize particular elements that can assist students in the continuation of their education to the University. Some magnet schools focus on leadership, international relations, science, engineering and math. Others offer academically gifted programs or courses specializing in the arts and sciences. These schools will offer a broader range of subjects and electives and can generally take on more students regardless of their neighborhood. Entering a magnet school is as simple as submitting an application and waiting for a lottery pick. Due to the large student body, these schools can dictate a higher dollar amount of funding from the government.
As for charter schools, these schools are categorized as public but they are typically smaller and more highly focused. A smaller student body requires less funding at a charter school and they typically receive less than both a magnet and base school. These constraints allow them to maintain a lesser physical school presence and to bring on board a highly motivated and highly educated faculty. As it is, charter schools are considered borderline to public and private schools. The private aspect is reflected in how their curriculum isn’t tightly managed by the state and how the faculty are given much more freedom in offering a highly competitive and highly rigorous academic program. The key distinction between public and magnet schools vs. charter schools is that charter schools are not required to accommodate students who may not fit into the program. Public schools on the other hand must make sure that no child is left behind. As a result, acceptance to a magnet or charter school is based upon a student reaching a certain level of academic requirements prior to being entered into the lottery.
Ok, so what about college?
The U.S. offers many different types of post high school education. The most familiar program is to enter a 4 year University. Most of the world looks at the U.S. as the host of top universities like Harvard, MIT, YALE, CalTech, Duke, Columbia and so many many more. These top universities offer a 4 year undergraduate program but competition and the high cost of tuition has made many students opt for less of a brand name University that offers the same, cost efficient 4 year program. Students don’t want to get so large a loan that causes them come out of school freshly graduated and with a $50,000 debt hanging over their heads. For this reason, many students seek to acquire an education where they can achieve the same quality but with more bang for the buck.
I’ve seen and heard a couple of different alternatives to getting a 4 year undergraduate degree without having to pay a large amount of tuition is to instead attend a 2 year community college. This option costs considerably less in price and students are often able to take all the classes that would be waived at a typical 4 year university. After completing two years at a community college the student can transfer over to a 4 year University and complete his or her studies. It is very important, however, to check that the 4 year University will waive the classes and allow for transferring in. Then, voila, you have an education at a discounted price. Another route is to acquire grants or scholarships which can be scouted for as early as the 9th or 10th grades.
Overall, to get into a University in the U.S., consider all of the following:
- What field do you want to study in? Is this field of study in line with what you want to have a career in?
- Although your selection may be a high profile school – is the field of study that you’re interested in one of the schools strength? Just because it’s Harvard doesn’t mean that the program of your choice is one of their core competencies.
- Look for scholarships early. If you are in the 10-11th grade take the PSATs and start building your academic resume.