Education in the U.S.

Education in the U.S.
Academic Calendar
Flexibility
The U.S. vs. Japanese Education System

Types of Universities in the U.S. 
Public vs. Private
Liberal Arts vs. Research
University Rankings

Applying to Undergraduate Universities in the U.S.
Exam Based Admission vs. Applications
How to Decide Where to Apply? 

Financial Aid
Majors/Field of Study 
International Students in the U.S.
Job Hunting in the U.S.
PhD Life in the U.S.
Women in Science & Engineering

Education in the U.S.

You will likely have many questions about what education in the U.S. is like, particularly for undergraduates and graduate students. The following websites and resources may be helpful for you to review to learn more about this topic. While you are at Rice University you will learn more about graduate study in the U.S. from Prof. Kono and from a group of Japanese students at Rice University.

Students may also want to review the links below for further information:

A key difference between the U.S. and Japan is our academic calendars.  Exact start and end dates vary by school district or university/college but typically U.S. schools run on a semester based system with a long summer break. The typical semester calendar is:

  • Fall Semester: mid-August to mid-December
  • Spring Semester: early-to-mid January to early-to-mid May
  • Summer Break: May, June, July

There are some K-12 schools that use a year-round academic calendar and some universities/colleges are on the quarter system or a trimester system.  Therefore, the exact start and end dates of the school year will vary depending on where you go to school in the U.S. For more, see 'What is the Difference Between Quarters, Trimesters, and Semesters in the U.S.'.

Flexibility: A hallmark of the U.S. educational system is its flexibility and a belief that there is a 'right' or 'best' fit for each individual learner.  Flexibility and variety are built into the very structure of the educational system as, in the U.S. system, state and local government have primary responsibility for education. This means that the federal government, the Department of Education, does not mandate one curriculum/textbook/teaching style to be used in all schools nationwide.  Instead, textbook/curriculum choices are made at the local level, through the local school board, or at the state level through the 50 state-level Departments of Education.  Therefore, what and how you study may vary in different cities and states in the U.S. though, in general, the overall curriculum for each age group is quite similar. 

Student/Parental Choice is also a key issues in K-12 education and there are a variety of types of K-12 schools in the U.S. that parents can choose to send their children to.  In the U.S. system, K-12 schools are usually not affiliated with a university.  Attending a specific high schools does not guarantee you admission into any specific university though some high schools have higher percentages of students that go on to enroll in universities or colleges.  So, parents tend to look at high school graduation rates (as not all U.S. students complete high school) and the percentage of students that go on to enroll as a university student (as not all U.S. students will go on to college).  Some types of schools in the U.S. include the following: 

  • Public Schools: Most common.  Free.  Most commonly funded through a combination of  state funding and local property taxes.  Some limited funding from federal government as, in the U.S. system, state and local government have primary responsibility for education. 
  • Magnet Schools: In the U.S. education system, magnet schools are public schools with specialized courses or curricula (often in STEM or the arts). "Magnet" refers to how the schools draw students from across the normal boundaries defined by authorities (usually school boards) as school zones that feed into certain schools.
  • Private Schools: Private schools in the United States include parochial schools (affiliated with religious denominations), non-profit independent schools, and for-profit private schools. Private schools charge varying rates depending on geographic location, the school's expenses, and the availability of funding from sources, other than tuition.
  • Charter Schools: Charter schools in the United States offer primary or secondary education without charge to pupils who take state-mandated exams. These charter schools are subject to fewer rules, regulations, and statutes than traditional state schools, but receive less public funding than public schools, typically a fixed amount per pupil. There are both non-profit and for-profit charter schools, and only non-profit charters can receive donations from private sources.
  • Homeschooling: Some parents opt to teach their children at home and this is called homeschooling.The three reasons selected by parents of more than two-thirds of students were concern about the school environment, to provide religious or moral instruction, and dissatisfaction with the academic instruction available at other schools. Often, parents form homeschool networks to share information and resources such as extracurricular activities and specialized courses students can take in their local area. 

Enrollment in Higher Education: Another key difference between the Japanese and the U.S. system is that students may enroll in higher education at any age. While most Americans who enroll in college immediately after graduation from the 12th grade (about 18-19 years old),  not everyone takes this typical path. Some non-traditional paths for higher education and employment in the U.S. include: 

  • Workforce To University: Some students will begin working immediately after graduating from high school and then, later in life, decide to 'go back to school' and enroll in an college or university.  You can go back to college at any age – from 25 to 35 to 45 to 55 to 65 and beyond.  Many universities offer part-time enrollment options, evening courses, or online courses to make it easier for non-traditional students (and all other students) to balance work, family, and educational commitments. These students are typically older than the average college student, so they are often called non-traditional students. 
  • Community College: Some students enroll in a 2-year, community college after graduating college and complete their general studies/liberal arts credits and receive an Associate's degree. They then transfer to a four-year university to complete their bachelor's degree OR if they have received a technical/professional Associate's degree they may go right into working at a company or in industry. Community colleges tend to charge lower tuition rates, so this can be a way for students to save money as they only complete their last 2 years of their university degree at the, typically, more expensive 4-year school. 
  • Military Service: Some students join the military and then go to college after they complete their military service.  If you take this route, most military veterans will qualify for the GI Bill which means the U.S. government will fully pay for their college education.
    • Or, students may opt to enroll in the ROTC program while in college. In return for college scholarships to help pay for their degree, ROTC students commit to joining the military upon graduation for a period of time and typically can enter at a the higher-rank of officer due to having already completed a college degree. . For example, at Rice University there is a Navy ROTC program.   
  • Bachelors Degree –> Workforce –> Master's/PhD:  It is also not uncommon for students to graduate with their four-year bachelor's degree and then begin to work at a company or in industry.  Then, it is possible for you to 'go back to school' to complete your graduate degree at any time.  Some companies even offer funding through tuition reimbursement programs for current employees to pursue graduate degrees; either as part-time or full-time students. Many, but not all, graduate programs also offer part-time enrollment options, evening courses, or online courses to make it easier for non-traditional graduate students to balance work, family, and educational commitments.

Job-Hunting in the U.S.: This flexibility and the ability to move in and out of higher education at any time is very different from the Japanese system, largely due to the impact of job-hunting season and corporate hiring practices that preference hiring young, recent graduates during a set period of time each year in Japan.  In the U.S. there is no one 'standard' hiring season and it is easy, and expected, that U.S. workers will change jobs/companies multiple times and at multiple points in their careers. Companies hire workers at all levels (entry-level, mid-level management, and senior executives) and are always accepting applications for available positions. If you want to change jobs to pursue a new opportunity you can easily do this by simply searching for job openings online and submitting your resume and application at any time of the year.  Young employees often work in their first job for a period of between 1 – 3 years and then apply for promotions within the company or new jobs at other companies to 'grow' their careers.  For more see 'How Long Should an Employee Stay at a Job?'. So, in the U.S. system you do not join a company during a set 'job-hunting/hiring season' rather, you apply for individual jobs that align with your educational background and career interests at multiple points throughout your life. 

But How do U.S. Students Find a Job? Undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni may utilize the services of their university career services offices, such as the Rice Center for Career Development, at any time.  It is up to the individual student to identify, apply, and follow-up with the companies/jobs they are most interested in seeking.  So, in the U.S. system, you can apply for and find your first job as a college senior or in your final year of graduate studies or, in some cases, you may graduate without having a job and then can apply freely to any company at any time of the year.  Many undergraduates also apply to so summer internships of between 1 – 3 months with companies the summer after their sophomore (B2) or junior (B3) year.  The hands-on experience they gain working in a company as an intern can be beneficial to their resume and most companies strongly encourage prior interns to apply for open, entry-level positions in their senior (B4) year.  Graduate students may also have the option to do company internships during their summer breaks as well depending on their program requirements and funding.  For more, see our Career Resources for S&E Students page. 

Geographical Flexibility & Mobility: This flexibility is also due, in part, to the fact that Americans tend to be highly mobile and are not afraid to move across the state or country for educational and career opportunities at any age. This has an impact on the educational system and hiring practices in the U.S. as well. 

  • Relocating as a K-12 Student: When parents relocate due to job opportunities or other reasons, children enrolled in K-12 will also change schools as well.  Most parents try to relocate during the summer break from mid-May-early August so the move does not impact their children's current school year.  This is not always possible though, so sometime K-12 students must change schools during/in the middle of the academic year.  This can be challenging, but does regularly occur, so most teachers and schools have programs in place to help new students adjust. 
  • Relocating as a University Student: Many, but not all, American students will apply to universities and colleges in other towns or states in the U.S. Some students choose to apply to a university in a town/state that they have always wanted to live in or in a region of the U.S. where they believe there will be better job opportunities after their graduate.  
  • Relocating as a Graduate Student:  In the U.S. system, it is not common or recommended for students to stay at the same university for graduate school.  Instead, students in their senior (B4) year who want to go to graduate school will apply to the specific Master's or PhD programs they are interested in at universities nationwide.  For more, see our page on Applying to Graduate School in the U.S.
  • Relocating for Career Opportunities: Recent graduates or workers in the U.S. system may apply for any job they are interested in at any time, and in any location.  Relocating for a new job is very common in the U.S. and, over their lifetime, most American workers will have had a number of different jobs, at different companies, and often in different locations throughout the U.S. If one spouse relocates for a new job, typically, the entire family will relocate with them with the other spouse finding a new job and any children enrolling in new schools.  It is not very common for the mother and children to stay in one town and the father to work in a different city or state in the U.S.  This is partially due to geography as traveling across a state in the U.S. or between states in the U.S. can be time-consuming and very expensive. 
  • Relocating to 'Move Home' or Be Closer to Family: However, location is often a highly significant factor in decisions Americans make about where to go to school or what jobs to apply to.  How important location is may vary at different stages in your life.  Many (but not all) young Americans move away from home to attend college or their first job. Many (but not all) Americans will then want to move back home or move to be closer to family in their late 20s/early 30s when they start having children or in their 40s/50s if they need to care for elderly relatives. Even during retirement age (60s/70s) many Americans still move. This is often to be closer to their adult children and grandchildren even if this is not in their hometown or home state or to live in a retirement community/location of their personal preference (e.g. 'Snowbirds' who live in Minnesota in the summer but may have a condo in Arizona or Florida in the winter).  

Geographical mobility is a key aspect of the flexibility you find in the U.S. educational system and career planning and many Americans will work a variety of jobs in a variety of locations throughout their lives. Some Americans study and work away from their 'hometown' or 'home state' their entire lives and others move away from 'home' for a period of time, but may seek to return 'home' at a certain point in their life.  

Types of Universities in the U.S.

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In the U.S. there are many different type of institutions of higher education from 2-year or community colleges, to liberal arts colleges, to research intensive universities with more than 4,726 degree-granting institutions for students to choose from.  For a helpful overview, see Education USA’s Understanding Higher Education in the U.S. 

Public vs. Private Colleges & Universities in the U.S.: The United States has a wide variety of institutions that provide higher education. There are so many options that it can be very overwhelming for international students to understand the different choices. One of the more common questions asked by international students is what is the difference between a public and private university?

A public university, also commonly called a state university, is funded by the public through the government of that state. For example, the University of Texas, Austin is a public university and is funded by the state of Texas. Every state in the USA has a public university or college. A private university is not funded or operated by the government. For example, Rice University is not funded by the state of Texas, but is partially funded by endowments which are given by private donors. Every state in the USA has private universities or colleges.

Public vs. private just denotes how they are funded.  It does not imply any difference in quality or academic rigor.  Some public universities are top ranked institutions or have top-ranked graduate programs and some private universities and colleges are similarly top ranked universities or graduate programs. It varies greatly by university/college.

Liberal Arts vs. Research Intensive Universities: At the undergraduate level there are two broad categories of types of 4-year institutions, liberal arts colleges vs. research intensive universities.

  • Types of Universities in the US
  • Liberal Arts College or Research University
  • 6 Key Differences Between Liberal Arts & Research Universities 
  • Liberal arts colleges tend to be:
    • Be smaller than research universities.
    • Ratio of faculty-to-student is generally low.
    • Tend to focus on a well-rounded general education.
  • Research universities tend to be:
    • Large schools dedicated to education and producing knowledge through the research that professors conduct.
    • Courses are offered in both large lectures and seminars.
    • In addition to teaching, professors also conduct their own research and teach and mentor their advanced-degree students.
    • smaller and only offer bachelor’s degrees (perhaps a few master’s) and the faculty and students focus most of their time on teaching and classroom based learning. 
  • Combined 3+2 Engineering Programs: Students may even combine degrees between two types of schools in the U.S. system, typically called a 3+2 program.  For example, a student could receive a Bachelor's of Arts (B.A.) degree in Asian Studies at a liberal arts school in 3 years and then transfer to a research university for their last 2 years of study to receive a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in an engineering field. Though it will take these students a total of 5 years to graduate, instead of the typical 4, at the end of that time period they will have completed two degrees from two different universities.  
  • Similarities and Cross-Overs: However, these categories do have significant cross-over and there is great variance depending on the specific university you enroll in and the program you enroll in at that school. For example:
    • Rice University is a research university but it is a small university similar in size to many liberal arts colleges with a very low 6:1 ratio of students to faculty and enrollment of just 3,910 undergraduates and 2,809 graduate students. For more see the About Rice University section.
    • Many liberal arts school also offer some research opportunities to their students.  These may be with faculty at that liberal arts school or in research labs of nearby/partner universities.  
    • All universities in the U.S., including research universities, offer a wide array of classes and programs in the liberal arts, humanities, social sciences, and other fields  This is because, in the U.S. system, even if you are majoring in Electrical & Computer Engineering at Rice University (a research university) you still have to take about 2 years of general studies/liberal arts classes in other fields.  This is because, within the U.S. system, we place a high value on students receiving a 'well-rounded' college education where they can learn to make connections between different disciplines (interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration).  For example, at Rice University, students must, in addition to the required courses in their major, meet the following: 

 

University Rankings: The U.S. government does not provide any official ranking of universities.  However, there are many other national and global ranking systems and U.S. universities do value these as one way to attract good students. For example, see our About Rice University and Houston page for information on some of Rice's recent rankings. 

For High School Students Applying to College: University rankings are often very helpful for U.S. high school students when they are deciding which universities to apply to.  See section below on Applying to College for more information. 

For Graduate Students: At the master's and PhD level, it is more important to look at the rankings and research strengths of the specific academic department or program you are interested in rather than the university overall.  This is because, at the graduate level, you apply for admission at the academic department/program level not to the university. 

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Applying to Undergraduate Universities in the U.S.

Higher education in the United States is an optional final stage of formal learning following secondary education, often at one of the 4,495 colleges or universities and community colleges in the country.  Students traditionally apply for admission into colleges individually, there is no university entrance exam. Schools differ in their competitiveness and reputation. Admissions criteria involve the rigor and grades earned in high school courses taken, the students’ GPA, class ranking, and standardized test scores (such as the SAT or the ACT tests). Most colleges also consider more subjective factors such as a commitment to extracurricular activities, a personal essay, and an interview. While colleges will rarely list that they require a certain standardized test score, class ranking, or GPA for admission, each college usually has a rough threshold below which admission is unlikely.

For more on applying to college as an undergraduate student in the U.S. click on the topics below. For more on applying to graduate school see our page on Applying to Graduate School in the U.S.

All 4-year universities in the U.S. have in common is the foundational belief that a bachelor’s degree should provide students with a well-rounded education that enables them to not only take coursework in their chosen major/subject area (such as engineering) but also requires them to take liberal studies/general education coursework in subjects like history, social sciences, humanities, etc. to provide them with a broad understanding of education and learning overall.

Students have a great deal of flexibility and independence in choose their  major and courses at the undergraduate level and it is not uncommon for students to double-major.  For example, an Electrical Engineering major might also have a second major in Business, Asian Studies, Economics, or another field that is of personal interest to them and aligns with their future goals.

Then, as you progress through master’s towards your Ph.D. your scope of study/focus becomes narrower towards the research topic that is of greatest interest to you.  Therefore, most PhD students would not take coursework outside of their required degree coursework but undergraduates can take classes in any department/field that they are interested in.

Exam Based Admission vs. Application Packets: One key difference in the U.S. is that to there is no formal/standardized university exam system like there is in Japan, China, and many other countries in Asia. Instead, high-school students typically in their senior (B4) year and their parents research which universities and colleges they believe would be good fits for them and send 7 – 10 (or sometimes more) applications to the individual colleges they are interested in. As part of their application they are typically asked to submit:

  • Personal Statement
  • Resume
  • SAT or ACT Test Scores
  • Transcripts
  • Recommendation Letters
  • Supplemental Essays
  • Portfolio of Past Work
  • Interview (not always required)
  • Financial Aid Paperwork/FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid

Students will typically submit their application packets in early to mid fall and will receive admissions decisions letters sometime in mid-spring.  At the undergraduate level, applications are reviewed by university admissions offices and they do not admit students by test scores or grades alone. Rather, they look at the 'whole picture' of the student's application packet and try to select students that will help comprise a diverse and representative student body.  Everything in your application packet matters and high school students often spend a lot of time focused on not only getting good grades but also are involved in many student clubs, organizations, and volunteer activities to make their resume 'stand out' from the other college applicants.  Even if you have a 4.0 (straight A's) and perfect ACT or SAT scores you may still not be accepted to all of the colleges you apply to.  Therefore, most students will choose to apply to a range of 7 – 10 schools with some being schools they are confident they will be accepted to and others being their stretch/reach school/s that are very competitive and that no matter how excellent your application is you may still not be accepted.

For more on applying to college in the U.S. see: 

With so many choices and variety of types of schools and programs how do U.S. students decide where to apply for their undergraduate degree?  

  • Applying to Top Ranked Schools:  Regardless of whether they are public or private, most good students will want to apply to a range of schools including some that are top-ranked universities. Some may be nearby, some may be across the country in another state. Americans, in general, are not afraid to move long distances for good opportunities – including higher education even though they may only be 18 at the time of enrollment. Students and parents often consult the U.S. News and World Reports rankings to help them research various universities and programs at institutions nationwide.  Some information in these reports is free, for others you have to pay a premium or subscription fee.
  • Applying to Nearby Schools You Know Well:  There are colleges and universities throughout the U.S. and often students will apply to a couple of schools in their home state or near their hometown.  These may be a mix of public or private universities. Some students prefer to attend a university in their home state or near their home town to remain close to family/friends but other U.S. students will apply and want to attend a university in a different state/region of the country. It varies by personal preference.
  • Applying to In-State Public Universities: Most students will apply to at least 1 public university in their home state as, if accepted, they will then qualify for discounted, in-state tuition. This is because part of the funding for public schools comes from state tax revenues and, if your parents have been living in that state and paying taxes there, then you will qualify for a discounted tuition rate.  'Out of State' applicants from other states will not qualify for the 'in-state tuition' rate if, for example they live in Texas but apply to a public university in California.
    • Some public universities also grant 'in-state tuition' status to international degree-seeking students. Check with the individual schools you are applying to so you can determine what tuition rate is charged for international, degree-seeking students.
  • Applying to Reciprocity Public Universities: Most states have consortium agreements that allow students from nearby states to enroll and pay a reduced tuition rate.  This is typically called reciprocity and, for example, Minnesota public universities have reciprocity agreements with Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota. It also has an agreement with the Canadian province of Manitoba, and a limited agreement with Iowa Lakes Community College in northwestern Iowa.  So, when applying to public universities students often consider applying to public schools in neighboring states as well as in their home-state.
  • High-School Counselors and Teachers:  High school counselors and teachers often play a vital role in not only encouraging students to apply to college but giving them advice/guidance of the types of schools/programs they may be interested in.
  • Campus Visits:  Many students and parents also visit a number of college and university campus in the summer following their junior (B3) year.  During these campus visits they tour the university, learn more about the financial aid process, and often have the opportunity to speak with professors or other students in the academic fields that they are interested in. If they play sports or are involved in a student club/activity they may also want to learn more about opportunities to continue to pursue those activities while in college.
  • Quality of Life: Since U.S. students typically apply to between 7 – 10 (or more) schools they can, theoretically, receive many offers of admissions and then have to choose which one is 'best'.  Sometimes, this is an easy decision to make based on cost/ranking/academics but often the top students must make difficult choices between admissions offers to many top schools.  Quality of life often is one key factor that students weigh when deciding where to go to school. Not just which university or program is best but where will I be happiest?  Which schools offer a diverse campus where there are other students like me? Where I will enjoy living? Which schools provide specialized opportunities such as study/research abroad, internships, or other activities/program that might help my long-term goals? Universities in the U.S. often try to develop attractive campus, dormitories, gyms and other amenities that highlight the 'quality of life' students who attend that university may have.  There are even special ranking systems based on student happiness, diversity, and other quality of life factors.

Other Resources on Applying to College

Competition: In short, applying to university in the U.S. is a competitive process and there is no exact science that will guarantee admission to a specific university or college.  High-school students must work hard to prepare a high-quality application packet that is customized to each school they are applying to.  They must research those schools and consider which ones will be a 'good fit' in terms of their academics, location, cost, and other factors.   Some parents even pay outside companies/consultants to help their children prepare their college application essays, supporting documents, and provide advice on specific schools. 

But universities also compete with each other to admit their top choice students.  Since students apply to multiple schools, and may have admissions offers from a competing university, schools have to develop attractive financial aid/award packages to their top candidates to ensure those students will choose to come to there.  This is also why universities and colleges invest a lot in Quality of Life factors (see below).

However, this competitive system can also privilege those with the financial means to be able to afford to send their children to better high schools (either by paying for private school or moving to a city/town with a good school district) and who can afford to pay for supplemental tutoring, standardized test prep for the SAT or ACT, and for consulting companies to assist with preparing university application packets.  Students who are economically disadvantaged may not have access to the same resources to help them through the college application process.  This has led universities to develop bridge programs and K-12 outreach programs to help middle and high school students from economically disadvantaged areas learn about college and how to apply.  For example, at Rice University these programs include a range of student programs under our K-12 Initiatives project, other outreach programs, R-STEM Programs for Students, and some student clubs/organizations that provide tutoring or college application/preparation workshops for students in the Houston community.  

Financial Aid: How to pay for college is a top concern for most students and parents.  In short, attending college in the U.S. is very expensive and the cost of attendance continues to rise each year. In the U.S., all citizens are eligible to apply for the FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  This will determine if, based on your expected family contribution, you qualify for any federal grant or loan based aid.  Students will also submit financial aid paperwork to the universities they apply for and institutions may award supplemental scholarships, grants, work-study, or loans to off-set the cost of attendance.  Students and parents may also apply for private education loans from banks if they still need additional funding after applying any federal or university funds.  Students will also often apply to external scholarships from foundations, agencies, and other organizations.

Students often think attending a public university will be cheaper, particularly if they live in that state and can pay discounted 'in-state' tuition. However, sometimes it may be cheaper for students to attend a private university that has a large endowment and that can offer more institutional financial aid to incoming students.  For example, at Rice University admitted undergraduate students whose family/parental income is below $80,000/year receive full funding through a combination of grants, work study, merit aid (if qualified) and institutional funds. They will not be required to take out any loans to pay for their cost of attendance. Therefore, it can be advantageous for students to apply to a mix of public and private universities and compare the actual cost of attendance in the spring once they receive their admissions letters and institutional financial aid packages.

Graduate Students:  For more on funding for graduate school, see our page on Applying to Graduate School.

International Students: Financial aid available for degree-seeking international undergraduate students will vary by university and students should consult the financial aid office of the individual school/s they are applying to.  For example, at Rice University limited financial aid is offered to degree-seeking international undergraduate students.

Majors/Field of Study: When you are accepted into a U.S. university you are not admitted into a specific program as a freshman (B1) student based on your admission exam scores.  Rather, you indicate in your application which major/field you are most interested in but U.S. university students do not official declare their major typically until the spring semester of their sophomore (B2) year.  This means that during their first two years of undergraduate study students take a variety of introductory level classes in fields that they are curious/interested in. Then, based on which classes they feel are the best fit they will then 'declare their major' but they can 'change majors' at any time.  However, changing majors after your sophomore (B2) year will likely extend the amount of time it takes to complete your undergraduate degree.

Double Majors/Minors: Additionally, in the U.S. it is not uncommon for students to double (or even triple) major or add minors to their degree.  For example, at Rice University a student may be majoring in Electrical & Computer Engineering and have a double-major in Asian Studies with a minor in International Business.  Adding double majors/minors to your degree requires that students be highly organized and ensure that they meet the minimum credit and course requirements for each program.

Academic Advising:  Due to its flexibility and wide array of course choices, the U.S. system can be confusing for undergraduate students to navigate. What classes should I enroll in?  What order should I take my classes in?  How can I add a minor or double majors?  What if I want to change majors? How can I transfer schools?   To answer these questions, universities have developed a robust series of offices and faculty/staff that serve as academic advisors and mentors to students.  For example, at Rice University, these offices include: 

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International Students in the U.S.

Visiting researchers from Japan are often a bit surprised at the large number of international students at universities in the U.S. In particular, many science & engineering graduate programs in the U.S. have high numbers of international students compared to the numbers of American students enrolled in their programs.

At Rice University, the Office of International Students and Scholars puts out an annual International Statistics report that may be interesting to review. If you are interested in nationwide numbers, see the Institute of International Education’s annual Open Doors Report which highlights data on international students in the U.S. and the numbers of American students studying abroad. In Japan, MEXT reports on the numbers of Japanese students studying abroad annually as well.

You may also want to read the Institute of International Education’s 2015 report on “What international students think about U.S. higher education.” You can download this report for free online.

All U.S. universities will have an International Student office whose role is to oversee the immigration/visa status of all international students and employees at the university.  Typically, they focus on working with students at the undergraduate and graduate level though they may work with post-doctoral researchers as well.

In addition to advising students on staying in compliance with the rules of their U.S. visa, the international student's office will usually offer programming designed to assist international students with integration into U.S. university life.  Most international students form close relationships with advisors in their international student office and these advisors can be excellent people to turn to for questions that you may be uncomfortable asking your professor or advisor.  They are accustomed to getting questions on a wide array of topics from visa questions to academic to personal to questions about U.S. culture/society – feel free to ask them anything! If they don't know the answer they will likely direct you to the best person or office on campus to ask.

For example, Rice's Office of International Students and Scholars offers free English conversation classes, programs for international spouses, and International Culture Night, and cultural programming for students including visits to NASA, museums, and sporting events in and around Houston.

How many Japanese students are there at Rice University?

  • Overall, the population of Japanese students at Rice is quite small in comparison with students from India, China, or South Korea.  But, because Rice is a small university, it is easy for most Japanese students on campus to meet and get to know each other along with Japanese faculty and staff members too.  There tend to be more Japanese students at universities on the West Coast and East Coast, but the population at Rice is growing.  There are also increasing numbers of Japanese students coming to Rice as short-term visiting research students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. We hope the numbers of degree-seeking Japanese students at Rice will continue to grow too.  For more on the international student population at Rice see the most recent annual report from the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS).

What about American students studying abroad?  How many and why do they go overseas when the U.S. has such great opportunities for students at home?

American students study abroad for a number of reasons.  First, many believe it is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” and they may have always dreamed of living in Japan, for example, since they were a young child and first watched anime.  Second, many students believe it will provide them with language and intercultural communication skills that will make their resume more competitive and attractive to future employers.  For more on alumni impact of study abroad see this new study released by IES, a study abroad program provider. American students also study abroad because they want to gain fluency in a language or want to study a language that is not offered by their home university.

However, it is important to realize that only a very small percentage of U.S. students do in fact study abroad, currently about 10% of U.S. graduates overall. At some universities the percentage of students who study abroad is higher, but overall it is similar to Japan where only a few students choose to spend a summer, semester or academic year abroad as undergraduates.

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Job Hunting in the U.S.

For more on this, see the Career Resources for Science & Engineering Students page.

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Graduate School Life in the U.S.

For more on this, see Applying to Graduate School in the U.S. 

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Women in Science & Engineering

For more on this topic, see this section on our Doing Research page.

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