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  Academic Levels, Definitions and Expected Durations at U.S. Academic Institutions

Youth / High School: Academic programs specifically designed for students between the ages of 12 and 17 years old. Academic disciplines vary, though most programs focus on the Liberal Arts (studies such as language, philosophy, history, literature, or abstract science, intended to provide general knowledge and to develop general intellectual capacities). Duration generally lasts from a few weeks to 12 weeks. College credit may be available to qualified students.

Summer Programs: Classes held generally between the months of early June and late August. Summer School Students may access many of the same amenities as their full-time counterparts, including on-campus and off-campus housing, library systems, computer labs, athletic facilities, and performances of the arts. The selection of academic courses during summer sessions appears to be growing across the country, as campus administrators recognize the potential of short-term enrollees evolving into long-term enrollees. College credit is often available during Summer School.

Short-Term Certificate or Non-Credit: Courses offered which usually do not qualify for regular college credit, and which may or may not be used to meet the requirements for a degree or diploma awarded by an academic institution. Each short-term or non-credit course may last from a few weeks to several months, but typically less than one year.

Internship: The term is technically defined as a period of time in which a student or recent graduate gains supervised practical experience. Another less formal explanation may be borrowed from Michael Landes' Backdoor Guide to Short-Term Job Adventures: an internship is simply about discovering life's options and finding your place in the world. It's a time to explore, dream and discover -- and turn your dreams into reality.

Associate: According to the 2000 Carnegie Classification*, these institutions offer Associates Degree and Certificate programs but, with few exceptions, award no Baccalaureate Degrees. Majority of U.S. Community Colleges have been structured to accommodate students seeking Associates Degrees or Certificates in about two years. Community Colleges across the United States have increased their international student enrollments by more than 40 percent since 1993 -- compared to the 15 percent growth rate of post secondary institutions overall (Open Doors, 2000). It's also interesting to note that 87 percent of international students at Community Colleges are self-financed. Dual enrollment programs, where students may enroll simultaneously at a Community College and a University, are gaining popularity throughout the United States.

Bachelor: The traditional definition refers to the lowest degree conferred by a four-year college or university. However, an increasing number of U.S. colleges and institutions are beginning to offer a wider variety of degrees, including Associate and Certificate Programs. Institutions offering Bachelors Degrees are primarily undergraduate colleges with major emphasis on baccalaureate programs. 

Master: Institutions offering Masters Degrees typically offer a wide range of baccalaureate programs, and they are committed to graduate education through the Masters Degree. A master is a person holding an academic degree higher than a bachelor's but lower than a doctors. An intensive masters degree may be completed in one year, though the average duration is between two and three years.

Doctoral / Research: The Carnegie Classification states that these institutions typically offer a wide range of baccalaureate programs, and they are committed to graduate education through the doctorate. A doctor is a person holding one of the highest academic degrees (as a PhD) conferred by a university. The duration for a doctorate varies widely, from just a few years to decades.

Distance Learning: Education Week defines the term as the use of telecommunications technologies, including satellites, telephones and cable-television systems, to broadcast instruction from one central site to one or more remote locations. Typically, a television image of a teacher is broadcast to students in remote locations; this may also be done using interactive videoconferencing. More and more students and campuses are recognizing the value of online courses. The industry has progressed a great extent, in securing reliable and effective systems to administer the courses.

Group Programs for Professionals: These inquiries were originally included under the heading of Short-Term Training Sessions or Non-Credit / Certificate Programs. We distinguished the individuals from the groups due to increased demand by both sides -- international professionals and U.S. campuses. Descriptions of group courses vary greatly; some qualify for regular college credit, and may or may not be used to meet the requirements for a degree or diploma awarded by an academic institution. Each course may last from a few weeks to several months, but typically less than one year. The one true factor that distinguishes group inquiries from individual inquiries: group inquiries tend to originate from a central source such as a corporate environment or a government-sponsored entity.

* The 2000 Carnegie Classification includes all colleges and universities in the United States that are degree-granting and accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education. The 2000 edition classifies institutions based on their degree-granting activities from 1995-96 through 1997-98.