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How does university work in the States?

  1. Aug 14, 2015 #1
    Hi everyone! I'm a freshman in the Physics BSc at the university of Rome, and I've been reading here and there threads talking about courses, minors, majors and else, and I was just wondering how does this work, because I can't get out of my confusion while trying to understand it lol.
    In my university instead, everything is much more linear:
    First of all we (try) to get a Bachelor's degree, which lasts for 3 years and has around 20 fixed exams (24 for my course) [link http://www.phys.uniroma1.it/fisica/sites/default/files/allegati/manifesto_fisica_triennale.pdf#overlay-context=fisica/didattica/corsilauree/laurea-triennale-fisica [Broken] (sorry I found it only in Italian, but Google Translate is fine for this)] of which we can choose only two of them.
    After the Bachelor we get the Master's degree, that lasts 2 years, and has around 15-20 exams the same, of which only 2 (again) can be chosen.

    I hope someone clears this doubt of mine!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 14, 2015 #2
    During our last year of high school, we apply to the various colleges we want to attend. Then we choose one. When we get to college, we usually go having declared a major, or primary area of study, but many schools don't require you to declare a specific major until the second year (I had to declare a major before I went, and I chose electrical engineering).

    We typically do not specialize in any area in high school. Every high school student takes the same subjects (more or less).

    Particularly in STEM fields, the first two years consist of introductory courses like calculus 1, 2, and 3, differential equations, intro courses in electrical engineering for me, and we also end up taking one or two "general electives" each semester, which are English, history, political science, psychology, etc. courses that we also have to take with our major classes. This is in order to get a broad overview of the academic world.

    Because of the required general electives, it usually takes people 4 years to get their bachelor's degree. Some take more, fewer take less (depending on if they were able to get college credits in high school through special testing programs). In the last two years, students typically specialize in their major while continuing to take some general electives (I have to take English and art electives in my last year, which is good, because that's when I'll be taking my toughest electrical engineering classes). Physics students would begin to take more intermediate mechanics, electromagnetism, and quantum mechanics. I am taking higher-level electrical engineering courses on communications, solid state devices, signal processing, and Electromagnetics since I am starting my third year.

    The final year, depending on the major, can involve more classes and a year-long project. At my school, physics students do research with their classes for a year. I have to do a design project in electrical engineering where my group has to create some device given some specifications.

    Alongside with this period of specialization, students can often branch out and take classes in other areas using their electives. For instance, I hav electives reserved for humanities classes, but I also have general "electrical engineering" electives. I can use these to take more advanced electrical engineering classes, or I can take classes in related disciplines. If I choose to take a lot of extra physics classes, then I can get a "physics minor." Minors only mean that you have a bit more knowledge in the subject. Some people add a minor to their major because it would be helpful to their career (like a physics major minoring in math or chemistry), and some people do it simply because they find the subject interesting (an electrical engineering major who is interested in theater could get a minor in theater).

    The degree is finished as soon as the student has passed all of the classes that are required of him. In my particular program, that means I have to get at least a "C" in every course I take.

    For those going on to graduate school, in America, students do not need a master's degree before applying to Ph.D programs. Most people who want a Ph.D apply to a Ph.D program during the last year of their bachelor's degree. The Ph.D program then typically lasts 4-7 years, and often students get a master's degree while they're in the program.
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