Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

US acadamic system?

  1. Apr 13, 2007 #1
    US acadamic system????

    I am a student of physics (Diplom) from Germany and I really don’t understand the US academic system!

    For example I don’t understand the Bachelor/Master System

    Some Universities here have Bachelor/Master too, but it is new.
    In Germany traditionally your first Degree in math or physics is the Diplom (after a minimum of five years of study including a minimum of one year research) which seem to be the aquivalent of the Master.
    In Germany the Master is often similar to the Diplom (they just changed the names and one ore two courses). The bachelor has no value (there are no jobs for academics with low qualification) and is only a step on the road to a Masters degree.

    So the names are equal to US or UK System, but I don’t think the programs are equal.
    There seems even to be differences between these two Systems (3- and 4-year Bachelors).

    For example there are no Degrees by coursework in Germany.

    It’s difficult to compare lectures and courses on paper, but you can compare for example books.

    At the first years most of the books are written by German authors (and some Russian and France). There are some classics like the books from Arnold Sommerfeld who was a famous lecturer (for example Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Peter Debye and Hans Bethe were notable students) and influenced German authors like maybe Richard Feynman in the US. The coursebooks in physics are on a higher mathematical level. So most of the international books and series like Landau/Lifschitz, V.Arnold, Sakurai, Jackson, which are often called graduate books by Americans are used from the very beginning.You have things like symplectic manifolds, Tensor-analysis and forms in your second year mechanics and Electrodynamics courses.
    Some of our professors researched in the US for some years (for example at Calltech or Berkeley, which shall be good Universities most people say). They say that American math books are influenced more by Richard Courant and German books are more influenced by Bourbaki group and authors like French Jean Dieudonné (Elements d Analyse / Foundations of Modern Analysis) I have no idea.

    So a Bachelor in the United States must be another degree with another meaning and value than a German Bachelor (because I don’t think American students are less intelligent than Germans).

    But in my eyes there seem to be big differences between different American Universities, too. There are different curriculas and you have to pay a lot of money (It is a bit strange that you have to pay money for studies, here it’s free or costs a maximum of 1000 EUR per year.) at Universities with normal standard. Here the curriculas for the first two years are very similar at all Universities, so it is easy to change the location.

    So what knows the normal (statistical) American Bachelor and in contrast the normal British Bachelor.

    Another problem is the school systems. American students are much younger than German students (maybe that’s why the level in American math books is so low). But I don’t really understand what High school and College is (and my insider information is from Hollywood).

    What is the difference between University, US College, UK College???
    The US College seems to be more like a school and the UK College like a part of a University, but what are the differences?? By the way: What is the definition of a University in the US? In contrast to Germany there are institutions called University, but have no PhD Programs.

    How much Linear Algebra and Analysis is teached on a normal American school?

    In Germany the system is much easier to overview . You have to go 13 years to school (and there is only one change after 4 years elementary school), get the Abitur and then you can go to University.

    I hope I can get some information from insiders.

    Greetings from Germany!
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 13, 2007 #2
    To be precise, the main difference is that a "college" is an institution dedicated towards a specific area, while a "university" is a collection of colleges. So, while I attend the University of Illinois, my college is the College of Engineering. However, there are also colleges out there not affiliated with a university (e.g., Boston College), which are typically geared towards the liberal arts.

    Often, when people talk about "college," they are talking about attending one of these institutions, regardless of whether they actually attend an independent college or a university. (This is probably where the confusion comes from.) So, for example, if someone were to ask me what I do, I would say that I'm in college (but I'd never say that I'm at "university").

    Typically, people go to college between the ages of 18 and 22, graduate, and earn a Bachelor's Degree in a certain major. At this point, most people get jobs. If, however, you go to graduate school, you will often first get a Masters (which takes about 2 years), and then you will get a Ph.D.
  4. Apr 13, 2007 #3


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    In the US, a bachelor's degree from any undergraduate institution, whether it calls itself a "college" or a "university," is at the same level, formally speaking. However, the curriculum, the professors, and the physical facilities (laboratories etc.) can vary widely from one institution to another.

    Each institution sets its own requirements for a degree. The federal and state governments do not mandate specific courses for a bachelor's degree in (for example) physics. Instead, there are regional "accrediting agencies" which certify that an institution's curriculum, faculty and facilities meet certain general standards. If an institution is not accredited by the appropriate agency, it usually has more difficulty in competing with other institutions to attract students.

    Also, in some fields, a professional organization may accredit degrees in those specific fields. For example, I think the American Chemical Society has an accreditation program for chemistry degrees, but the American Physical Society definitely does not have such a thing for physics degrees.

    Here, even universities operated by the states must charge their students tuition, because they cannot operate only on the money that the states give them. Here in South Carolina for example, I think the state legislature provides only about two-thirds the cost of running the state university system. (People here don't want to pay higher taxes, even when the money goes for things like education!) The rest of the money must come from students, or from donations from graduates and other people. I got my PhD from the University of Michigan, a large and fairly prestigious state university, and they regularly solicit me for donations.

    And then there are the private colleges and universities, which must rely completely on student tuition and fees (which are correspondingly high), and on donations. I got my bachelor's degree from a small private liberal-arts college similar to the one where I teach now, and I give them a significant amount of money every year, now that I can afford to do so. I enjoyed my experience there, overall, and I want other students to be able to do so in the future.
  5. Apr 13, 2007 #4
    Question: What comes after a Diplom? In other words, what are the degrees offered at the graduate level in Germany generally called?
  6. Apr 14, 2007 #5
    So a college is a faculty or department? For example I study at the Faculty of mathematics and natural science in the Institute of physics.

    But why can’t you graduate on your college but have to visit a graduate school?

    Then they are younger than students in Germany. You start school in Germany in the age of 6 or 7 (often after Kindergarten or Preschool). After 13 years of school you are 19 or 20 and then there is military or alternative service for males, so you are 20/21 if you entry University.
    So you are 23/24 after your third year and minimum 25/26 after you get your Diplom degree.

    But for example in physics or chemistry it is common to continue your studies. After maybe 3 years (sometimes longer) you get your Dr. rer. nat. (rerum naturalium), the equivalent of a PhD in natural science.
    In contrast to many other countries the Habitilation is the highest academic qualification and you need it to become a professor. To get the permission to lecture (venia legendi) you have to show that you are an excellent researcher in your field and have the qualifications to teach. This often needs more than 10 years. Because of this lots of German Post Docs go to other countries for a while where it is easier for example to get an assistant professor and come back if they have enough qualifications for Habilitation.

    I don’t really understand what sort of job you can get with a Bachelor. You have just basic qualifications even with a Master. How can someone do good research with it?

    Germany has the worlds oldest Physical Society (DPG) and it is very strong. The DPG tries to hold the education on an equal high level in all Universities and fights against to high diversities in curricula. The degrees are controlled by the states ministries for education and research.
    There is no difference in education between experimental and theoretical physicists in Germany. You can choose the field of your Diplom thesis, but you are examined in experimental physics, theoretical physics and applied physics. So the PhD time is important to specialize.

    What is a liberal-arts collage?
    It sounds like a non research institution, but I think it is important that a lecturer is a top researcher in his field, so that his students learn the actual stuff from an expert. For example my very first lecture at University (Concepts of physics I) started with some experiments in laser physics and holography because the professor was an international recognised expert in use of holography in architecture. Liberal-arts sounds like translating Latin texts like you do in school. But maybe it has an other meaning in the US (that’s the problem, different things have the same name).

    That seems to be the famous American spirit.
  7. Apr 14, 2007 #6


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    At the University of Michigan (just to take an example that I know something about because I was a graduate student there), the physics department is a division of the College of Liberal Sciences and Arts. An undergraduate student who is working towards a bachelor's degree in physics enrolls in the College of LS&A, and takes courses from professors in the physics department.

    A graduate student who is working towards an MS or PhD in physics enrolls in the Rackham Graduate School, but takes courses and does research in the same physics department, from professors who may also teach undergraduate courses. The Graduate School is simply in charge of awarding graduate degrees (MS, PhD, etc.), dealing with issues that are of concern to graduate students specifically, helping faculty get grants for research, etc.

    The U of Michigan also has a College of Engineering, which has departments for various branches of engineering, which (like the physics department in LS&A) offer courses for both undergraduate and graduate students. Undergraduate students receive their degrees (BE's of various kinds) from the College of Engineering, whereas graduate students (I think) receive their ME or PhD from the Rackham Graduate School, just as the physics graduate students do.

    There are other divisions on the same level as the Colleges of LS&A and Engineering, for example the Medical School and the Law School.

    Other universities may arrange things differently. Remember, we don't have a unified national university system here, so administrative organization varies from one university to another.

    The concept of a "college" as a division of a "university" should be considered as separate from the concept of a "college" as a type of independent undergraduate institution. In this context, "university" usually means a large institution that offers both undergraduate (BA, BS, etc.) and graduate (MA, MS, PhD, etc.) degrees, whereas "college" usually means a small institution that offers only undergraduate degrees. But this is not an absolute distinction. Some "colleges" do award graduate degrees in some fields.

    Here in South Carolina, during the past few years some of the smaller state-operated institutions that mainly serve undergraduate students changed their names e.g. from "Winthrop College" to "Winthrop University." They didn't start offering new courses all of a sudden. They simply changed their names either because they gradually added some graduate degrees in specific fields (Winthrop specializes in education, for example) or because "University" sounds more prestigious than "College."

    The bachelor's degree is not a research degree. You can't actually get very much of a job in physics research with only a bachelor's degree. Perhaps as a lab technician. Students with bachelor's degrees in physics typically go on to graduate school to get a MS or PhD in physics or engineering, or they go into high-school teaching, or they go into some other kind of non-research job where physics knowledge is useful. One of our recent graduates went to law school to study patent law, for example. Others have ended up in sales or management type jobs for technology-oriented companies.

    It's a smaller undergraduate institution that requires its students to take courses in a broad range of fields in addition to courses in their major field. Where I teach, all students have to take some courses in natural science, math, foreign language, English, art/music/theater, religion, and social science, in addition to their major-field courses. These "general education" requirements amount to about a third of their total course work.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook