Academic System in the USA

How much do you know about the academic system in the USA? In this section, we will try give you some key information that will help develop your knowledge so that you can become an expert like us!


Do you know that you want to get your degree, but not sure which area to study in? No problem! The US college system is really a good fit for you. It is different to the way in which UK universities operate. One of the main variances is that it usually takes four years to complete your degree in the US, as opposed to three years in the UK. The reason for this is that in the US, you will undertake a ‘general education’ alongside or prior to your specified study subject. So, you will have to take classes and earn credits in subjects like English, Mathematics, Science, History, Languages, Social Science, etc. Every student needs to do this, and many take these classes within their first year or two at college. The benefit of this is that it gives you time to sample classes and decide for certain what you intend to focus your degree on for the final two or three years. In the UK, students need to consider their degree choice as early as their GCSE’s (or National 5’s in Scotland) which puts tremendous pressure on young people who have yet to choose what they want to do. After all, how many people know exactly what they want to do by the time they’re 18 years old!?

Once you’ve gained the necessary credit hours having taken the general education classes, the rest of your college education will be more focused on your chosen degree subject, which is known in the US as your ‘major’. This subject can be anything the college you’re at offers. Some colleges offer hundreds of subjects, ranging from Marine Biology to Photography, Criminology to Spanish, and Economics to Sport Science! You won’t need to decide on this major until your second or even your third year at college. Up to that point, you can remain ‘Undecided’ until you are happy to commit to one specific area.

An example here is Athleticademix Director, David Fletcher. He began his general education in year one, before taking some classes in Business in year two. However, after taking a Criminology class in order to gain a Social Science credit, David decided that he really enjoyed that subject and then opted to major in Criminology instead. There was no disadvantage for him as the general education credits are required for all, so you have the time to chop and change and sample different subjects. In addition, following graduation David then went on to study his Masters degree in Sports Management. So even the bachelors and masters degree you may choose to study need not be connected!

Note: It does not matter what you studied back in the UK, your degree in the US is completely your choice, and you can even switch majors during the four years if needed!


Sam starts at the school North Park University and intends to complete a bachelor’s degree in “Business with a concentration in Finance” . Within the Business faculty at North Park University, there will be sub-categories within for students to concentrate in, dependant on their preferences:

In order for Sam to be able to complete the degree, Sam will need to study a total of 120 university credits, which can be earned as follows:

Year 1 – 30 credits from general education classes (Eng, Maths, Science, Social Science, etc.)

Year 2 – 30 credits from Business classes (same for everyone within the Business department).

Year 3 – 15 credits from Business classes and 15 credits from Finance classes specifically.

Year 4 – 30 credits from Finance classes specifically.

This means that during the first year, Sam will take courses with students who may be moving on to study any subject whatsoever.
The second year, Sam will take classes with students who will all be majoring in some form of business degree, but may have differing specialisations (whereas Sam’s is Finance).
The third year, Sam goes half the year with everyone in Business while the other half is focused on her specialised study – Finance.
The fourth year, Sam only studies courses in Finance with other students who are Finance majors.

Marching Band of Baylor University.


If you want to earn your degree in the United States, it usually takes four years. You choose your own pace of study, something you can read about below.

Your commitment to the college is semester by semester (term by term). So if you decide for whatever reason that it’s not for you then you’re not obliged to stay. Similarly, your scholarship package is renewed on a year-by-year basis for all four years. While this won’t be withdrawn, it is further indication that you are not fixed there for the entire time if you feel the need to change schools or maybe return home.


‘GPA’ is an acronym for ‘Grade Point Average’, which is used in the US to measure your academic standing, based on your grades at high school and then at college. Each grade you achieve during your GCSE’s and your BTEC/A-Levels (National 4/National 5 Highers/Advanced Highers in Scotland) holds a numeric value which is added up and calculated to determine your GPA. The GPA scale is from 0.0 to 4.0, with 4.0 being the highest. So, if you were a ‘straight A’ student, your GPA would be 4.0 – if you were all ‘B’s’ across the board, your GPA would be 3.0. Put simply here:

A (7, 8 , 9 in GCSE) = 4.0

B (5, 6 in GCSE) = 3.0

C (4 in GCSE) = 2.0

D (3 in GCSE) = 1.0

With GCSE’s now graded in numerical form, this can get a little tricky… but don’t worry! Athleticademix will help you calculate your GPA at an early stage so you know where you stand.

NOTE: The minimum GPA requirement for going to a 4-year college is 2.0! However, there are still options for anyone under 2.0 – check out our JUNIOR COLLEGE section for more information.

In our section about scholarships at college we highlight the importance of achieving good grades if you want to maximise your chances for a better scholarship package.


A regular year in college differs slightly from UK universities.

Each school begins and ends term on different dates, but below is a generic example of how a year at college will look:

August – Fall (Autumn) semester begins around the 20th – 25th August.
Preseason for soccer athletes will begin early August, so you are in earlier than regular students.

September – School classes begin early September and run throughout the month.
Season begins early September with an average of two games per week and daily training/recovery sessions.      

October – Fall Break in the middle of the month, usually means one week off.
Season continues through this break, however!

November – Thanksgiving Break at the end of the month. Usually means 3-4 extra days off.
Many international students spend this holiday with families of their American friends!              

December – The autumn term ends around 15th December, and then you’re off for a month over Christmas and New Year!
Time to go home and see family and friends!

January – Spring term starts around 10th January.
You will begin a new set of different classes.

February – School is running throughout the month.
Training will be more focused on fitness and strength & conditioning, but you will have more free time as there is no competitive season!

March – Spring Break is usually in the middle of the month, which means a week off with friends.
Many students travel and enjoy some free time.

April – School is running throughout the month.
Still training while also studying for end of term exams and completing class projects!

May – Spring term ends in early May since Summer Break for THREE MONTHS!

June – Summer Break!
Get fit! Workout plans issued by your coach, mixed with free time to either go back home, work or travel

July – Summer Break!
Get fitter! Preseason is fast approaching….

Students of University of Michigan.


Double degree (dual major) – It is possible for the most dedicated students to ‘dual major’. This means that you can take classes/credits in more than one subject area and, if you complete them in the time period, you can walk away with TWO degrees for the time and cost of one! Many people do this with subjects that crossover with classes in another subject, such as Psychology and Sociology or Business Management and Marketing, for instance. If you don’t have the time or credits to dual major, you can still add on what’s called a ‘Minor’, which is in addition to your primary major.

Example: If you study and major in Art but then also study a certain amount of credits in Photography, but not enough to become a dual major, you may still be able to earn a bachelor’s degree in Art with a minor in Photography. It’s all about maximising your time and potential… Plus it looks great on your CV!

Different influences, networking with a wider range of people – The cool thing about college is that you take approx. 4-5 courses per semester. On each course there will be different students registered, so you can be in an English class next to a student who is going to specialise in Environmental Science, for example. This means that you will get to meet many different people and also get to take advantage of new ideas and thoughts.

Freedom! – The examples and timelines above are only a general way in which a student goes through college, i.e. general education in your first year and then go into your concentration as the four years progress. However, this does not mean that you have to do it in that order. You get a checklist of courses to complete from the first day, and you yourself decide which courses you register for in each semester and therefore you build your own schedule. Many students decide to take general education courses every semester alongside courses for their major, just to mix it up or balance a workload!

Transferable – Can I use my US degree back home in the UK or somewhere else in the world? YES!
At Athleticademix, we only work with ‘accredited’ universities in the US, which means that their degree diplomas and qualifications are transferable and accepted in other countries.

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