What is Higher Education?

In the United States, higher education refers to postsecondary education, which is offered at colleges, vocational-technical schools, and community colleges. It is called ‘higher’ education because it involves classes that are beyond the high school level. 

It’s important to understand that this definition of higher education only applies to the United States. Different countries define higher education differently. 

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Characteristics Of Higher Education In The US

Higher education in the U.S. has a few characteristics that may or may not be similar to a few other countries. 

In the US, higher education is considered to be voluntary. This excludes high school from being categorized as higher education because high school attendance is mandatory for students under the age of 16. 

The higher education system in the US is largely decentralized and independent of federal government regulation. This is quite different from many other countries where the higher education system is centrally governed. 

Last but not least, higher education in the US is student-driven. Students can pick and choose their cluster of subjects to study depending on what career they wish to pursue. They can also choose the type of institution they want to study in. The US higher education system is incredibly diverse. Students can enroll in various types of institutions from community colleges and small private schools to large public universities, and religiously affiliated or secular colleges. This diversity in the type of institution allows students to find an institution that’s a perfect fit for them. 

The Structure Of The U.S. Education System Leading Up To Higher Education

In the United States, it is mandatory for students to attend school between 6 and 18 years of age. This includes elementary or primary education, which covers 1st to 5th grade. Elementary school is followed by junior or middle school, which runs from 6th to 8th grade. Secondary education follows, running from 9th to 12th grades. 

Higher education, which starts after the 12th grade, is voluntary. Students who wish to continue studying after the 12th grade can choose from two options. One is to enroll in a 1- or 2-year vocational training program, which prepares them for immediate employment in a specific trade. The second is to enroll in a 2-year associate’s degree or 4-year bachelor’s degree program in a college. 

Students who have completed a bachelor’s degree can choose to enroll in a graduate program. This can take about 4 or 5 years, at the end of which the student earns a Master’s degree. 

A few graduate students go on to do their doctorate and earn a Ph.D. in their field. The length of the doctorate program can vary depending on the time it takes to complete a dissertation. 

Why Higher Education Is Important

While higher education isn’t mandatory, it is definitely valuable, and earning a degree can benefit you professionally, financially, and personally. 

Here are 7 reasons why higher education is important and how it can benefit you: 

1. Increases your chances of employment

There’s no denying that earning a degree increases your chances of getting hired. Most job descriptions list a bachelor’s degree as the minimum qualification required. This is because employers understand that applicants who have completed college are more well-rounded. In addition to field-specific knowledge, they would have also developed critical soft skills that make them more proficient in the workplace. 

2. Expands Your Opportunities

In college, you can choose to study and specialize in any field you’re interested in. This makes it easier for you to pursue the career of your dreams. Once you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree in your field, you can go on to earn a master’s or doctorate degree, opening up even more exciting and challenging opportunities.   

3. Boosts your earning potential

On average, workers with a bachelor’s degree earn more than workers with a high school education. Earning a master’s degree can help you earn even more. Even a small increase in weekly income can translate into thousands more per year and over a million more over the span of your career. This makes higher education a worthy investment. 

4. Provides opportunities to build relationships

During your time in college, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to build solid relationships with your peers, professors, and alumni. These relationships can go on to become the foundation of your professional network. Alumni play pivotal roles in this regard, by offering valuable advice, insight, networking opportunities, and even information about job openings. 

5. Fosters personal growth and independence

As a college student, you’ll have to learn how to manage your time and money, how to deal with roommates, and how to navigate different social settings. Most importantly, you’ll have to learn how to make difficult decisions on your own. These are valuable life lessons that will hold you in good stead in your personal and professional life.

6. Broadens your horizons

College is radically different from high school in terms of the student cohort. In college, you’ll meet and mingle with students from diverse backgrounds. This will open your mind to different viewpoints and perspectives and a better understanding of people who are different from you. This diverse exposure leads to better communication skills and heightened empathy. It will also help you be more confident as you navigate challenging multicultural workplaces. 

7. Better prepares you for the future

The world is changing at an astonishing pace. Technological advancements are transforming the way we do things. Keeping up with the latest developments keeps you ahead of the game. Continued higher education helps you stay one step ahead of the curve, making you more employable. 

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