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Undergraduate Study Introduction


Completing an undergraduate bachelor’s degree typically takes four years and begins after 12 years of primary schooling. In the United States, undergraduate degrees are based on a ‘liberal arts philosophy’ and allow students to take a wide variety of courses in the arts and sciences before concentrating on one academic area. Known as general education or core curriculum requirements, these classes are usually taken in the first two years and cover mathematics, sciences, humanities, social sciences and languages. You will have to take these classes regardless of intended major. Students may also choose to identify a “minor” field of concentration in a related or unrelated field. You will usually spend the last two years concentrating on your major field of study. The goal is a well-rounded education.

A degree is awarded after a student has completed a required amount of course work expressed in terms known as credits/units or semester hours. Depending on whether the school works on a semester, quarter or trimester system, students usually will need to accumulate approximately 120 – 180 credits in order to graduate; with each course, on average, earning 3-4 credits. Colleges and universities divide the academic year in different ways. The most common division is two semesters (fall and spring). The fall semester begins in late August or early September and runs through December. The spring semester begins in early or mid January and runs through May.

In the U.S., less time is spent in the classroom, and more time is dedicated outside of class for substantial reading assignments, research projects and written papers. For every 1 hour of class time plan to spend 2 hours studying. You need a strong command of English to keep up with these demands. Class participation and attendance are important, and can count towards up to 20 percent of your final grade. Final examinations are given once at the end of each semester during a one-week period. If a subject is failed, it must be repeated the following semester. Schools abide by an Honor Code and plagiarism (copying others work) and cheating are not tolerated.


The Application Process

Choosing an institution from thousands of kilometers away presents serious difficulties. Most American students would visit campuses for guided tours, meet admissions officers or even spend a weekend on campus at the student dormitories. The international student must use directories, college search computer software, university catalogs and videotapes, attend international college fairs and correspond directly with professors and admissions personnel to get his/her questions answered.

Once you start the process of researching possible undergraduate programs, you may be overwhelmed with the choice of over 3,600 US universities at your disposal. You and your family need to narrow that choice by compiling a list of factors important to you. The following information is meant to provide you with criteria you might want to consider. Not all factors are equally important to all students, so work out your own priorities. You should come up with a list of 10-20 schools and begin contacting them to get more information. It is not recommended to write to only one school at this stage.

Factors in Determining Where You Will Go To University

Academic Considerations: Check out the schools that offer your area of concentration, field of interest, academic emphasis. See what courses are offered, review their catalogs and web sites; verify their transfer policies if you are a transfer student with previous academic background in Bahrain.

Cost: Carefully project housing, food, tuition, fees, travel and other expenses for the full four years.

Check to see if financial aid is available: Most schools do NOT offer international students financial assistance. A very small number of schools may offer partial assistance based on talent or excellence. Private universities are more likely to provide financial aid to international students than state universities, but keep in mind that overall costs of study at state universities are usually less expensive than at private schools. Full scholarships that cover total expenses are almost nonexistent.


Useful financial Aid web sites for International students:

Admission Difficulty: How competitive are admissions for international students? What are each school’s entrance requirements?

Size and Location: Look at the climate, campus settings (urban or rural), and campus size (large or small campuses of 200-50,000 students exist)

Institution Personality: Social life, number of international students on campus, extracurricular activities

Other Considerations: Student Services, academic distinctions, internships, job placement services, services for students with disabilities, safety factors, computer facilities, and English as a Second Language (ESL) Programs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the differences between a “college” and a “university,” and a “school?”

A college is a post-secondary institution that offers a general or “liberal arts” education. Most colleges concentrate on undergraduate education. ” College” can also designate a part of a university, i.e. College of Arts and Letters. Universities offer instruction in more fields than do colleges, including professions such as medicine and law. However, Americans use the terms interchangeably. Once a college reaches a certain population they apply to be named a “university”

Are private schools better than public schools?

No. There are competitive and less competitive entrance requirements at both public and private institutions. Cost is not an indication of the level of competitiveness or difficulty of a particular school.

What are the requirements for applying to an undergraduate program?

Typically, universities want to see 12 years of education, and anyone who is not a graduate of an English speaking high school must also take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Most colleges and universities in the United States require standardized testing for undergraduate admissions. Admissions requirements vary, so be sure to confirm which test(s) you need with the institutions that interest you.

ACT: a curriculum-based multiple-choice assessment that tests reading, English, mathematics, and science, with an optional essay section. The ACT is widely accepted at accredited two and four-year colleges and universities in the United States, and hundreds of institutions around the world.

SAT: a test that measures critical reading, writing, and mathematical abilities. The SAT Subject Tests measure knowledge in specific subject areas. The SAT is widely accepted at accredited two and four-year colleges and universities in the United States, and hundreds of institutions around the world.

What does it mean to be accredited?

The United States does not have a central “Ministry of Education” which approves various university degrees as we do in Bahrain. The process of accreditation is a voluntary one that provides for a minimum of standards and includes an intensive self-study by the institution and an inspection by external examiners. Six regional accrediting organizations throughout the US conduct these evaluations and inspections. The US government plays no role in this process, but only recognizes accreditation from specific agencies. To check the accreditation status of an institution, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions.

We recommend that you apply only to US schools that are regionally accredited in order to increase the chances that your degree will be recognized upon your return to Bahrain. If you are enrolling in a professional school, you may also need to consider professional accreditation in such undergraduate and graduate fields as architecture, engineering, social work, physical therapy, pharmacy, business, etc.

When should I begin the application process?

Ideally you should begin the process 12 – 18 months in advance. (See Planning Ahead-Timetable for Applying to American Universities.) Application forms for the fall term (beginning August or September) are available from May-August of the previous year. Each institution has its own deadlines, which may be as early as November. Deadline dates are strictly adhered to. Allow six months for processing the application. Some schools will accept students for January admission (spring semester).

Remember, the later you apply, the more limited your choices will be.

Do I have to write to each university myself?

Yes. There is no central clearinghouse for undergraduate applications. You must allow plenty of time to begin applying to and corresponding with American colleges in order to meet their deadlines. Look at our membership program for how we can help. Remember to make use of e-mail and fax correspondence whenever possible, and do not hesitate to telephone the admissions office if you encounter a problem in the process.

I’ve taken the necessary tests, but now what do I do?

You must complete the university’s application forms. Each university has its own forms but they are generally multiple page documents that you will need to fill in and return by the specified date. It is likely that the application will require recommendations from your past teachers, essays for you to write and factual information for you to provide about your educational background (transcripts). You will also need to complete financial information questionnaires concerning your ability to finance your education.

What is a transcript?

A transcript is an authenticated copy of your official academic record. It is a record card that follows a student throughout his/her education at each institution. It usually contains a listing of the classes he/she has taken and the grade or mark achieved in the class. These grades are averaged numerically to compute the student’s GPA or Grade Point Average. All documents will need to be translated into English. The Ministry of Education will assist you with that translation for a small fee. Most American universities will provide you with exact instructions on how to translate documents into English within their application package. Ask for instructions from the admissions office before spending time, effort, and money on translations that may or may not be acceptable to your school/s.

I’m working on my O-levels. Can I get admitted to an American university after completing only the O-levels?

It is possible at some universities, but it is not usually recommended.

I’m working on my A-levels. Can I get college credit for those?

Some universities will award college credit for A-levels, some will not. For those that do, it depends upon the classes you take, your grades, and your exam scores.

Non-Degree and Specialized Studies

Many institutions, i.e. professional/trade schools, community colleges and universities offer short-term non-degree programs which may last from three months up to two years but do not lead to a bachelor’s degree. Short-term courses may be technical, vocational or academic in nature and various subjects such as computer training, tourism, acting, and culinary arts (just to name a few) can be studied. At the end of such a program, students receive a certificate, diploma or AA degree.

Two-year or community colleges allow students to study both towards non-degree programs as well as to meet the requirements of the first two years of a bachelor degree (general studies). At the end of the two years, students receive an “Associate degree” (AA/AS diploma) and may be able to transfer these requirements to a four year institution in order to complete their Bachelor degree. Look at our links page for non-degree and technical training options.

Law, Medicine, and Dentistry In Bahrain

You can enter these fields of study right after completing your Towgihiya. In the U.S. you must first have a four-year undergraduate degree, preferably from the United States, in order to study Medicine/Law/Dentistry/Veterinary Medicine. Each of these degrees requires another 3-4 years of study after the Bachelor’s degree. It is extremely difficult for foreign students to be admitted to these majors. Priority is given to qualified US citizens.