Our special topic series on US higher education continues in today’s column with the special subject of ‘accreditation’. Accreditation is a system for recognising educational institutions and professional programmes for their level of quality, performance, and integrity based on published criteria and standards. The process of accreditation validates the integrity of an educational programme and/or institution and for the student, it is an indication that the institution or programme meets certain standards of excellence. If the university or programme that a student attends/pursues is not accredited, the degree may not be recognised by employers, other universities, governments of other countries, or a home country’s department of education.
Also, only an I-20 document issued by an accredited college or university to international students may be used to apply for a US student visa. The accreditation process serves the purpose of not only verifying that an institution or programme meets established standards but also assists students in selecting acceptable institutions for their applications, helps institutes in determining the acceptability of transfer credits, establishes criteria for professional certification and licensure, and stimulates a general raising of standards among educational institutions. In the United States, there are two major types of accreditations –institutional and programmatic.
Institutional accreditation is granted by regional and national accrediting commissions, while programmatic (professional) accreditation is granted by commissions managed by professional organisations in fields such as engineering, journalism, business studies, and architecture. There is no federal ministry of education or other centralised authority in the United States that exercises single national control over post-secondary educational institutions in the country.
The states assume varying degrees of control over education, but, in general, institutions of higher education are permitted to operate with considerable independence and autonomy. As a consequence, American educational institutions can vary widely in the character and quality of their programmes and accreditation is purely voluntary and self–regulatory.
International students applying to US colleges and universities may find out if a course or university is accredited by visiting the database of accredited programmes and institutions published by the US Department of Education at https://ope.ed.gov/dapip/#/home or the Department of Homeland Security at https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/school-search. In next week’s column, we will continue the discussion on accreditations and talk about programmatic or professional accreditations. — Monika Setia (Regional Officer and EducationUSA Adviser at the United States-India Educational Foundation based at the US Consulate General Hyderabad.
(Please visit https://educationusa.state.gov/centers/educationusa-usief-hyderabad for more information)
Q. What are the different types of student visas available to study in the United States? — Pragnya
A. All international students must begin their studies in the United States on a student visa. Most non-US citizens who wish to study in the United States will seek an F-1 (non-immigrant) student visa, but there are other visa types that are sometimes authorised for those who study in the United States. Here is a short description of the different visa types that involve study:
• F-1, or Student Visa: This visa is the most common for those who wish to engage in academic studies in the United States. It is for people who want to study at an accredited US college or university or to study English at a university or intensive English language institute.
• J-1, or Exchange Visitor: This visa is for people who will be participating in an exchange visitor programme in the United States. The “J” visa is for educational and cultural exchange programmes.
• M-1, or Student Visa: This visa is for those who will be engaged in non-academic or vocational study or training at an institution in the United States. The US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs is your official source on Student Visas. Read more here – https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/study/student-
Q. Please elaborate on how should one prepare transcripts for undergraduate applications to US universities? — Akhil
A. Academic records are generally referred to as transcripts in the US higher education system. For an undergraduate applicant, the admissions offices at US institutions review the academic record of a student for the last four years, i.e. records from 9th through 12th standard. If the student is currently in 12th, then the records up to 11th standard are to be submitted at the time of the application along with possible mid-year grades or the predicted scores for 12th standard. US universities require academic documents or transcripts in a particular fashion. Very importantly, the transcript has to be officially issued by the school or the board of education under which the student pursued his/her schooling. Photocopies of mark sheets or report cards are not acceptable. Additionally, the transcript should list all subjects/courses that the student has taken in each year of their education, with corresponding marks/grades received on each subject. All academic records have to be in the English language and should carry the seal or stamp of the school/education board to be considered official. Generally, getting one set of these transcripts (one for each level of class, i.e. 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th) should suffice. At the time of application, school counselors scan/photocopy mark sheets and upload them on the application portal. For the final admission, original mark sheets are verified against transcripts by the admitting US institution.