In order to understand how higher education works in the rest of the world, it can be helpful to first take a close look at how the U.S. system works. Here, as you know, there are a variety of postsecondary institutions. Community colleges and vocational schools typically offer programs of two years or less. Students attending these institutions, generally speaking, are interested in skills-based training for specific professions. Programs at the schools may result in associate's degrees, certificates or other award designations.
Colleges, universities and other institutions offering four-year degrees provide education programs that are often perceived to be more academically rigorous. Studies tend to be more general and theory-based than technical or vocational programs. Students completing four years of study typically graduate with a bachelor's degree. They may then go on to two or more years of graduate school to acquire professional training or more subject expertise via master's programs. Significantly fewer students complete post-graduate studies to earn a doctor of philosophy, or Ph.D.
There are notable differences between postsecondary education in the United Kingdom and the United States - starting with terminology. For example, postsecondary education in the U.K. is often called tertiary education. But the differences don't end there.
Students who want to pursue higher education in the U.K. typically complete A-levels, or Advanced Levels, during the years they are ages 16-18. Performance in these 'further education' programs, which can be taken in secondary schools or community colleges, is an important factor in acceptance into British universities. Those not entering universities typically enter the workforce, utilizing skills they have gained in A-Levels.
In another variation from U.S. schools, students can complete bachelor's programs in three years (rather than four). Additionally, most master's studies are often completed in a single year, rather than the two years typically required by U.S. schools. A research master's degree may take two years in the U.K. while a doctoral degree is often completed in three years. Courses in medicine, law and other professional studies are typically completed in five years.
Rio de Janeiro
Although located in another hemisphere, the system of higher education in Brazil is actually quite similar to that found in the United States. Programs are offered at community colleges, vocational schools, colleges and universities with most students beginning postsecondary studies at age 18. Placement into education programs can be very competitive and is based on performance on a national exam.
Like U.S. universities, Brazilian institutions offer studies in the liberal arts, performing arts and sciences. Degree programs of two to four years in technology are also available. These programs may offer more of a professional education in areas that include engineering, management and IT. Acceptance into graduate programs across disciplines is determined by undergraduate performance and objectives.
In addition to four-year bachelor's programs, Brazilian universities offer professional studies in law, psychology, engineering and other disciplines that go on for five years. Physicians must complete education programs of six years, though unlike in the U.S., residencies are optional.
Regardless of the country in which you plan to attend college, it's important to do your research in selecting a school. Competitiveness, costs and quality can vary quite a lot between institutions. If you are transferring to another school, particularly if it's out of the country, be cognizant of how completed credits will be recognized by your new institution. Despite similarities to American schools, many institutions in other countries won't have a standard equation for providing equivalency credit.