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The Academic Ladder
An increasing number of American children begin their academic life in a pre-school program prior to entering elementary school at ages 5 or 6. Pre-school was aimed at children from disadvantaged homes at first, but now growing numbers of families see the program as a way of giving their children an academic advantage.
American children are required to attend school between ages 6 to 17 or 18. State attendance laws vary. They can meet this requirement by attending public or private schools, or they may be taught at home. Each program is certified by the state, and each is evaluated by student performance on standardized tests. Elementary school covers grades 1 to 6, though some schools refer to grades 4 to 6 as middle school. Junior high school refers to grades 7 to 9, and senior high school to grades 10 to12. These grade divisions can vary. They may be based on educational philosophy or they may be just related to the school facilities available at a particular time and place.
Students go on to higher education after high school according to their interest, the universities assessment of their ability, and their families' ability to finance it. Students with outstanding academic, musical or athletic ability may be awarded scholarships; and students may apply for government or private loans.
Each state supports a small number of 4-year colleges and a larger number of 2-year community colleges. Community colleges may offer diplomas for 2-year occupational curricula, and they also serve as feeders to the 4-year colleges, offering the general education courses that would be required there.
Four-year colleges and universities provide degree programs required for a professional career, certified by a Bachelor's Degree. Degree programs include a general education component required of all students, a major field of study, and a minor — generally a related or supplementary — field of study. Majors in business, for example, may take a minor in international affairs if they're interested in international business.
The Bachelor Degree is the minimal credential needed for entry into a profession. A Bachelor of Science in Education (BSE), for example, is required of everyone entering the teaching profession. Those who seek additional credentials needed for upward mobility in their profession go on to study for degrees in graduate school, any level higher than the 4-year Bachelor's Degree.
A Master's Degree is generally the next degree earned. It focuses on an academic or professional specialty, generally requiring a written thesis covering original research. Requirements vary, but many master's programs require 30 hours of additional course work.
Some universities allow doctoral students to skip the master's degree and pursue advanced studies leading to their doctorate (Ph.D)., A doctorate degree certifies a level of academic competence that allows one full membership and elite status in their chosen profession.

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