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Educación postsecundaria del estudiante
Undergraduate postsecondary education is the U.S. terminology for formal education after graduating from secondary school but prior to advanced study in the research disciplines or professional fields. It corresponds to the initial phases of higher education studies in other education systems.
Undergraduate studies in the United States are generally divided into two phases: a set of distributed course requirements that must be completed involving basic study in several subjects; and a concentrated program of study in one or more subjects.
General Education Requirements
Nearly every U.S. institution requires undergraduate students to undertake and complete course work in what are called the liberal arts, general education, or distribution requirements. In some cases these requirements are set by the institution, while in others the student is permitted to select courses from a variety of possibilities. The purpose of this academic exercise is to ensure that the student has an introductory understanding and basic competencies in some aspect of each broad academic area--the arts, humanities, social and behavioral sciences, physical sciences, languages, and mathematics and philosophy--at the higher education level. Such understanding will prove critical at later stages of American higher education due to the emphasis we place on interdisciplinary research and teamwork. And since this grounding in the academic areas of study is intended to improve the student's ability to understand and use this knowledge in connection with the subject in which they concentrate, it must occur at the level of higher education. Secondary level coverage of the same subjects will not suffice.
The goal of general or liberal education requirements, therefore, is not to repeat or "finish" secondary education. It has quite another purpose.
General education requirements take on average between a year or two years to complete, depending upon the student's level of preparation and the sequential prerequisite courses that must be completed in order to enter more specialized courses.
The Liberal Arts
In American usage, the term "liberal arts" refers to the traditional academic subjects of Western higher education, modified in the 19th century by the addition of the natural and social sciences as distinct fields of study. Therefore, the liberal arts are generally considered to consist of:
- The Humanities, also called the Arts (as distinguished from the fine and performing arts), including such broad disciplinary fields as Languages and Literatures, Classics and Ancient Languages, Philosophy, Religion, History (as a humanistic discipline), the academic study of art and music, and related and interdisciplinary studies;
- The Social Sciences, including such fields as Anthropology, Economics, Geography, History (when treated as a social science), Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, and related and interdisciplinary studies; and
- The Natural Sciences, including disciplines such as Astronomy, Atmospheric Sciences, Biology, Chemistry, Earth Sciences and Geology, Environmental Sciences, Mathematics, Physics, and related and interdisciplinary studies.
The list above is subject to variation and should not be assumed to be uniform across the United States. It is provided as a guide to what is common practice.
Content of Studies
Undergraduate students are required complete a concentrated program of study in one or more subjects. U.S. educators use the term program to refer to what other systems sometimes call a course: a full concentration in a single academic or professional field of study. Students usually select their concentration after enrolling in an institution and completing much or all of the general education requirements, even though many already know what they want to study.
The Major and Minor
Subject concentrations are called majors and minors. Majors are full programs of course work and additional requirements in an academic or professional subject sufficient to prepare the student for either entry-level work or progression to graduate-level studies in that field. Minors are truncated programs, usually including all required courses for a major but few of the electives or research requirements. Every undergraduate student must select, or declare, at least one major. Minors are optional and are usually chosen to augment a major with detailed work in a related subject. (Remember the American emphasis on interdisciplinary study!)
Major concentrations may either be selected from established study programs set by the relevant faculty department or school or designed by the student with the advice of an academic adviser or an interdisciplinary studies committee of faculty. Interdisciplinary or independent studies concentrations are increasingly popular and are universally accepted by American academics. Students are able to change their major study concentration at any time so long as they possess the course prerequisites for entering another field. They may also select more than one major, although this may require extra terms to complete.
Majors and many minors require more than merely the accumulation of lecture credits. Most programs also require independent research or creative projects, and there is a trend toward requiring comprehensive examinations in the major field prior to advancing the student to candidacy for graduation. Some programs also require field experiences or clinical practica.