American educational institutions and study programmes

Below, we explain what types of educational institutions and study programmes there are in the US. We also explain how we check whether these are accredited. We check the to make sure that the quality is sufficient. We give the necessary information per educational sector.

Secondary education | high schools

Students can take secondary education at a high school. There are both public and private schools. There are also other ways to follow secondary education: via homeschooling, online schools or a high school outside the US.


Homeschooling entails that the parents or another designated adult educate students at home. While homeschooling is legal in the United States, the regulations vary significantly from one state to another. For example, less than half of states require homeschooled children to undergo any form of evaluation or examination. Parents often use a pre-defined curriculum, or they create part or all of their own curriculum, e.g. faith based learning. The parents produce and sign the final diploma and associated list of grades themselves.

Please note: since the quality of the education received by homeschooled students is not guaranteed by a specific body, we cannot assess the level achieved by these students.

Online schools

Although there are many similarities between online schools and homeschooling, there are also differences. The main difference is that online schools have teachers who manage students’ education remotely (online). This management takes place within a structured curriculum, which is developed by the online school (also known as a virtual school). Parents can play the role of supervisor alongside the online teachers. In the case of public online schools, the curriculum is not based on religious principles. Public online schools use the standardised tests. Students can only be awarded the diploma from a public online school if they meet the graduation requirements set by the state.

We can assess the High School Diploma of an online school if the school has been regionally accredited in the US (see below). In order to estimate the level that the pupil has reached with reasonable accuracy, we use SAT or ACT scores.

High school outside the US

A fair number of students who apply for Dutch universities of applied sciences and research universities have obtained a High School Diploma from an international school abroad (having completed an American curriculum). These programmes largely correspond to an American high school programme. Where a diploma is obtained abroad, paying careful attention to accreditation is particularly important.

Checking the accreditation of high schools

High schools need to be accredited. In the case of high schools in the US, it is important to be certain that they:

  • have been regionally accredited by 1 of the commissions; or
  • have been recognised (accredited) by the state.

Regional accreditation

The 7 regional accrediting bodies have a separate commission, which monitors the quality of secondary education. In the case of American secondary schools outside the US in particular, it is important to check whether the school has been regionally accredited in the US. See ‘High school outside the US’ below.

The commissions for the accreditation of secondary education are as follows:

Accreditation by the state

The State Boards of Education are responsible for accreditation by the state. Terms for this accreditation include state-approved, ‘state-recognized’ or state-accredited. A state’s State Board of Education can be found through ‘State Profiles’ on the State Board Insight website of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE).

Please note:

  • Public schools are accredited by a regional accrediting body and/or by the state.
  • American schools abroad are often, but not always, regionally accredited. If they are not regionally accredited, schools may be accredited by other organisations such as:

Other forms of accreditation

Other bodies are also involved in the accreditation of high schools. It is often unclear whether their work is monitored. In the case of private schools in particular, other (non-regional) bodies are responsible for accreditation.

Secondary education | subjects and exams

In case of a High School Diploma, it is import to check the subjects the student took. Below, we describe the Advanced Placement (AP), the college preparatory program, honors subjects, ACTs and SATs.

Advanced Placement (AP)

Advanced Placement (AP) is a College Board programme that offers college-level courses to high school students. The AP programme gives students the opportunity to obtain college credits early and sometimes enables them to enter an undergraduate programme at a college at a higher level.

AP subjects:

  • are the only secondary education subjects with an external examination (developed and administered by bodies outside of the school), so the examinations are more like European secondary school examinations;
  • can be taken by students even if they do not sit the examination;
  • have examination grades from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest).

See also the College Board’s overview of AP Courses and Exams.

College preparatory program

A ‘college preparatory program’ means that students:

  • have studied mathematics, science and social science for a minimum of 3 years (have obtained 3 credits) and English for 4 years (4 credits).

Please note: if students want to study science, social science or mathematics at the higher education level, they should ideally have studied this subject for 4 years (i.e. have obtained 4 credits);

  • have studied a foreign language and an arts subject (1 credit per subject);
  • have taken an elective in a field of study for which they have already obtained the mandatory number of credits (for graduation).

Honors subjects

Honors subjects are subjects at a higher level than the core subjects of the high school; more material is offered at a faster pace. Especially for students who can handle more challenges. The more ‘honors’ subjects the student takes, the greater the chance of admission to a selective institution. ‘Honors’ subjects are often seen as less challenging (‘academically rigorous’) than AP subjects.


A standardised college readiness test, which measures aptitude for mathematics and English language skills (and science and history).


Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), a standardised admission test for colleges and universities in the US. Read more about SAT on the CollegeBoard website.

Higher education| educational institutions

The US has over 4,000 higher education institutions. These institutions are either public or private. The fact that an institution is public or private is no indication of the quality or level of the institution.

Colleges and universities

The terms college and university are used interchangeably. The quality of education at a college or university can be both good and not as good.

In this description, college is taken to mean a four-year college. Four-year colleges offer 4-year undergraduate programmes (bachelor’s programmes), whereas junior colleges or community colleges generally offer 2-year undergraduate programmes (associate degree programmes) only.

Although there are many exceptions, the main differences are generally as follows:

  • A university offers both undergraduate programmes (‘associate and bachelor’s programs’) and graduate programmes (‘master’s and doctoral programs’).
  • A college mainly offers undergraduate programmes.

Junior colleges and community colleges

A junior college is an institution that offers 2-year undergraduate programmes. Community colleges are mainly public junior colleges which offer 2-year associate degree programmes and various certificate programmes.

Students who plan to continue in the 3rd year of a bachelor’s programme (undergraduate programme) must complete a so-called ‘transfer program’ offered by community colleges.

Accreditation of higher education institutions

It is important that all institutions are accredited. There are regional accrediting organisations and national accrediting organisations. In the US, however, students who have studied at a non-regionally accredited institution are often not eligible for exemptions or for admission to (further) studies at a regionally accredited institution.

The main aim of the accreditation of institutions – regional (institutional) accreditation – is to establish the extent to which an institution is capable of fulfilling its mission. Where necessary, the institution will be given suggestions for improvement.

Regional accrediting organisations

In the United States, there are 7 regional accrediting organisations which accredit higher education institutions:

There are 2 organisations which recognise these regional accrediting bodies and supervise their work:

National accrediting organisations

As well as the 7 regional accrediting organisations, there are a number of other bodies recognised by CHEA or ED which accredit institutions. These are known as national (institutional) accrediting bodies. They are often responsible for accrediting institutions that primarily offer single-purpose education (education in a specific sector, such as art or business), or faith-based programmes.

In the US, however, students who have studied at a non-regionally accredited institution are often not eligible for exemptions or for admission to (further) studies at a regionally accredited institution.

Checking the accreditation of higher education institutions

You can check if a higher education institution is accredited by 1 of the 7 regional accrediting organisation as follows:

  • Go to the CHEA website.
  • At 'Institution', enter the name of the educational institution.
  • Below 'Accreditor Type', click on 'All Types' and then choose 'Regional Accrediting Organizations'.
  • Click on 'Search'.
  • You now get an overview of search results.
    • Is the educational institution listed in the search results? In that case, the educational institution is accredited by 1 of the 7 regional accrediting organisations. Now go to Higher education | study programmes.
    • Is the educational institution not listed in the search results? In that case, the educational institution is not accredited by 1 of the 7 regional accrediting organisations.

Higher education | study programmes

Besides organisations that accredit institutions, there are also organisations that accredited study programmes in certain fields in the US. This recognition is known as professional accreditation, or programmatic accreditation or ‘specialized accreditation’. Among other things, it includes programmes in business, engineering and medical/paramedical sciences.

Programmatic accreditation or ‘specialized accreditation’ is important for professions in the US where this type of accreditation is required, such as engineers, architects and medical/paramedical professions. This accreditation is also important for practising these types of professions in the Netherlands.

Checking the accreditation of study programmes

  • First check if the educational institution is accredited by 1 of the 7 regional accrediting organisations. At 'Checking the accredition of higher education institutions (above), we explain how you can check this.
  • In the search results, click on the name of the educational institution.
  • Under 'Accredited Programs', check if the study programme is listed and check which organisation is mentioned after 'Accredited by'.
  • Check if this organisation is mentioned under 'programmic accrediting organizations' in the CHEA table of recognised accrediting organisations. Please note: in the organisation's row, there needs to be a dot in the CHEA Recognition Status column.
    • If this is the case, the study programme is accredited.
    • Is this not the case? Then the study programme may not be accredited.