Higher education in the United States, or post-secondary education, begins after a student has completed 12 years of elementary and secondary instruction. After students have received their high school diploma or have passed General Education Development tests (“GED”), they can continue their education by attending four-year colleges, universities, community colleges, professional institutes, and performing and visual arts schools. Post-secondary institutions in the US differ from their overseas counterparts in a number of ways, including grading systems. Perhaps the most notable difference is the enormous diversity of subjects, programs, and college degree levels offered to students in the United States. Some small, four-year colleges cater to undergraduate, liberal arts studies and issue bachelor’s degrees. Big universities teach liberal arts students as well as undergraduates with specialized majors, such as business, science, technology, engineering, math, pre-med, fine arts, and design. They also offer graduate programs and degrees in these and other majors. Big universities may also offer combined bachelor/master degrees, condensing, for example, what might normally be a six or eight-year course of study into five. These types of programs are especially popular with teaching, law, medicine, and business students. Other post-secondary institutions that do not grant bachelor’s degrees include specialized professional institutes and community colleges. Specialized institutes offer training courses in fields as diverse as computer technology, fashion design, cosmetology, physical therapy, business studies, fine art, photography, audio/visual technology, and theater arts. Two-year community colleges offer college level courses in everything from philosophy to pre-med. Often less expensive than four-year colleges and universities, community colleges issue associates’ degrees instead of bachelors’ degrees. An associate’s degree is commonly used as a stepping-stone for transferring academic credit to a four-year college or university.