People need many things in their lives. Food, clothing, and housing are the three primary needs.
However, as time goes by and information and technology have developed rapidly, people realize that besides those things, what they really need is education. Likewise, to cope with this IT era, it is imperative that they get not only primary and secondary education but also higher education. As a result, universities are being an important part of people’s lives. In
Indonesia, more students enroll universities and most jobs now require at least an S1 graduate. Facts show that qualified university graduates give a great contribution to their family, society, and their country. Nevertheless, that kind of outcome is not easily produced with only the feeling of need and the willingness of education. They should be accompanied by a good system and capable human resources.
That is why, in most countries, including Indonesia, the governments and the communities pay much attention on the aspect of education. They try to apply a system, which they think is likely to create competent graduates. Yet, as usual, the practice is not so easy. Every system in every country has weaknesses and there is certainly a need to learn from each other. Higher education in Indonesia, for example, lacks in the facilities and personnels’ quality. To cover or to reduce the weaknesses, it is necessary that the Indonesian government, educational communities, and the students themselves learn from other countries which have better system. And it’s not only the system but also other things more related to culture, especially the students’ attitude and the relationship between teachers and students and among the students. The latter two subjects will be useful to broaden knowledge, to learn the ropes abroad, as well as to get adapted more easily with foreign people. This goes particularly to the Indonesians who want to study or work overseas in the field of education.
This paper will try to deal with the three points mentioned above in a form of comparison. Some limitations are made by the writer. First, the educational system compared to Indonesian’s will be the United States’. Why? Because the U.S. is a super power country of which higher education is very much developing and many of the Indonesian students, who study abroad, choose it as their destination country. Second, the educational level to be briefly analyzed is undergraduate education. This is due to the writer’s limited time and energy
and also because the writer’s background knowledge concerns mostly with that level. The objective of this paper is to describe the similarities and differences of the Indonesian and the U.S. undergraduate education, so that the readers can broaden their cross cultural understanding and can make use of it at least for themselves and hopefully, for the others.
In America, there are three conditions for an institution to be called a university. First, it offers graduate degrees, at least an M.A. or M. Sc., but probably the Ph. D. Second, its faculty (teaching members of the staff) are expected to do research and to publish. Third, it has more than one undergraduate program. In Indonesia, a university is an institution headed by a rector and has at least three faculties.
An undergraduate program in America is a two-year associate program or a four or five year bachelor’s degree program. It leads to an Associate degree or a bachelor’s degree, that is B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) and B. Sc. (Bachelor of Science). Undergraduate students in Indonesia receive a degree called “Sarjana” (S1). It now requires a minimum of four years of study in most disciplines although the period taken to complete the requirements is generally longer than this. S1 degrees in medicine, pharmacy, dentistry and veterinary science all require a minimum of four-and-a-half years of full-time study followed by a one-year internship or other practical training. There are many terms for the degrees awarded, such as the Sarjana in agriculture (Sarjana Pertanian, S.P), arts and letters (Sarjana Sastra, S.S), engineering (Sarjana Teknik, S.T), law, (Sarjana Hukum, abbreviated as S.H), mathematics and natural sciences (Sarjana Matematika dan Ilmu Pengetahuan Alam, S.Si), and psychology (Sarjana Psikologi, S.Psi). Nevertheless, Sarjana in Education receive the same degree (Sarjana Pendidikan, S. Pd.) although their majors are different.

A student’s enrollment to an undergraduate program in America is based on a combination of students' high school grade point average, letters of recommendation, and college entrance examination scores. There are some tests which are required by most colleges and universities for admission, that is ACT (American College Testing Program Assessment) and SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) which tests both verbal and mathematical abilities with the range of scores from 200 up to 800. The criteria will be stricter in the elite universities like Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. However, there are also some community colleges which set a very low standard of admission that any high school graduates who can pay a small fee can enroll to them. Placed in the middle are many universities, which are neither elite nor poor, such as Michigan State University and Ohio State University.
In Indonesia, since 1989 until now, state university students are taken from those who pass the Ujian Masuk Perguruan Tinggi Negeri (UMPTN) or Entrance Examination for State Higher Education Institutions, which is coordinated through three regional divisions governing entry to state universities. There are also entries from PMDK or others with similar system but different names. There is a wide variation between universities in the score required for admission, with the smaller, newer regional universities accepting students with less than half the score required by the older and more prestigious universities. Enrollment to private universities is dependent on each institution’s policy, through a test or not.
Unlike in America where students can apply to many state universities without having to determine their major, Indonesian students are allowed to choose only three state universities in the UMPTN together with the departments they want to enroll. They are also required to rank their choices according to their priority and the universities’ prestige.
American undergraduate colleges, as well as Indonesian, are headed by deans who are helped by Department Heads. Yet, the deans in Indonesia have also three assistant deans. Below them is the faculty, a term with different meaning in the two countries. In America, it means people who teach at the university, the professors or teachers. In Indonesia, however, it is used as the tem for an administrative unit responsible for instruction in one branch of learning, such as Faculty of Letters and Faculty of Economy.
The university teachers in America have various titles. Some of them are professor, the permanent teachers; instructor, a beginning temporary, or part-time teacher; adjunct faculty, member of one department brought into another department to teach a needed course; graduate assistants, the universities’ graduate students who’re paid for teaching and research activity for a number of hours a week; teaching assistants (TA), simultaneously classroom students, teachers, and scholars-in-training; and so on. Some of them like the professor, adjunct faculty, and TA can often be found in Indonesian universities, yet the titles generally just vary between “Dosen” (Lecturer) and Lecturer Assistant. In America itself, lecturer is an uncommon rank.
American universities apply a tenure system, a system to determine whether a young faculty member would be given a permanent membership in the university’s faculty. It is based on the teaching performance, publications, and six or seven years in service. The fulfillment of the criteria would lead the young member to be an associate professor. He will need five years more and further publication to be awarded a rank of

The support for U.S. higher education has assumed the following proportions: 50 % private sources: endowment (large gifts of money/ land/ commodities), alumni and corporate giving, grants, auxiliary services (lodgings, bookstores, parking lots, athletic events); 30 % state and local support; 20 % federal funds. At publicly supported universities, state residents pay a relatively low tuition whereas non-residents including foreign students pay considerably more. Private universities take more tuition. Additionally, students have to pay fees for many kinds of special services, such as admission fees, late registration fees, and gymnasium fees.
In Indonesia, public universities are primarily funded from the Government's routine and development budgets. Fees and other student contributions have traditionally been a smaller proportion of the total budget in state institutions of higher education than at secondary level. In recent years, universities have been given more autonomy in this respect, and the level of fees has risen. Private universities are heavily dependent on tuition fees and other student contributions, such as examination fees and contributions to building funds. At state universities, there’s no different tuition for residents and non-residents, except perhaps, for foreign students.

To help students to deal with academic problems and to complete their studies satisfactorily, both American and Indonesian universities provide their students with some services and facilities. Academic advising is the very common service students get which assist them in planning an educational program, with emphasis on meeting requirements for degree completion. About facilities, the most common ones are the library and laboratory. Different with American libraries, the Indonesian libraries provide a high proportion of foreign language books. A number of American universities have museum, theater, publisher’s press, gymnasium, buildings for athletic events, bookstores, and dormitories. At large state universities, there is usually an agricultural operation – a cornfield or pens for farm animals. A very big American university might also have its own bus system. Those facilities are not easily found in Indonesian universities, except in small number of big and prestigious universities.
The duration of academic year in America is usually nine months, which is divided into either two terms (semesters), three terms (trimesters), or four terms (quarters). Schools on semesters and trimesters usually offer optional summer terms for students who want to complete their programs more quickly. In Indonesia, the academic year usually consists of semesters except for very few special programs. There is also a term called “Semester Pendek” or short term that is used to earn more credits or improve grades.
Similar with Indonesia, each term of the semesters in America take 15-16 weeks time, the first begins in early September and ends in December, whereas the second is from January to May. The difference is just that Americans call them fall and spring semesters and Indonesians use the term odd and even semesters. The summer term in America and the short term in Indonesia both are usually done from June to August.


The university curricula in America are arranged in a way that can satisfy the needs of the states where it is located. Almost every course learns things related with the actual condition in America. The curricula give students increasing choice in course selection. The courses might worth 1, 2, or 3 credits depending on the particular course, the time spent in class, or the difficulty of the subject. One credit hour is duration of 50 minutes. Besides the required courses, there are also elective courses, courses chosen by the students for personal interest. The system is not really different with Indonesia since it also takes the U.S. model although it’s not standardized for all universities. Nevertheless, as one of the three purposes of universities in Indonesia is social service (the other two are education and research), some institutions require students to fulfil a community service requirement during their third and fourth years, generally as part of projects to aid village development.


The term major in America and Indonesia refers to the subject in which the students specialize and, usually, the area in which they plan their careers. At most universities in Indonesia, students have chosen their major before they enroll to the universities and begin the study of the subject from the beginning of their university studies, although a small number of specialized institutions (such as the Bogor Institute of Technology) have a common first year taken by most students.

On the other hand, in the U.S., most students have not determined their major and most state universities require their students to take classes in a range of fields in the first two years of their studies. The students are also expected to acquire knowledge in the prerequisites of a future major field of study. In this time, they are exploring what subjects they like and don't like, what subjects they are good at and vice versa. They are permitted to enter a major in their third year at the university. They may select their major from a huge number of different programs. Under university rules, they may repeatedly change their ideas about which particular field they wish to pursue.

Unlike Indonesian, the American students have the term minor to call the subjects they study at less concentrated level in order to round out an education. But in Indonesia, there are basic courses, such as the Educational courses which are required to take by students who want to become teachers. Still, there is another similarity between America and Indonesia is the General Education. It is courses which are compulsory for all students. Some examples in Indonesia would be the courses of religion, national history and Pancasila, and the Indonesian national deology.


Most school/collegesin America use the following grading system:

A = Excelent

B = Above average

C = Average

D = passing but bellow average

F = Failure - no credit

The grades have equivalent numeric values used in computing the grade point average (GPA): A (4.0); A- (3.7); B+ (3.3); B- (2.7), C+ (2.3); C (2.0); C- (1.7); D+ (1.3); D (1.0); D- (0.7); F (no quality points). The cumulative average (cum) is calculated by adding the numeric values of each grade and dividing by the number of courses taken.

Not really different, Indonesia also uses the letter grading system:

A = Excellent

B = Good

C = Fair

D = Inadequate

E = Fail

The scale is from 0 to 4, where students have to repeat taking the subjects in which they get D or E. The repetition, however, has no influence on the students’ transcript except that the student needs longer time to finish his study. The Grade Point Average (GPA) is calculated based on a student's overall academic performance during a program. To calculate the overall GPA, the grade obtained in each course (between 0 and 4) is multiplied by the number of credit hours allocated to the course; these numbers are added together and then divided by the total number of credit hours required for the degree.

Unlike in Indonesia, there is a grade called an incomplete (IN) in America that is given by a professor to a student who can complete the course requirements or does not attend the final exam for a justifiable reason. Generally, an "IN" which is not removed in the first eight weeks of the following semester becomes an "F". There is also an opportunity to the American students to choose the Pass/Fail or credit/unsatisfactory option for some courses to avoid a fall in their GPA. Credit is awarded for a passing grade or denied for a failing grade.

J. Graduation

In Indonesia, under the credit system, a minimum of between 144 and 160 credits point must be gained over a minimum of four years of full-time study for the completion of the first degree, the Sarjana (S1). In the medical profession, such as medecine, dentistry and veterinary medecine, where a minimum of four-and-a-half years of full-timestudy is required, the number of credit points needed is between 150 and 160, with a further36 to 40 allocated for completion of the intership orother practical training. In America, the general requirement to be awarded a bechelor degree would be 120 semester credit. The minimum GPA would be 2.0.

The students' transcript in America include everything by which Americans measure students' academic performance and ability: all courses and grades, award and honors, and cooperative work experiences.In Indonesia,it generally states only the courses and grades, and the cumulative GPA.

Thera are two types of Sarjana (S1) in Indonesia, either those who write a thesis (skripsi) or those who do not. The student form the second kind are ussually required to sit for a comprehensive examination. On the contrary, the American undergraduate students are not required to write thesis, take comprehensive exams, or to answer hard questions from a committee. The graduates in America and Indonesia hold a bachelor degree with different titles as it's been mentioned in point (a).