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March 2015

What You Need To Know About Education In The USA

Published: Thursday 26 March 2015

Pre-school education

Pre-school, also known in some states as pre-Kindergarten, is not compulsory anywhere in the United States. There are a range of options available for parents who wish to send their young children to some form of early learning centre, including tots and toddler programmes, childminders and play schools, while some elementary schools offer nursery schools or nursery programmes. No matter what option you choose, you can almost certainly expect any pre-school you enroll your child at to cost you money – the amount will differ depending on a number of factors. Free pre-school education funding is not widely available in the United States. US pre-school education places an emphasis on individuality, whereby children are frequently permitted to choose from a variety of activities, including drawing/painting, role playing activities, puzzle solving and listening to stories.


Primary and secondary education

The United States school system will be largely governed by the state in which you live. Therefore the age at which your children start and leave school will depend on where you live. Generally, most children must start school when they are either five or six years old, and can legally leave at 16 or 17 (although a few states do insist on mandatory education up to the age of 18). Typically, US schoolchildren attend elementary (primary) school until the age of 10, by which time they have just finished in Grade (Year) 5. The first year or elementary school is known as Kindergarten – this is not pre-school education, which is a common misconception. From elementary school, children move to Middle School – also known as Junior High in some States – between the ages of 11 and 13 (Grades 6-8) and then finish their education in High School. Whilst in High school, your child will work towards receiving their high school diploma (the requirements of which are set by each state). Children receive a certain number of credits for each course completed throughout their time in High School, with a diploma only being awarded once they have achieved the number of credits needed to graduate – this would be at the age 0f 18 in 12th grade. Although there is no national curriculum in the US, the general content of the high school curriculum across the country has many consistencies, and each state will likely set a list of basic required courses for high school graduation. Therefore, should you need to move state halfway through your child’s education, then the likelihood is that the new curriculum will not be all that different from the one they are already used to. Any credits already gained by your child can be carried across to their new school, so their chances of graduating will not be harmed. Should your child wish to leave school once they turn 16 or 17, and therefore choose not to complete their high school diploma, then they can take a standardised test (the General Equivalency Degree) and graduate from compulsory education. The majority of US children (around 85-90 per cent) attend state-funded public schools which provide free education for legal school-age children. Private schools in the US are attended by around 10 per cent of American schoolchildren. These schools are often governed by a private board and subsequently not necessarily subject to regulations on curriculum or teaching qualifications set by the state. Although fait-based schools do exist in some states, these are not as common as they are in many other countries.


Higher education

America is widely regarded as having one of – if not the – best higher education systems in the world. There are over 4,500 degree-granting universities or colleges locate throughout the country, and no fewer than seven of these institutions were ranked inside the top ten world university rankings compiled by the 2014-15 Times Higher Education Supplement, with the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) and Harvard occupying the top two positions. There were 28 US colleges or universities ranked inside the top 50. In order to successfully apply for a college or university your child will almost certainly have had to graduate successfully from high school. Their application will then be judged on a number of factors, which could include test scores (such as the ACT or SAT - Standardised tests usually conducted around the eleventh grade) and report cards throughout their time at school, letters of recommendations from teachers, extracurricular activities and a personal essay. Obviously for ‘Ivy League’ universities such as Harvard or Yale the admission criteria will be much steeper than it would be for a lesser college.