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The American School System

1.1. General Information

The American education system is unlike that in many other countries. Education is primarily the
responsibility of state and local government, and so there is little standardization in the curriculum,
for example. The individual states have great control over what is taught in their schools and over
the requirements that a student must meet, and they are also responsible for the funding of
schooling. Therefore, there is huge variation regarding courses, subjects, and other activities – it
always depends on where the school is located. Still, there are some common points, as e.g. the
division of the education system into three levels: elementary/primary education, secondary
education, and postsecondary/higher education (college or university).

Map of the U.S. Education System

Formal schooling lasts 12 years, until around age 18. Compulsory schooling, though, ends by age
16 in most states; the remaining states require students to attend school until they are 17 or 18. All
children in the United States have access to free public schools. Private schools (religious and non-
sectarian) are available, but students must pay tuition to attend them.

In the following description of the U.S. education structure, we will focus only on the first two
levels: primary and secondary schools.

1.2. Structure

U.S. educators frequently use the terms K-12 education, and sometimes PK-12 education, to refer to
all primary and secondary education from pre-school prior to the first year or grade through
secondary graduation. One of the following three patterns usually prevails in the community:
Elementary school (K-5), middle school (6-8), high school (9-12);
Elementary school (K-6), junior high school (7-9), senior high school (9-12); or
Elementary school (K-8), high school (9-12).
Ø The majority of U.S. children begin their educations prior to entering regular school. Parents
who send their children to pre-schools/nursery schools (age 2-4) and kindergartens (age 5-6) have to
finance these institutions privately. Children learn the alphabet, colors, and other elementary basics.

Ø U.S. children enter formal schooling around age 6. The first pattern (see above) is the most
common one. Elementary students are typically in one classroom with the same teacher most of the
day.

Ø After elementary school, students proceed to middle school, where they usually move from
class to class each period, with a new teacher and a new mixture of students in every class. Students
can select from a wide range of academic classes and elective classes.

Ø In high school, students in their first year are called freshman, in their second year sophomore,
in their third year junior, and in their last and fourth year senior.
There is an even greater variety of subjects than before. Students must earn a certain number
of credits (which they get for a successfully completed course) in order to graduate and be awarded
with a High School Diploma – there is no final examination like in many other countries.

Franklin High School graduation


ceremony (http://tennessean.com/slideshows/2003/wam/graduations/franklin/7.shtml)

The number and combination of classes necessary depend on the school district and on the kind of
diploma desired.

Only with a high school diploma students can enroll in postsecondary education. It is important to
know that colleges and universities sometimes require certain high school credits or tests (e.g. SAT)
for admission, and students must plan their high school career with those requirements in mind.

http://www.rzuser.uni-heidelberg.de

Types of US Institutions of Higher Education

Liberal Arts Colleges


A liberal arts college is one with a primary emphasis on undergraduate study in the Liberal Arts and
Sciences.
Students in the liberal arts generally concentrate their studies in a particular field of study, while
receiving exposure to a wide range of academic subjects, from the sciences to humanities subjects.
Encyclopaedia Britannica defines liberal arts as a “university curriculum aimed at imparting general
knowledge and developing general intellectual capacities, in contrast to a professional, vocational,
or technical curriculum.” Liberal arts institutions can be either private or public.

Private Universities
Private universities are universities not operated by governments, although many receive public
monies, especially in the form of favorable tax considerations and governmental student loans and
grants. They receive private funding through alumni donations, faculty research grants, and tuition
fees. American students enjoy private institutions for their technological resources, research
facilities, and small class sizes. Private universities are able to attract and retain teaching staff well-
known in their academic fields. The teaching experience is enriched by the staff’s varying
experiences outside of the classroom. Unusual and innovative academic programs may be found on
private university campuses. Some of the most competitive and selective institutions of higher
education in the United States are private. For example, U.S. News & World Report ranks the top
ten universities in the United States for 2012 (in numeric order) as: Harvard University, Princeton
University, Yale University, Columbia University, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, Stanford University, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania and
Duke University.

Public Universities
A public institution, often referred to as a state university, is one that receives funding from the state
and/or federal government, although tuition revenue and private funding also contribute to its
financial stability. These institutions may follow state-wide admission requirements, or have their
own individual requirements. Faculty research grants typically are important to state university
teaching staff and bring numerous practical research opportunities to you. These public universities
often have large departments which offer numerous degree options. Public or state universities
generally are less costly than private institutions, but still offer outstanding learning opportunities.

http://www.universityguideonline.org