Every country’s school system works a little differently and it can be difficult to understand it without someone explaining it to you.

To this day, we are confused why Kindergarten in the USA is called Kindergarten if it is really the first step in the school system.

There are also different ways the school is split, and each block of grades has its own name (Elementary, Middle School, and so forth).

Another fact we learned is that high school here ends in 12th Grade, which can be different in other countries.

The concern in the American School system is also the question of “Quantity and Quality”. Meaning that children in the American School System oftentimes stay in school all day until the late afternoon.

There are controversial views about this school mentality.

Especially considering that some European countries cut the school time in half and still get college credits in the USA for their High School Diploma.

Either way- opinions on this subject are controversial and both sides have its pros and cons.

Today, we are actually focusing on explaining the American School System to you and giving you a good overview.

It will really help you if you have children or plan to have children in this school system.

OR- if you want to go to school or College here yourself!

Either way, it is always a good idea to know how the system works here 🙂

School System Overview

Please keep in mind that the ages listed can fluctuate by plus/minus 1 year based on the child’s birthday.

Some schools have a slightly different system or allow students with great grades to move up faster and therefore- graduate sooner!

Details on the School System

This is a list of the traditional American School System that you can find in the majority of the US:

1. Preschool

Preschool usually ranges from Age 3-5 and is not mandatory for children to attend. It is usually laid back and allows children to play and interact.

Some preschools offer educational programs to successfully prepare children for Kindergarten/ Elementary school. 

Preschool classes vary in size and focus, depending on the community you live in.

2. Kindergarten/ Elementary School

Kindergarten usually starts at age 5/6 and is a school year-long program.

Interactions are still laid back and flexible (similar to preschool) but usually has a more strict educational component (introducing children to reading, basic math, and more).

After Kindergarten, the Elementary School System continues with 1st Grade until 5th Grade (Age 10/11).

3. Middle School

Middle School continues with 6th Grade and ends at 8th Grade.

Middle School is sometimes referred to as Junior High (since it is close to the High School Level). When children complete 8th Grade, they are usually around 13/14 years old.

4. High School

High Schools continue with 9th Grade and end at 12th Grade (unlike some other countries that may not graduate from High School until 13th Grade).

High School is divided into different levels, depending on what Grade the child is currently in:

  • 9th Grade –> Freshman
  • 10th Grade –> Sophomore
  • 11th Grade –> Junior
  • 12th Grade –> Senior

At the time of graduation, students are usually between 17-18 years old.

The alternative to a High School Diploma is a GED, which is a program usually offered if the child dropped out of school before High School Graduation.

5. College/ Undergraduate School (Associated & Bachelor’s Degree)

A high school diploma or GED is usually required to attend College/Undergraduate school. This level is not a requirement, so the age of students can greatly vary.

Some people attend College right after High School – while some are getting their degree later on in life (for example, after getting some work experience first). 

Undergraduate College is usually 1-4 years long and divided into the following:

  • 1st year –> Freshman.
  • 2nd year –> Sophomore.
  • 3rd year –> Junior.
  • 4th year –> Senior.

The length will depend on the degree you are working on (for example Associated Degree vs. Bachelor’s Degree).

6. College: Graduate School

One requirement to attend Graduate school is to successfully complete Undergraduate School with a Bachelor’s Degree.

Again, this level in the school system is not a requirement, so the age of students can greatly vary.

Students usually obtain a minimum of a Master’s Degree (or higher) once they graduate.

7. Trade School/ Vocational School or Apprenticeship

Occasionally, students start an apprenticeship or trade school after graduating (usually, a High School Diploma/GED are required to attend, depending on the program).

An apprenticeship is a program providing education for a specific profession, but also on the job training (hands-on experience in a work environment).

This approach helps students to practice what they learn.

Trade School/ Vocational schools are usually more focused on medical and technical professions.

These programs are offered by specific Vocational Schools, based on profession and industry. 

Depending on the profession you pick, Trade Schools/Vocational Schools and Apprenticeships can be significantly shorter than Undergraduate School.

Did you learn how the school system works and would like to know how to dive in and get started?

Read more in related articles below!

Evaluating Your Education in the USA

Education in the USA – Overview

American Colleges/Universities