Education System in the U.S.

Category: Study Destinations
Posted on September 28, 2019

The U.S. has the most diversified education system in the world. It has public and private schools at all levels thriving along with each other. The education system focuses on developing student’s individuality and their skills. Separate state governments regulate the education system in the U.S. The education system is also called K-12, i.e., kindergarten to twelfth grade. 

There is no federal education system in the U.S., where education is the responsibility of individual states and districts. The education standards and requirements vary significantly from state to country state and region to region. There are no tuition fees in public (state) primary and secondary schools, which are attended by around 90% of children. The other 10 % attend private fee-paying schools, most of which are church-sponsored schools. 

The entire education system in the U.S. has levels:

  1. Pre- Schools
  2. Elementary
  3. Middle Schools
  4. High School
  5. Higher Education

Let’s discuss these levels in detail now.

Pre- Schools (3- 5 years)

The preschools deal with all formal and informal education before starting compulsory education. Here children are encouraged to learn through games and socializing. The curriculum focuses on the social, physical, emotional, and cognitive development of the child. There are various types of preschools, such as non-profit co-operative schools, church-affiliated schools, local community schools, private schools, and Montessori schools. There are different categories of pre Schools

  • Play Schools
  • Nursery

Elementary/ Primary Schools (5-11 years)

The compulsory education starts from 5 or 6 years of age and may go up to 18. It may vary between the states. It 

· Kindergarten (5- 6 years)

The Kindergarten is compulsory in the U.S. and lasts for a year. Public kindergartens are free of charge. At this level, students learn how to read, write, and math through scheduled lessons.

Primary Schools (6 – 13 years)

It ranges from the 1st grade to 5th grade. The primary school curriculum includes subjects like:

  • Math (basics)
  • English Language (reading and writing)
  • History
  • Geography
  • Science
  • Music
  • Arts and crafts
  • Physical Education
  • Foreign language 

Middle Schools/ Junior High Schools (12- 14 years)

Around the age of twelve, students graduate from elementary schools and enter middle school, which lasts for two or three years. It ranges from 5th grade to 8th grade. A curriculum in middle school includes subjects such as:

  • English (reading and writing skills)
  • Math (algebra and geometry)
  • Social studies ( The U.S. history and geography)
  • Science (life and earth)
  • Foreign language (French/Spanish/Latin)
  • Computer Science
  • Arts and crafts 
  • Music (instrumental, choir, or band)
  • Physical education and sports

High Schools/ Secondary Schools (14- 18 years)

It covers from 9th grade to 12th grade. High school curriculum usually comprises of core and elective subjects. To graduate high school, a student needs to have a certain number of credits (each subject per semester stands for a credit). Each state has its rules and regulations regarding the number of credits required. The core subject in high school includes:

  • English (comprising of literature, creative writing, journalism, etc.)
  • Mathematics (algebra, geometry, calculus, etc.)
  • Science (biology, chemistry, astronomy, etc.)
  • Social Studies (politics, sociology, law, etc.)
  • Art (music, theatre, dance, etc.)

The students decide their elective subjects, based on the career path they plan to take up in the future. One has to take a graduation/ exit exam at the end to get the high school diploma. These are no fixed standard for the tests. As a result, they vary from state to state. 

Higher Educations

The Grade Point Average (GPA) of a student is essential for entering universities. Some higher education institutions also ask their students to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or American College Test (ACT). Both tests comprise of multiple-choice questions and a writing task. These tests are generally considered much more natural than high school graduation tests in Europe or Asia. 

There are different levels of higher education in the U.S.

  • Level One/ Undergraduate pursuing bachelor’s

It is a four years program. One can either begin studies at a community college or a four-year university or college. In the first two years, students study a wide variety of different subjects, known as prerequisite courses. The subjects included are literature, science, the social sciences, the arts, history, etc. It gives an idea about the variety of topics before specializing in a specific field of study.

  • Level two/ Graduates pursuing Masters

Masters degree is compulsory for higher-level positions in library science, engineering, behavioral health, and education. It takes one to two years to complete this level. In this level, a student must prepare a long research paper called a master’s thesis or complete a master’s project.

  • Level Three/ Doctorate

It takes three years or more to earn a Ph.D. degree. In the first two years of the program, most candidates enroll in classes and seminars. The other year is spent conducting first-hand research and writing a thesis or dissertation. This paper must contain views, designs, or analysis that is not published previously.

Some of the prestigious Universities in the country are:

· Brown University (Providence, RI)

· Columbia University (New York, NY)

· Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)

· Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH)

· Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)

· Princeton University (Princeton, NJ)

· University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)

· Yale University (New Haven, CT)

School Hours and Breaks

School hours depend on the regulations of each school. Mostly the school hour’s starts between 7:00 and 9:00 and end around 14:00 or 16:00. The length of a school day varies from grade to grade. Kindergartens often offer both half (three hours) and full-day options (six hours). The students in elementary school spend about 6.5 hours at school each day, while middle and high school students spend around 7-7.5 hours.

The school year in the U.S. starts in late August and lasts until May (Southern states) or Early September till June (Northern states).  

There are three main breaks of the school year are:

  • Spring breaks from late March or early April for a week
  • Summer breaks from late May/ June to late August/ early September for about three months.
  • Winter breaks from late December/ early January for about two weeks.

There is a break of about one month for the higher education students from mid-December to mid-January.

Grading System

For elementary to high school students, the public-school uses both alphabetical (A to F) and numerical (from 0 to 100) grading systems in the U.S. In high school, the Grade Point Average (GPA) is introduced to students. It ranks their performance from 0 to 4. Higher education institutions mostly use GPA as of their primary grading system.

A 100-90% 4.0 Excellent

B 89-80% 3.0 Good

C 79-70% 2.0 Average

D 69-60% 1.0 Pass

F 59%> 0 Fail

Please Note: Each school has its grade calculation method.

School Fee

Public schools in the U.S. are mainly funded through taxes and is free. However, there is an additional cost for things like uniforms, transport, and school materials. In private schools, the fee varies depending on the curriculum offered and the location. The national average is around USD 10,000 a year, but some state average costs are over USD 20,000 a year.

The U.S. is the number one and largest destination for international students seeking higher education overseas. It is renowned globally for its quality education.

I hope this was informative enough and will guide you to opt for the better opportunities available in the country.

All the best


Saumya Gusain
Saumya Gusain

A history student with postgraduate in archaeology and heritage management, gave me a good experience in field of research and writing. Avid reader, loves to explore new places. Baking cakes and breads are my hobby. Mother of four year old who takes most of my time..

Rishank Motewal
October 04, 2019 - 10:31am
Rishank Motewal October 04, 2019 - 10:31am

Thank you so much for sharing this useful information.

Sid Ayyar
October 02, 2019 - 13:17pm
Sid Ayyar October 02, 2019 - 13:17pm

Very informative blog.

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