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Family, Children & Education

Schools in the US

What’s the educational system like in the US? What different schooling options are there for your children? Find out about American primary and secondary education, as well as boarding schools and homeschooling, in this article on schools in the US.

The US School System

Your children will attend US schools at least until the age of 18 when they receive their high school diploma. Within those years from first grade to graduation, the different types of US schools offer various educational systems and divisions into elementary, middle, and high school. What all US schools have in common, however, is that they are essentially designed to prepare their students for higher education. This is especially the case with US boarding schools.

The system of education in the US usually consists of elementary education, followed by middle and high school. There are 12 grades in total, plus most kids have one year of kindergarten before they begin first grade. The school day usually starts in the morning between 7:30am and 9:30am and lasts until 2:30pm or 3:30pm. During lunch break, kids can eat food from the cafeteria or bring their own food.

The number of years kids spend at a specific type of school varies according to local regulations. Sometimes, elementary school includes eight grades and leads directly to the last four years of high school. In other cases, elementary education ends after four or five years, and children then move on to middle school, junior high or a joint junior and senior high school for further education.

Different Schooling Options

US schools differ strongly in terms of quality, learning opportunities, and educational programs. There is no national standard set for US schools, and each US state or even district is free to come up with its own standards. Therefore, you should research US schools thoroughly and collect lots of information about the institutions closest to you. US schools of all levels, from preschool and elementary education to secondary education, exist in the form of both public and private schools.

Attending one of the many US schools is a great way for your children to get in touch with other children their age. However, if you are unhappy with the way American schools handle the education of your children, you also have the option of either sending them to an international school or of homeschooling. Homeschooling is legal everywhere in the United States with varying restrictions, and a great number of parents prefer this alternative.

Preschool and Elementary School (Primary Education)

US primary education includes all preschools your children may attend, such as nursery schools for the younger ones and kindergartens for kids up to six years of age. At the age of six, children begin to attend the first grade and receive some basic education in writing, reading, math, and sciences. Primary education usually lasts until fifth or sixth grade; afterwards, your child will enter middle school or junior high.

Schooling is compulsory for all children in the United States. If you want your child to attend an elementary school in the US, you should find out more about the local schools in your district. Make an appointment to talk to the school’s officials and have a look at the facilities. You may want to bring your children along to see if they feel comfortable in their new environment. Depending on your children’s interests and skills, you should also find out which educational and extracurricular programs are offered. Some schools will offer more learning opportunities and academic challenges for your children than others.

Middle and High School (Secondary Education)

Middle school usually runs from sixth or seventh to eighth or ninth grade (the exact number of years varies by district). The time in middle school or junior high will help your children transition from basic primary education to the more serious, rather specialized classes in literature, history, math, and science offered in high school.

US high schools usually include grades nine to twelve. These years should prepare your children for college admissions and scholarships; therefore courses are offered which provide the opportunity to take the first steps towards specializing in a particular field. High schools vary in quality and rigidity. Talk to members of the high school’s administration to find out what the minimum academic requirements for your children are. In general, students have to attend several courses each in the following subjects:

In addition to this, there is often a special program offering advanced courses for gifted students with more demanding academic standards. At vocational high schools, your children may also attend additional classes with a more practical, technical or professional focus. Private schools often have more funds to offer elective courses and after-school programs, especially in the arts. At the end of grade 12, your children will receive their high school diploma, which will grant them admission to different colleges or universities.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

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