UNDERSTANDING THE US EDUCATION SYSTEM

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Education in the US is split into various levels, from elementary to PhD.

Below, we've broken down the system and how it works.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

The US elementary school system varies from that of the UK in which students start their primary school education a year later than that of the UK (i.e. students start at 6 years old instead of 5 in the UK) 

Elementary schools end in grade 5, but some elementary schools end in grade 6, depending on different states.

After grade 5 or 6 education, students progress to junior high school/middle school.

HIGH SCHOOL

The US High School System contains several types of schools, including:

 Public/Independent/Private Schools (e.g. Boarding Schools),

 

State Schools (incl. Grammar Schools),

 

Academies

UNIVERSITY

The US has some of the top-ranked universities in the world, including Ivy league schools and some others like UCLA and UCB.

Most undergraduate programs are 4 years in length but unlike the UK and most other countries, students are not allowed to take a Medicine or Law degree at undergraduate level. Instead, students have to take a 4-year undergraduate program before being allowed to enrol in a 4-year medical school program and/or a 3-year law school program.

The US is one of the hottest destinations for pursuing masters programs, which are often 2 years in length (Except certain subjects like Medicine and Law) including a dissertation in the summer semester.

THE HIGH SCHOOL SYSTEM

The US High School System contains several types of schools, including:

 Public/Independent/Private Schools (e.g. Boarding Schools), State Schools (incl. Grammar Schools), Academies

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PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Public Schools are operated by local, state and in some cases, federal government funds

Public Schools must follow the US state and local curriculum guidelines and teachers must have the appropriate licensure to work at a public school, which is usually mandated by state in which they are located. Students attend a public school based on where they live and aren’t required to pay tuition.

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CHARTER SCHOOLS

Like traditional public schools, charter schools do not charge any tuition fees. Schools however, do not have to abide to all curriculum guidelines set out by the US state and local authorities.

However, parents must usually submit a separate application to enroll a child in a charter school, and like private schools, spaces are often limited.

Any company, organization or individual can apply for a charter to open a charter school. If the state grants their charter, the school will receive a certain amount of funding for a limited period of time — typically 3-5 years. 

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BOARDING SCHOOLS

All boarding school students, similar to the UK, are required to stay in the school campus for the whole duration of the academic year.

Intended to go beyond the academic component of high school education alone, these communities offer opportunities for deeper relationships with faculty and fellow students through all various extra-curricular activities, including arts, sports and music.

THE HIGH SCHOOL SYLLABUS

US High School Syllabus runs for 4 years, and students are expected to take the SAT/ACT/AP and in some cases, SAT/ACT/AP subject tests to apply for university. 

However high school curriculums can vary nationally, though students are normally required to take Math, English, Science, History, Foreign Language, PE IT and Health.

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SAT/AP

Grade 9 to Grade 12

SATs are taken by some students as early as grade 9 or 10, since multiple sittings are usually required so as to get the best possible SAT results.

The SATs are administered 7 times a year and allow unlimited retakes. Scores are standardised and the maximum score available is 1600. 

There are two components in an SAT: a reading/writing component worth 800 points and a math component worth another 800 points.

The SAT essay is not compulsory however. Students who choose to write the essay will be scored on three measures: Reading, Analysis and Writing, each on a scale of 2-8 (8 being highest).

The SAT Subject Tests, depending on which course you plan to apply to for University, may be required. These include the sciences, history, math and foreign languages. Students are allowed to take up to 3 subjects tests in one sitting.

AP tests, on the other hand, are alternatively taken by some students. Exam materials are harder and unlike SAT subject tests, AP tests consist of both MCQ and essay questions. 

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ACT

Year 9 to Year 12

The ACT exam contains four components: english, reading, math, science. This exam also includes an optional essay-writing component, of which scores may be used by certain universities to judge an applicant's application. 

 

ACT tests are 2 hours 55 minutes long, and the essay-writing component lasts for 40 minutes. Aside from the essay-writing component, all other components are scored on a 1-36 point scale. 

The main difference between ACT and SAT is that the ACT has a specific, dedicated section to science, while the SAT does not. Instead, students have to take the SAT subject tests in order to get tested on Science.

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INTERNATIONAL BACCALAUREATE

Year 12 to Year 13

The IB Diploma is a 2-year program aimed at 16-19 year-olds that is recognised around the world. Students that don't wish to study the A-levels will study the IB Diploma program instead.

The IB Diploma program is unique in a way that the student is required to take 6 compulsory subjects across at least 5 of the 6 areas in the IB Diploma Syllabus.

 

The 6 areas are: 

Group 1 - Language and Literature

Group 2 - Language Acquisition

Group 3 - Individuals and Societies

Group 4 - Experimental Sciences

Group 5 - Mathematics

Group 6 - The Arts

Additionally, students are required to take the Extended Essay (EE), Theory of Knowledge (TOK) and Creativity,Action,Service (CAS) courses.

The IB Diploma program uses a points system to calculate a student's overall score. The maximum amount of points available is 45, with 7 points being the maximum for each compulsory subject from the 6 areas and 3 points being the maximum for EE + TOK.

UNDERGRADUATE, MASTERS AND PHD

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UNDERGRADUATE

The US has some of the top-ranked universities in the world, including Ivy league schools and some others like UCLA and UCB.

Most undergraduate programs are 4 years in length but unlike the UK and most other countries, students are not allowed to take a Medicine or Law degree at undergraduate level. Instead, students have to take a 4-year undergraduate program before being allowed to enrol in a 4-year medical school program and/or a 3-year law school program.

A typical year in university starts in Late August/Early September and is often separated into three semesters, one fall semester, one spring semester and one summer semester. 

Depending on the student's progress, some students may complete their undergraduate degree in 3 years if they elect to complete more credits than normal in certain semesters. 

A special feature of the US university system is that students don't declare a major until year 2. The theory behind this is to allow students to figure out their academic interests at year 1, where they take various kinds of subjects until they can narrow down to a specific interest at year 2.

There is no standard application portal for university applications, though most schools use the common application portal, with certain schools requiring an additional slide-room application for degrees relating to the Arts. In particular, the University of California system uses a separate UC application portal to screen applications.

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MASTERS AND PHD

The US is one of the hottest destinations for pursuing masters programs, which are often 2 years in length (Except certain subjects like Medicine and Law) including a dissertation in the summer semester. US employers value masters programs significantly, which is why there is an increased number of students taking a masters degree in recent years.

PHD programs are usually 5 or 6 years long, in which a masters qualification will be awarded after the first two years of study, and a PHD qualification will be awarded upon completion of the whole program. A masters degree may be required if an applicant applies for a program that consists of only a PHD component.

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THE UK EDUCATION SYSTEM
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THE US EDUCATION SYSTEM
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THE CAN/AUS EDUCATION SYSTEM

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