American High School

Calculators, Touchdowns, and Camaraderie: A Peek into American High Schools

Expectations & Reality

Exchange students spend about 65% of their time on program at school, either in class or getting involved in various extracurricular activities. American High School provides students with a lot of things to do, and spending so much time there should not scare you. Also, doesn't it sound amazing – attending a real American school, one of those you’ve seen in movies and TV-shows? Every High School is unique but they all have lockers, labs, easy-going teachers, sports, giant cafeterias, and a gyms that are even bigger. How to adjust to all the new including studying Maths using a calculator? Find some answers in the article below.

The good news is American High Schools are just as awesome as they appear in the media. Being an upperclassman is the best time of your teenage years as it involves a lot of fun, such as sports and friends, along with the most interesting classes. This is also the time you have the prettiest school events and dances – Homecoming and Prom. Spending your Exchange Year as a Junior or a Senior in an American High School is a great opportunity to experience not only American teenager’s daily life but also catch all the highlights. Do not even think about being bored with paper-pencil learning and books – this will be so much more!

There is actually no bad news! Integrating yourself in a completely different school system is an exciting journey. It might get challenging sometimes but overcoming those challenges is a great experience too. If you want to not only be looking forward to entering American School System but also be prepared for it, let’s point out some important differences it has compared to the one in your home country.

Classes & Schedule

In most of the countries the schedule is different everyday, the classes and their order only repeat weekly. Has it ever happened to you that for some reason you mixed the days up and came to school with the wrong copybooks and wrong homework done? There is no such a problem in American High School. The schedule is individually organized for you in the beginning of a school year and repeats daily. Every student has 6-8 classes put in some order that does not change.

It is quite unusual at first to follow your own schedule and meet new people in every class but it only takes a couple of weeks to adjust. After you get used to it, it is actually weird to think about having all the classes with the same people. A real benefit of this way of scheduling is that you always study with the people who have the same level of interest in the subject as you do. Regarding elective classes, you are likely to find friends because your classmates’ passion is probably the same as yours because all of you have voluntarily chosen this exact class.

Not all the classes are up to you to choose though. Every school district has its own requirements regarding the amount of credits a student should earn in every discipline in order to pass grades or graduate. Those requirements usually include Maths, English, Social Studies and Natural Science. As an Exchange Student, you will have to take English and Social Studies class relevant to your grade, Maths and Science are also usually advisable. All the hours of school day (there are usually 7 or 8) should be taken up by classes, either elective or compulsory ones. This means there are at least 3 hours left for the elective classes of your choice.

There are always a lot of electives to pick from, and you will definitely find something you are interested in. The examples include Drama, Choir, Sports, Journalism, and many more. Big benefit from taking Elective classes is that you basically do what you love during the school day. Also, usually those classes are super fun.

Core classes like Maths, English, and similar are never boring too. The ways of teaching are different from what we usually see in class: no long lectures and stressful tests. In every class there is a lot of practice and discussion, so students do not feel excluded or overwhelmed. Practice is a large part of studying process. Students do labs in Chemistry and Physics, dissections in Anatomy, and write articles for local newspapers in Journalism. For those who are not excited yet, there are also Field Trips which are visiting some places like factories, offices, libraries, or even outdoors locations for firsthand observation and “real life learning”. Considering all the different practical ways things are taught in American school, there is no guarantee you would even get to hold a real book more than twice.

American Teachers

Teachers make lessons as interesting and practical as possible. If it is a Chemistry class, there are going to be fizzing and sparkling reactions and cool experiments. If it is Social Studies, prepare to get familiar with all the fresh news and discuss the latest change in global economy. Such an approach makes it so much easier for students to understand and love the subject they’re studying.

Could you imagine your Maths teacher giving you not a bad grade but an ice cream cone in class and your Chemistry teacher helping you plan your Winter Break? It sounds like something that could only take place in a TV-show about a perfect but non-existent High School. The truth is it has actually happened to our former students, just like a lot of other cool things teachers in the US do. It is common for teachers to bring snacks, have casual conversations, and have a good trustful relationship with their students.

That trust between teachers and students does not mean there is no respect between them. Quite the opposite, the base of the relationship is mutual respect. However, respect does not mean cold, formal communication. It might seem that student-teacher relationship that involves talking about weekend plans and favorite books cannot be serious enough to coexist with effective learning process. Well, students’ passion for school and the improvement in their academic performance prove the opposite.


Any system can only work properly when all the parts of it do: if anything goes wrong on any level, it affects the whole thing. This is exactly why rules are strict and well-respected in American schools. There is no such a thing as “formality” – all the rules and regulations exist for a reason and must be followed.

Usually we expect a lot of paperwork to come with the rules but this is not a case. As a student, you will have very little paperwork to fill in. Your only related responsibility will be getting some papers to your Host Parents to sign or read if necessary. It is extremely important that you never read or sign what is supposed to be read or signed by the adults. Doing so is a major violation and will result in consequences.

There is also a special order that regulates your grades, more specifically what grades you get. There is a scale that indicates which letter grade is relevant to a percentage of completed work. Neither teachers nor students can argue with that scale. The same applies to deadlines: once it is set, there is no more discussion. Although it might seem too strict, this system actually makes the school life easier as you are always aware of everything ahead of time.

The level of “freedom” in American school is also different from that in the other countries. On one hand, there is much more freedom of speech: more topics are allowed to be discussed, more self-expression is possible. This is actually very important for the comfortable learning. On the other hand: there are more rules regarding students’ safety and time management. For example, most schools do not allow students to be in the hallways at any time except for the short 4-minute breaks. Tardiness is also highly discouraged: there are official referrals for a certain amount of minutes of class missed.

The main reason all these regulations exist is to keep all the students safe and provide them with the most effective education possible. It only takes a couple of weeks to adjust and feel totally okay following all the rules.

Choose a program:

The program provides an opportunity for high school students to live in the USA for an academic year, staying with host families and studying at public schools
Canada is an excellent choice for education and personal growth, thanks to its high-quality secondary schools, supportive and safe family environments, and comprehensive housing options
Support in obtaining scholarships to study in public or private schools in the United States, with a high school diploma upon successful completion
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