How American high school education works?

The more open you are to people, the faster you adapt

American school is not like that

We usually learn about American High Schools from popular TV-shows and movies which show it as a fun but messy place. Cool guys playing sports, nerds who never leave their books’ pages, teachers who make you cocoa on a test day – are all of them just movie characters, and what the reality is like? Is the image of American High School as a place to study, have fun and express yourself at the same time close to the actual thing?
Let’s talk about it

School System

The US school education (also referred to as K-12 Education System) includes three steps, or schools: Elementary, Junior High School, and High School. In total, this gives us 12 years of school, including the first year called Kindergarten. In the US it is quite uncommon to attend one school for all the educational steps. Typically, kids study in 3 different places – one for each educational step – especially if they attend a public school. Americans start Kindergarten at the age of 5 or 6 and usually graduate at the age of 17 or 18, so whatever grade you are in as an Exchange Student, you’ll most probably have classes with your peers.
High School includes grades 9 through 12. Each of them has a common name everybody uses instead of a number. These names are:
  • 9 – Freshman
  • 10 – Sophomore
  • 11 – Junior
  • 12 – Senior
Our Program’s first year participants are usually placed in 11th grade if the age criteria is met, and they have finished the relevant grade in their home country. Then, if a participant decides to continue being a part of Exchange Program and graduate American High School, they go to a different school in a different state where they are placed in 12th grade.

Learning Process

In the US there is no such a thing like “classmates” as a group of people who stay together for all of their classes every day every year. Every student has their own schedule which is put together in the beginning of the school year. Such a way to organize the schedule is very smart. First of all, this way every student has an opportunity to choose their own elective classes and enjoy studying what they really like. Secondly, when everybody has their individual schedule planned, students have a chance to meet different people in different classes. This is a big advantage for an Exchange Student: you would not have to join a group of classmates who have been studying together for years, instead you would meet new people in every class. Isn’t it a great opportunity to make friends?
Speaking of the freedom of choice of classes to take students have, there are requirements for every subject, or discipline. These requirements set the amount of “credits” student must obtain in order to complete a grade and eventually graduate. This means that even though students get to choose some of their classes, there are also some that are compulsory to take. Classes that are up to the student’s choice are called electives, and usually American High School has a lot of them ro choose from. Have you ever imagined taking Drama or Journalism as a class? This is going to be your chance to do so!


Grading in an American school is a very serious thing. There are strict criteria for grading each kind of student’s work. In general, there are 5 Letter Grades: “A”, “B”, “C”, “D” and “F”. “F” stands for “Failing” and should never be seen in your transcript not only because this means you’re not handling the class but also because this is a ground for expelling an Exchange Student from a program. Each of the grades has a percentage and a GPA 4.0 scale equivalent. GPA stands for “Grade Point Average” and is used to indicate how well you score in different classes. The majority of colleges and educational institutions use it as a primary rate of student’s academic performance.

Graduation and Tests

There are usually no compulsory exams or tests a student should pass in order to graduate. The only requirement is a certain amount of credits student should have earned in every discipline. Although there are no exams a student must pass, there are tests which are advisable to be taken before graduation: SAT or ACT. These are the standardized tests accepted by most colleges for admission purposes. SAT and ACT are extremely important to take for those who plan on applying for college.
However, not everybody in the US goes to college immediately after High School Graduation. The first reason is the cost of higher education in the US, the second one is the “gap year” – a year right after graduation a student takes to travel, consider their options, or work. One of the options to handle the high cost of college education is getting a scholarship – an amount of money a college or a state pays for your tuition. There are different types of scholarships: some of them are given for the best GPA, some of them – for athletic achievements. Getting a scholarship is quite challenging because it involves competing with a lot of other students but an opportunity to attend the college you’ve always dreamt about is absolutely worth it.

Friends, clubs, sports

High School is usually the time a lot of students get to work harder on their grades in order to graduate and be able to build a successful future. But there is always some time for socializing, hobbies and sports. Clubs and sports in American schools are just as important as books and tests. You should definitely be focused on your schoolwork but it’s also good to be actively taking part in clubs and athletics. Most High Schools provide their students with a lot of things to do after classes like Journalism, Politics, Volunteerism Programs, School Band and many other. Playing sports is also a big deal. Every High School has its own teams in multiple sports, and games attract a lot of spectators. Also attending such activities helps you make friends. It’s so much easier to start a conversation when both you and the other person have common interests.
Speaking of making friends, there is only one big rule: do not be afraid to reach out to people. In the new environment it might be challenging to get used to things but having someone by your side makes it easier and even fun. You will have an opportunity to meet new people in class, during the breaks, and after school, use it! The more open you are to people, the faster you adapt.

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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