An Overview of American Education
American children are guaranteed 12 years of schooling, in addition to one year of kindergarten. Before officially beginning school, many children attend daycare or pre-school. These programs, which focus mostly on play and the development of social skills, also introduce the children to the world of education. They begin with learning the alphabet and counting numbers as early as age 3. The first day of school is a big day, not only for the child but also for the parents and grandparents. With each passing year, more knowledge and skills are acquired and by the end of grade 12 the child's future is back in his/her own hands.
Kindergarten, Elementary, Junior and Senior High School
At the age of five, most children go to kindergarten, where they spend a year before they start the first of twelve grades. Kindergarten is obligatory in most states. Students attend elementary school for five or six years (grades one to five/six). After this they move on to a secondary level of school with grades six/seven to twelve.
The secondary level is usually divided into junior high (grades six/seven to eight/nine) and senior high school (grades nine/ten to twelve). A ninth-grader is called a freshman, a tenth-grader is a sophomore, an eleventh-grader is a junior, and in the final year, they are seniors (the same terms are used in the first four years of university or college). See diagram.
Academic and Vocational Courses
Unlike Norwegian schools, the US public schools have no national curriculum. American schools enjoy great freedom when it comes to school planning, and the students are free to choose between a large selection of subjects. In most high schools, the students can choose between courses offered in three levels, depending on ability and interest. These courses are academic, vocational and general.
Academic courses are geared for those students planning on attending higher education (college/university). Vocational courses offer studies in car mechanics, hair-styling or other trades. A school's general program may combine features of both types of courses for those who want the benefits of a practical education and a high school diploma.
Regardless of your level, there are some common core subjects that are compulsory in all schools, both public and private. In secondary school, some of these subjects are English, mathematics, science (biology, chemistry and physics), social studies and physical education. In addition to compulsory subjects, most schools offer a wide range of elective courses, such as foreign language learning and studies in arts, music and drama. Each student therefore has his or her own tailored schedule.
- How many years of education is a child guaranteed?
- At what age does a child "officially" begin school?
- What are the names of the three levels of education?
- In what year are you considered a sophomore?
- Explain the types of courses offered at the high school level?
- What are electives?
- Which subjects are compulsory?
Find a high school in the USA that you would like to visit/attend. Perhaps you are interested in being an exchange student for a year. Write a formal letter requesting more information (school brochure, application form, etc.). Be sure to include information about yourself. Have a look at How to Write a Formal Letter first.