A Handy Guide To The American Education System

Mar 19, 2021

Have you got plans to move to America with your kids and help them settle in their education? Eligible for a scholarship that will let you experience the way of American school life? Ready to conquer your college journey? If you said yes to any of those questions and have more reasons, then you'll be taking your first step in accepting the American education system or US education system as your new normal.

But in doing this, it does make you want to ask another question: what is the American education system or US education system? You may assume it's just the same system other countries have used, but that would be like thinking most countries use the same measuring system like America. A closer look outside and inside will show you the American education system has a lot to it.

By understanding what the American education system is and how it can help you in your current scenario, you’ll find the future you’ve been searching for, whether it’s for you or your loved ones, has already been established. All you need to do is take the steps and tread on.

The Structure Of The American Education System

It's a good idea to know how the American education system structure is built before you get started. To make it easier to understand, you can check out what’s laid out below courtesy of the University of Minnesota and TransferWise:

The structure of the American Education System

Here are more details about the ranks you’ve seen just now:

Pre-K: For kids between the ages of 5-6, Pre-K, or commonly known as Pre-Kindergarten, is the first level kids will start with when they first attend school. But the surprising part here is that it isn't compulsory. They run for about a year, and various organizations run them, such as private corporations and communities.

Elementary (Primary School): For kids from the age of 6, this is compulsory education, which means if a kid didn't go for Pre-K, this would be their first step towards knowledge. Depending on how the state lays out this level, elementary lasts for roughly 5 to 6 grades, is offered free of charge in many states, and gives students a chance to redo a year if they fall behind their studies.

Middle School or Junior High: This level is for the students from the age of 11 or 12. Depending on the state they're living in, they may attend this level under different names. But regardless, the overall structure remains the same. This level lasts for three years, is free of charge, and offers the next set of compulsory and elective subjects.

High School or Senior High School: This level is for the students from the age of 14 or 15; it'll depend on where they came from. If they did a middle school run, they'd start at 14, whereas with a junior high run, they'll start at 15. Just like the previous rank, the overall structure is the same. Still, there are some differences, such as a student given the freedom to add some elective subjects on top of the core subjects they're required to attend, an option to participate in private schools, and homeschooling being part of it.

In a way, the American education system can open up a lot of opportunities. Have a kid who hasn't started yet? Does your partner have a goal of finishing their studies? Do you feel like getting that degree from a US College? The American education system is ready to help you with these goals.

Unique Things To Remember About The American Education System

Within the American education system, there are unique things about it that get people talking about it.

  • American and most of its states have their own laws and regulations regarding education.

Unlike the rest of the world, America and most of its states have their own laws and regulations regarding education. For example, a few rules help steer the American education system's special education system to great heights, as discussed by Brandman University here. So it's good to check on the laws that have been implemented you'll be enrolling in and taking advantage of how it can help you or your loved ones.

  • School ranks vary from state to state.

It can be a bit intimidating when you find out that in the state you’re in, you’ll find the school levels may not be the same as the others. One’s got middle school while the other has junior high. It’ll have your head going places trying to decide which is which, so better remember what ranks are standard in the state you’re in before you enroll.

  • Educational advisors offer their advice.

Suppose there's another thing the American education system has over the education systems of other countries. In that case, it's the fact that there are educational advisors ready to offer their services for students as they ease into the system. While other countries have guidance counselors, academic advisors are like a leveled-up version because they can help every student understand and determine the goals as they go through their journey.

  • Requirements may vary from school to school.

Do you think laws and regulations are the only things America has to get your head spinning on the education system? Wait until you get to the requirements you'll need. When you're browsing around the schools, you'll be amazed at how the requirements may vary. One school may need this, but then the other school doesn't need that.

  • The grading system can be confusing at times. 

Even for the average American, the grading system can be a confusing thing. Sure, it's got the GPA and the other standard scores. Still, there's no denying that the grading system cannot always be a reliable thing, especially when collected for applications to attend high school and college. There's even variation on how somebody will interpret the grades before accepting a student.

  • Being able to participate in class proactively

One common thing that many international students say about the American education system is that they can participate in class proactively. They mean it is in their home country; they learn what a teacher lays out on the board. In America, they're able to go beyond what's on the board and discuss further. That's meaningful because it gives the students a sense of community and camaraderie with the teacher and fellow students.

  • The scheduling system allows for flexibility and management in upper levels. 

Most countries have students spend most of their day in classes, with some days having PE classes. It's standard for the lower levels in America to have a fixed schedule; it's different for the upper levels. The scheduling system is designed for students to attend just 4 to 6 classes/courses a day in high school. In college, it's spread out through the week, which can give college students quite the freedom. There's a sense of flexibility and management through the various schedules in all the US school ranks.

  • Parental involvement is included (a lot)

While many education systems in the rest of the world don't have the parents do much other than monitoring their children in their educational journey, the American education system is quite heavy on parental involvement. It's even come to the point that Parent Teach Associations, commonly known as PTAs, are attached to every school where parents can watch their children and get involved in making sure the education journey is sufficient.

What’s The Cost? 

So you got the idea of how things work in the American education system, but the next question to ask yourself is: what's the cost? You might think it's easy to grab a paper and a pen and write it down like it's a math problem. But what you'll be going up against is a lot harder than you thought.

As you'll no doubt see, the cost of enrolling in the American education system is going to have you make some very challenging decisions. It's well-known that the national average cost is $10,000, but it can go even higher to $20,000 depending on the school. Add to that; this is just the about the private school system. 

When it comes to public schools, you can be relieved to know they cost much less and are funded through taxes. They might not have the fancy things private schools have, but public schools can be the option if you're trying to save money. Just a heads-up, there will be some additional costs and fees regarding transportation, uniforms, and other things, so make sure you know them.

Either way, you still have to make decisions on how best to go with the educational costs. There are many factors to consider, so it can be daunting to know what you’ll do when you get calculating. Don't worry; you'll find some useful tips on how to calculate the cost as you read on.

How To Adjust And Be Comfortable With The American Education System

Now that you know how the US education system is structured and its characteristics and cost, your next step will be how you can adjust and be comfortable within it. It'll take time, but with patience, practice, and persistence, you'll be breezing through this system with pride.

So how do you go about it? Here are some ways to get cozy:

1. Determine the end goal of why you’ll pursue the American education system

The first thing to do when you’re eager to get into the American education system is finding out your end goal for it. Why go for it? Whether you’re an American or a citizen from another country, discovering your end goal will help you map out what needs to be done to get through the journey.

You can't just waltz in and think it's like all other countries. As you've learned earlier, the American education system has its own identity of sorts, so knowing your goal for why you'll go through this will assist you further when you begin to look through the many schools that can be enrolled in.

2. Make an estimate calculation of where you’ll begin and open a separate savings account

Your next step will be to estimate the education and open a different savings account with your end goal in mind. For the estimate calculation, you can have a look at how best to approach below:

How to make the estimate calculation for your journey in the American Education SystemY

For the savings account, you can try approaching banks that offer perks and freebies regarding education. You can even find that some schools you plan to associate with already have the banks ready for you. 

3. Know the schools in the states you’ll be enrolling in well enough

As you’ve learned earlier, America and most of its states have their own regulations and laws regarding education. Then, add to that the school levels where one state skips one level and another state adds another level. Just comparing the schools can already give you a headache.

A good idea here is to know the schools in the state and town you're living in. This way, you'll have an idea of what the schools are offering, what levels are shown, and much more. But if there’s another state you’ll be moving into, you can go right ahead and research online.  

You can also check if the schools offer transportation and other services that can be purchased with cost or no cost. And make sure to know the state laws and regulations so that they can be used to your advantage if they apply to your scenario.

4. Be familiar with the varying requirement system 

It's a standard that requirements are needed when enrolling in a school, but when it comes to the American schools, requirements will be a bit of a headache, immensely when they vary from school to school. So to lessen the burden, be familiar with the system.

For example, if the state you're in has 3 or 4 schools you feel are right for you and your loved ones, research online or contact them and get the requirements. Once you have them all, compare and contrast what you've gathered. From there, you'll have a clear understanding of what you need before you enroll.

5. Choose the structure that works best for you

Earlier, you saw that the American education system's design is quite different from most countries to the point that one American's educational journey will differ. It's a good idea to have a good look at the structural layouts possible and choose the one that works best for you when it comes to this.

For example, if your kid is just starting and wants him or her to go for the optional Pre-K, check the ranks that are possible for them from that level. Another example is if you're about to approach high school and your parents want you to go middle school or junior high, you can illustrate the ranks that will be ready for you. Then, you can chat it out with your parents and help you further on what's best.

6. Collaborate with the educational advisors, professors, and faculty members

Educational advisors, professors, and faculty members may not be much at first but approach them with the intent of doing your best, and they'll be helping you out in every way possible. When you're stumped on approaching your educational journey, collaborate with them, and discuss the approach. What courses are right for you? How can you conquer your challenges? Discussing what needs to be done with the people we’ve just mentioned will help you sculpt the educational future that's been waiting for you all along.

7. Embrace and understand the grading system

For a foreigner, seeing the grade of A+ may not be as satisfying as seeing numbers, but for the American, that's the norm. Still, it's a system that may have you confused whether you're from America or heading to the country.

That's why it's a good idea to embrace and understand the grading system. As the previous step shows to you, collaborating with the school staff can help you out in your educational journey, so why not ask about the grading system? Not only will it help you understand the system more, but it can even give you insights and revelations on what you can do for your education. You can also understand how to improve on subjects you might be falling behind on and spending more time with them.

8. Take advantage of the scheduling system

The American way of scheduling classes changes as levels rise. As you remembered earlier, lower levels have the standard way. In contrast, the upper levels have a variation where high school students attend 4 to 6 classes/courses a day while college students have their classes spread out through the week with freedom in-between.

But before you go thinking it's the way to waste time and procrastinate, it should be advantageous for you. How so? If you're a high school student, you can use some of the breaks you're given between classes to do your homework or read on some stuff. But if you're in college, you can have a look at your schedule, see the breaks, and take full control of the schedule.

9. Be more participative 

Your grade doesn't just come from the homework and tests you do: it also comes from participating. When a teacher asks a question or wants the class to suggest, go for it and participate. You might not think about it, but doing this can be a boost to your grade. It can even be an excellent aid for you to know your classmates and teachers as you learn more about the subject at hand.

10. Enjoy the journey

Finally, when you're slowly entering the American education system, you can relax and enjoy the trip. Sure, you might have some bumps and bruises, knowing that the system will get you a bit confused on some steps. But when you keep your cool, you'll see there's more to this education system than you thought possible. While some will see it as a drag, you can see it as an opportunity to build a future already there for you. 


It's quite a journey to go through when it comes to exploring the American education system. From its unique characteristics to the structure, it shows it's got a unique feel to it. It's also attracted students from other parts of the world to see and try out what makes the education system attractive. Yes, it can be a bit daunting, but with a bit of confidence, there are many opportunities to be found. So if you're curious what the American education system is like and you or your loved ones would like to give it a shot, read this guide and let it be the way to help you see what the American education system is all about.


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