System & Choices

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USA High School

Secondary Education in the US

International students who come to the United States may wonder about their American classmates' prior education. Due to its local variations, the American education system appears confusing. It is very important for every student who wishes to study in USA to understand and be aware of the education system.

Junior high school (or middle school) and Senior high school together provides secondary education to the children. Junior high school refers to grade six through eight and high school begins with ninth grade and progresses to twelfth grade.

Much of the control of American public schools lies in the hands of each local school district. Each school district is governed by a school board; a small committee of people elected by the local community or appointed by the local government. The school board sets general policies for the school district and insures that state guidelines are met.

Generally, school districts are divided into elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. Elementary schools are composed of students in kindergarten and grades 1-5. Most children attend kindergarten when they are five-years-old. Children begin 1st grade at age six. Middle school is composed of students in grades 6-8 and high school contains grades 9-12.

High School Courses

High school students are required to take a wide variety of courses in English, mathematics, science, and social science. They may also be required to take foreign language or physical education, and they may elect to take music, art, or theatre courses. Many high schools also offer vocational training courses.  A course can be one semester or two semesters in length.  The academic year generally begins in mid August and ends in early June.

The mandatory subjects which are taught in US high schools include:

Science – biology, chemistry and physics

Mathematics - statistics, algebra, geometry and calculus

English - oral languages, humanities, literature and composition

Social Sciences - history, geography and economics.

Most of the states have made health courses mandatory so that the students learn about first-aid, nutrition, sexuality and drug awareness. Art, foreign language and physical education is also made compulsory by some schools in the curriculum.

High School Graduate

In the United States, education is compulsory for all students until ages sixteen to eighteen depending on the individual state.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 89% of people ages 18 to 24 were high school graduates in 2006.  Most high school students graduate at the age of seventeen or eighteen-years-old. 

A student graduates after he or she has successfully passed all of the required courses. Grades are given to students for each course at the end of each semester. The grading scale is: A (excellent), B (above average), C (average), D (below average), and F (failing).  A student who fails a required course must repeat the course.

Admission to a Community College

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 58% of high school graduates enrolled in colleges or universities in 2006.  Students have the option of attending a two-year community college (also known as a junior college) before applying to a four-year university.  Admission to community college is easier, tuition is lower, and class sizes are often smaller than in a university.  Community college students can earn an Associate's degree and transfer up to two years of course credits to a university.

Admission to a University

Although admission policies vary from one university to the next, most determine admission based on several criteria, including a student's high school course of study, high school Grade Point Average (GPA), participation in extracurricular activities, SAT or ACT exam scores, a written essay, and possibly a personal interview:

* The university admissions office considers whether a student has taken courses in high school that have prepared him/her for more difficult coursework. A student's high school GPA is also considered. A GPA is a quantitative figure representing a student's accumulated grades.

Each letter grade is assigned a number of points: A = 4 points, B = 3, C = 2, D = 1 and F = 0 points. A GPA is calculated by adding all of the points earned for each course grade and dividing the total points by the total number of courses taken. For example, a GPA of 3.0 is a "B" average for all of the courses taken.

* University admissions officers like to see applications from high school students who have participated in extracurricular activities, such as scholastic clubs, athletic teams, student government, and philanthropic clubs.  Voluntary participation in these kinds of activities is an indication that students have learned valuable life lessons, such as teamwork, leadership, or civic responsibility.

* Most students in the United States take the SAT Reasoning Text (formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test) or the ACT (formerly known as American College Testing) during their final year of high school.  Each university sets a minimum SAT or ACT score that a student must achieve in order to gain admission. These are standardized quantitative examinations.  The SAT tests critical reading, mathematics, and writing skills.  The ACT tests English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning, and includes an optional writing test.

* Universities often require students to write an essay as part of the application process. Each admissions office determines the length and content of the essay. The applicant also may be required to have a personal interview with a representative from the admissions office.

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