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Education in the U.S.

If you’re moving to the U.S. with your family, learn what you can expect from the education system in our guide.

Schooling in the U.S.

Primary and secondary education is free in the U.S., though there are some excellent private schools and many Americans home school their children.

Education starts at five years at elementary school and children continue here until they reach the age of 10 years. The next educational stage is middle school, where kids stay until they reach 13, and then on to high school where graduating at 18 is the norm. Different states have different exams for graduation. The American education system is complex.

Schools can vary from state to state. The website the Best Schools will give you a clear idea of what you can expect in your state. There are over 24,000 high schools across the whole country, with some offering a more vocational curriculum than others, especially Magnet schools. A specialist curriculum and programmes mean that Magnet schools receive extra funding from federal, state and local sources. Exam results are excellent and the schools’ involvement with local communities and families differs from a traditional high school. Targeted tuition in the arts, science and technology are all features of the Magnet school system.

SATs results and the student-to-teacher ratio are always good figures to check when trying to establish where to send your child.

Not all schools are equal

Should your child want to go on to university — or school, as it is often referred to in the U.S. — they will have to submit their Grade Point Average (GPA) as well as their graduation certificate. This can be puzzling for expats, as two students who have the same GPA but attended two different schools in different states could be viewed differently by university admissions boards as one of the schools may be more academically challenging than the other. When trying to select a good high school in your area, have a look at university admission requirements and see whether your selected high school is rated by the university of your choice.

University and college in the U.S.

In 2017/18, tuition fees for a four-year course at a community college cost $9,970 per annum compared with $34,740 per annum at one of the private not-for-profit colleges. If your child is bright enough and wants to attend an Ivy League college (eight of America’s highest-performing universities including Yale and Harvard), undergraduate fees will amount to $54,414 per annum just for tuition. If you’re concerned about the high cost of these schools, you have to weigh up the fact that the Ivy League group offers some of the best education in the world. They have a very low dropout rate, and your child will mix with some of the brightest minds on the planet.

The high price of American universities shouldn’t deter your child from benefiting from higher education. Many of America’s top universities have endowments or grants, and it’s always worthwhile enquiring about these. The website Top universities is a useful resource for finding out about the types of scholarship and different ways of getting a degree. Most university-educated Americans don’t stop at a BA; they’ll have a master’s degree and often a doctorate.

Before you make the move, read our 26 pieces of advice from expat parents about relocating abroad with children.

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