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U.S. Education System

Education level Age Grade
Elementary 5+ 1-5
Junior High or Middle School 11+ 6-8
High School - Freshman 14+ 9
High School - Sophomore 15+ 10
High School - Junior 16+ 11
High School - Senior 17+ 12
Higher Education - University or College

U.S. education system infographic

High School

The qualification: High School Diploma

A high school diploma is a North American academic school leaving qualification awarded upon high school graduation.

Your high school diploma is typically studied over the course of four years, from Grade 9 to Grade 12. The diploma is typically awarded by the school in accordance with the requirements of the local state or provincial government.

Core areas of study

Different school areas have varying requirements but to gain your high school diploma you can expect the core academic classes to include:

  • 4 years of English
  • 3 years of math
  • 3 years of science
  • 3 years of social science (including U.S. history)
  • 2 years of world languages or English as a second language
  • 1 year of art


During the school year you can expect to take five core academic courses and two electives which allow you to explore and develop your interests. Course assessments can include a combination of coursework and examinations. At CATS Academy Boston, we offer three levels of courses based on your academic ability:

  • College Placement
  • Honors
  • Advanced Placement

Find out more about CATS High School Diploma here

Higher Education

The qualification: Bachelor’s degree

A bachelor’s degree from the U.S. is a globally recognized qualification and can be delivered at a public or private university or college.

Your U.S. bachelor degree will normally last four years and will include a wide variety of courses, called general studies, as well as your specialist subject or major. Your general studies courses give you the opportunity to experience different subjects, and it is not necessary to pick your final major subject until the start of your third year.

You should be able to go directly to a U.S. university or college if you have completed 12 years of schooling and have a good handle on the English language.