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The American school system

The American school system

The American school system is characterized above all by its promotion of talent and interests. There are, however, a few other points in which the American school system differs from the German one. Many things like course content and curriculum vary by state. Most of the students go to public schools, a small proportion go to private schools.

Structure of the school year

With your student exchange in the USA, the school year is divided into two half-years, which are called "semesters" or "terms" there, just like us. The school year begins in August / beginning of September, the first half of the year ends in January and the second ends in May / June. Certificates are issued twice each school year. At the end of the school year, the long summer holidays follow, which are a highlight for many exchange students. There are also Christmas holidays, the "Spring Break" in spring, and the holidays for "Thanksgiving" (the American harvest festival at the end of November).

The high school

The American school system begins with the Elementary School. Depending on the district, this school extends to fourth, fifth or sixth grade. This is followed by junior high school or middle school, which extends up to eighth or ninth grade. Then the (senior) high school is attended. American students attend high school at the age of 14, and as an exchange student you will attend this school too.

The high school is a unitary school, which means that there is no distinction between Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium, as is the case here, but rather all young people attend one school. There is no class association here; each student chooses his own courses. During high school, certain requirements must be met, there is a credit system and, depending on the state, certain minimum requirements must be met. A distinction can then be made between "easy", "medium" and "difficult" for the courses. Those who successfully complete the twelfth grade achieve the high school diploma.

The high school has the following classes:

  • 9th grade: Freshman
  • 10th grade: Sophomore
  • 11th grade: Junior
  • 12th grade: Senior

Compulsory subjects, electives and extracurricular activities

In the USA, there are also numerous electives in addition to a few compulsory subjects. These are selected at the beginning of the school year together with a guidance counselor who helps with the selection and creation of the timetable. Compulsory subjects include math, English, and US history. The list of possible electives is long and differs depending on the school. Some examples are:

journalismrhetoricphotographyWeb design
psychologyanatomyChineseSpanish
Nutritional scienceCreative writingorchestrapsychology

After school there are also extracurricular activities (extracurricular activities) such as various sports, clubs and musical activities. These activities are part of everyday school life for all American students and not only create a great sense of community, but also encourage fun "being in school". The number of extracurricular activities can of course vary from school to school.

Grades and tests

The grades of the American school system do not consist of numbers but of letters. The following grades are available:

  • A = very good
  • B = good
  • C = satisfactory
  • D = passed
  • F = failed

As in Germany, the grades can be marked with a (+) or (-). The grade F means "failed" and the "E" is skipped in the system.

Many graded multiple-choice tests are written at US schools and there are partially graded homework assignments, which is often a change for German exchange students.

To study after high school, American students must pass the SAT test. The standardized test applies to all states and often determines the further educational path of the students.

The special thing about the American school system

In contrast to Germany, the American system does not have different types of school such as Hauptschule, Realschule, Gymnasium. All students attend the same school, but different levels of difficulty can be selected in the courses. In high school there are no class associations, but sometimes even cross-grade courses. This allows you to get to know a lot of different people and make many friends. Certain talents and interests are promoted through the elective courses and everyday school life does not only consist of rather dry compulsory subjects.

American high schools are all-day schools, which means you are busy from morning to evening, spend your lunch break in the canteen and can devote yourself to extracurricular activities in the afternoon. Boredom is a thing of the past! Since you spend more time at school than at home, there is a good cohesion in American schools, thanks to sports events and school balls such as Homecoming and Prom is reinforced. The unique "high school spirit" will certainly be a highlight of your exchange year.

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