High School

High School in the United States

Individual states, counties, and school districts have considerable leeway in how they choose to divide their school levels. Students will generally graduate from high school in the year of their 18th birthday if they were born between January 1 and August 31, but this varies by state depending on the kindergarten cut-off date, which ranges from August 1 in Missouri to January 1 in Connecticut. A few American schools still incorporate grades 7 through 12, but it is usually either grades 9–12 or grades 10–12. Some states split grades 9–10 and 11–12 into a junior high school and senior high school. For purposes of the Grade Point Average (GPA) and subject requirements used for college admission, grade 9 is usually considered the first year of high school regardless of whether the student is in the last year of a 7–9 junior high program, or the first year of a 9–12 high school program.

As a practical matter, while laws in most states mandate school attendance at least until graduation or age 16, many require attendance until age 17 or 18 (unless the student earns a diploma earlier, usually around age 16). Conversely, students who have failed a grade may remain in high school past the age of 18. In general, students over 19 attend remedial classes to receive a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate. State laws vary on the cut-off age for students to receive free public education services. Many states have adult high schools for people generally 18 and over. Students can stay in high school past the age of 18 if it is deemed appropriate. They cannot stay past a certain age depending on the state. On average, 71% of American students graduate from high school. A high school diploma or GED certificate is usually required for entrance into a two or four-year college or university and to other post-secondary education programs.

High schools can usually be sub-classed as general high schools, vocational schools (VoTech schools), magnet schools, and college preparatory high schools (prep schools) and special high schools or alternative high schools. Most high schools are general high schools. These general population schools offer college preparatory classes for advanced students, general education classes for average students, and remedial courses for those who are struggling.

1280px-Calhan_High_School_Senior_Classroom_by_David_Shankbone.jpgIn some school districts exceptionally high-performing students are offered enrollment at a district college preparatory high school. Traditionally “prep schools” in North America were usually private institutions, though most medium or large public (state) school districts now offer university-preparatory schools for advanced students. Public prep schools draw the top students from their district and have strict entrance requirements. All academic classes offered in these schools are classified as honors, International Baccalaureate, or Advanced Placement.

In larger school districts, magnet schools are established to provide enhanced curriculum for one or more areas of study. Magnet schools may be created for a variety of topics such as mathematics, science, fine arts, and music. Admission (usually controlled) to magnet schools varies by school district in order to manage demand and resources. The school admission process may range from competitive admission standards to a lottery system.

Vocational high schools offer hands-on training to students that prepares them for careers in fields such as information technology, marketing, business, engineering and the medical professions. While some graduates of vocational or career and technical education high schools will go directly into a trade, others will pursue post-secondary education. The Association for Career and Technical Education is the largest national education association dedicated to career and technical education.

Special high schools cater for students who have special educational needs, e.g. because of learning difficulties or physical disabilities. Some special high schools are offered for students who have major disciplinary or mental health difficulties that make it problematic to educate them in traditional high school settings. Some special high schools are assigned as security risks, where the school houses students who are not yet old enough to legally leave school and are considered a danger to other students or teachers, but have not been convicted of a crime. Some special high schools are dedicated to students with drug or mental health difficulties and have medical and psychological staff on site. A few of these schools include a nursery and a child care staff so that teen parents can finish their education without having to find child care during the school day. Special high schools have their own campus, but sometimes are located in a section or wing of a general high school.

Another recent form of high school that has emerged is the online high school. Stanford University’s own Education Program for Gifted Youth received a generous donation in 2006 and used it to create the first truly complete online high school, with an interactive and advanced program for advanced learners.

High school in the United States usually begins in late August or early September of each year and ends in late May or early June. During the excess two and a half months, the students are given summer vacation to rest from the school year. In some cases schools use a year round schedule.

  • 9th Grade – Freshman Year, starting at 14 to 15 years of age
  • 10th Grade – Sophomore Year, starting at 15 to 16 years of age
  • 11th Grade – Junior Year, starting at 16 to 17 years of age
  • 12th Grade – Senior Year, starting at 17 to 18 years of age. (This would make a student graduate at 16, 17, 18, 19, or, in some cases, 20 years of age.)

High School

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