The age of entry to compulsory education in the U.S. varies, according to the state, between 5 and 7 years of age, 6 being the most common. The age at which compulsory schooling ends varies between 16 and 18 years of age, the most common being 16. School education does not end until age 18, or completion of the 12th year of school and those who leave school at the end of compulsory education without earning a secondary (high school) diploma do not receive any certificate or recognition – they are considered to be secondary school drop-outs. Students may graduate a year earlier or late depending on when they entered school.
Gifted students may graduate earlier because they skipped grades, and students may graduate later because they repeat grades. School years are referred to as “grades” in the United States. The length of primary education varies from four to seven years, i.e. grades 1-4, 1-7, etc. Each state determines what grade range constitutes primary education, called “elementary education”. According to its length, elementary education may be followed (or not) by a number of years of middle school education (generally three years). Secondary education takes place in grades 7-12, depending upon the laws and policies of states and local school districts. There is no national structure, curriculum or governing law; all laws and policies are set and enforced by the 50 state governments and the over 14,000 local school districts. All states and school districts have set the secondary school graduation level as the completion of 12th grade, and the common name for the secondary graduation qualification is the High School Diploma. This diploma name covers a variety of awards for different curricula and standards. There are Honors/Regents, academic/college preparatory, vocational, and general/basic high school diploma tracks. There are a statewide minimum course requirement and other graduation requirements in each State which usually correspond to the general/basic track. Vocational and academic/college preparatory or honors/Regents diplomas usually have additional set curricular requirements and/or standards which aspiring graduates must meet or exceed. In addition, many US secondary school districts and private schools allow students to participate in the Advanced Placement (AP) programme of the College Board. This programme allows qualified students to take college level introductory courses in selected subjects taught by certified faculty. Examinations are offered in each AP subject at the end of an academic year; a score of 3 or higher generally results in universities awarding advanced standing in that subject – exempting the student from distribution requirements.There are currently over 35 AP subjects with more being planned. A growing number of public and private secondary schools also offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) as an optional track; completion of IB requirements usually requires an additional summer or semester of study beyond the 12th year. The contents of an individual student’s programme at any grade level or upon obtaining a diploma or degree are contained in the record of studies leading to it and grades (marks) obtained, called a Transcript. Transcripts are official documents authenticated with the seal of the school or institution and signed by the registrar.
Higher education in the U.S. is also called postsecondary education, but the latter term also refers to all formal education beyond secondary school, whether higher education (defined as degree-granting education) or not. Postsecondary education is broadly divided into two different sectors: postsecondary vocational education and training, which is non-degree but can produce some transferable credits under certain circumstances; and higher education, which includes studies undertaken in degree-granting institutions for academic credit. However, the U.S. higher education system is not legally organized into separate university and non-university sub-systems as are some other national systems, but is comprehensive. It is a diverse and autonomous community of publicly and privalely supported institutions. Current data indicate that there are 6,479 postsecondary institutions, including 4,182 non-degree institutions. Of the degree-granting higher education institutions, some 1,732 award only the associate degree plus sub-bachelor’s certificates and diplomas; 702 award only the bachelor’s degree; 1,094 award degrees and certificates beyond the bachelor’s degree but not the research doctorate; and 654 institutions award the research doctorate. The United States does not use an official classification or typology for its higher education institutions. While different institutions offer varying levels of degrees, U.S. accreditation policies result in degrees at any given level adhering to certain minimum standards regardless of the institution that grants them. The privately derived but popular Carnegie Classification organizes U.S. institutions according to different schemes. For more information, see: http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/Classification/ The U.S. higher education system is characterized by accessibility, diversity, and autonomy and is known for both its size and quality. The federal government has no jurisdiction or authority over the recognition of educational institutions, members of the academic professions, programmes or curricula, or degrees or other qualifications. Nearly all U.S. postsecondary institutions are licensed, or chartered, by a state or municipal government to operate under the ownership of either a government (if public) or a private corporation (if independent), and may be for-profit or not-for-profit enterprises. Religious institutions are considered independent, or private. Quality assurance is achieved via the system of voluntary accreditation by specific accrediting agencies that are recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and meet the standards for membership in the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Accreditation is a self-regulating process of quality control engaged in by the U.S. postsecondary education community to ensure minimum standards of academic capability, administrative competence, and to promote mutual recognition of qualifications within the system. Six (6) regional accreditation associations set minimum standards for institutions chartered in the states of their respective jurisdictions. In addition, there are recognized accrediting agencies for specialized institutions and programmes. While all recognized and accredited institutions are licensed or chartered by state governments, states vary greatly in the degree of supervision and quality control that they exercise, and there is relatively limited reciprocity of recognition across state borders. Accreditation by recognized agencies, therefore, remains the primary means of ensuring academic and institutional quality and the mutual acceptance of credits and qualifications across and outside the United States.