Education systems explained for the UK and the USA | Kaplan Pathways
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Education systems explained

The UK and US education systems

The UK and the USA both have different education systems, with their own levels and qualifications. We’ll help you navigate these systems, and work with you to achieve your academic goals.

Education in the UK

In the UK, children are required to attend school between the ages of 5 and 16. The overall education system is divided into primary, secondary, further and higher education.

  • Education in England explained

    Ages 4-11

    Children attend primary school (Years Reception to 6).

     

    Ages 11-16

    Children attend secondary school (Year 7–11).

    At age 16, students take GCSE exams covering Maths, English Language, English Literature and Sciences, and other chosen subjects.

     

    Ages 16-18

    Students attend college / sixth form.

    They can choose to take A levels, a type of further education qualification, if they want to go to university.

     

    Ages 18+

    Students may choose to study a bachelor’s (or ‘undergraduate’) degree.

    Bachelor’s degrees in England usually last 3–4 years. They focus on writing and analytical thinking, helping students to develop academic and work-related skills.

    University graduates can then study a master’s (or ‘postgraduate’) degree.

    A master’s degree in England usually lasts 1 year. It requires extensive research, in-depth analysis and a demonstration of critical thinking.

  • Education in Scotland explained

    Education in Scotland is not quite the same as in other parts of the UK. While it remains very similar up to the age of 11, the education system is different from secondary school onwards.

     

    Ages 11-16

    Children attend secondary school (Years S1 to S4).

    Instead of taking GCSEs, Scottish students take between 6 and 9 ‘Nationals’ – formerly known as Standard Grades – in S4 (4th year of secondary school).

     

    Ages 16-18

    Students can choose to leave education, or stay on to take usually 4 or 5 ‘Highers’ in Year 5 of secondary school (S5). Highers are primarily assessed by exams, but may also include coursework.

    In Year 6, they can take more Highers, or even ‘Advanced Highers’.

     

    Ages 17+

    Depending on their level of education, students can then choose to go to university – often after Year 5 of secondary school.

    Scottish undergraduate degrees usually last 4 years. Similar to bachelor’s degrees in England, they are centred on writing and analytical thinking, helping students to develop not just academic knowledge, but transferrable skills for the workplace too.

    University graduates in Scotland can then study a master’s (or ‘postgraduate’) degree.

    A master’s degree in Scotland usually lasts 1 year. It requires thorough research, detailed analysis and an ability to show critical evaluation.

Education in the USA

In the USA, compulsory education varies from state to state, but most children must attend school between ages 6 and 18. The education system is divided into primary, secondary and higher education.

  • Education in the USA explained

    Ages 5-11

    Children attend elementary school (kindergarten to grade 5).

     

    Ages 11-14

    Children attend middle school (grades 6-8).

     

    Ages 14-18

    Students attend high school (grades 9–12).

    They  complete coursework in English, Math, Science, Social Studies and Physical Education, and can choose optional courses from Arts, Foreign Languages and other departments.

     

    Ages 18+

    Students can choose to study a bachelor’s (or “undergraduate”) degree at a college or university.

    US bachelor’s degrees usually last 4 years. Students take classes in a variety of departments before officially declaring a “major” (primary subject of focus) by the end of their 2nd year. They develop critical thinking, writing and presentation skills, and build on other areas to prepare them for their careers.

    After a bachelor’s degree, some students continue on to a master’s degree (also called a “graduate” degree).

    An American master’s degree usually lasts 2–3 years, but fast-track 1 year programs are available. Graduate-level education lets students study a subject in greater depth, and can either be academic or more career-focused.

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