Why do American schools start so early?

American high school: Everyday school life in the USA

Published on February 14, 2019

Football, prom and lots of parties: Your image of American high school is probably shaped by numerous US films and series that convey a certain image of everyday school life in the United States. Former exchange students in the USA know that not all common clichés are true.

High schools are very different from schools in Germany. As a “foreign exchange student” you have the unique opportunity to experience the famous “school spirit” up close. You will also learn firsthand why high school is the main stage in the life of every American teenager.

The school system in the USA

Much of your time will be spent at school during your student exchange in the United States. Typically, American teenagers attend high school from ninth through twelfth grades. Classes last from 8 a.m. to around 3 p.m. This is followed by various afternoon activities (“after school activities”).

As an exchange student, you will also have the opportunity to join a sports team or other clubs, such as the school newspaper, the debating club, the theater club or the school band.

In her vlog, our exchange student Antonia takes you to her American school and shows you what a normal school day looks like for her:

The high school in America is a comprehensive school attended by students of all levels of education. There are compulsory subjects such as American history, English, math, and sports that must be taken. There are also various electives. They include, for example, interesting courses such as:

  • Astronomy,
  • Foreign languages,
  • Theater and film studies,
  • Design / architecture,
  • Creative writing,
  • or journalism.

Most of the core subjects are offered at different levels. In addition to a basic course level, there are so-called "C.colleague Preparatory courses ","A.dvanced Placement Courses ”or“ Honors Courses ”. They have a medium to higher level of difficulty. It is even possible for AP course students to collect credits for college.

At the start of your high school year, you will sit down with your school's guidance counselor and create your schedule.

Learn more: Our former exchange student Sophia shows you what a typical school day at an American school looks like in her guest post.

American high school: this is different!

At the beginning of each day you stow your bag and jacket in your locker ("loosely") and take out the books and materials that you need before each lesson.

At your American high school you don't have any classroom instruction. Instead, the teachers have their fixed course rooms that the students visit.

As a rule, “Study Hall” (time for homework or independent study) and “Homeroom” will also be on your schedule. In the home room, attendance is checked, announcements are made and the pledge of allegiance is taken collectively. This will certainly be a bit strange for you at first, but it is an expression of American national pride. Just like singing the national anthem at certain celebrations, it is simply part of it.

Safety first!

In many high schools, security is also an important issue. Unlike in Germany, students are often unable to move freely in the corridors during class times. Written permission from the teacher (“Hallway Pass”) is required to leave the room.

The corridors are mostly monitored by cameras. The entrances to the school building will also be locked after the start of classes. Spontaneous truancy may thus be commonplace in many high school films. In reality, however, it is difficult to do.

Also, especially in more conservative regions, there is often a strict dress and behavior code. A so-called "Public Display of Affection", i.e. any physical and intimate contact such as hugs, kisses or holding hands, is completely forbidden.

From homecoming to graduation

But don't worry! The rules are maybe a bit stricter than you are used to in Germany. Still, as the social hub of American teenagers' lives, high school definitely means one thing: lots of fun!

It is not for nothing that American students identify very strongly with their school, their mascot and the various sports teams. As an exchange student, you will feel this “school spirit” right from the start and quickly learn to appreciate it.

The special highlights of your school year in the USA also include homecoming, prom and of course the high school degree: "Graduation". As an exchange student, you will usually not receive a real diploma at this celebration, but you will receive a certificate of recognition - of course, in the classic gown (“cap and gown”)!

You'll see: At your new American school, you are guaranteed to make connections quickly. Especially in smaller schools, where there are not too many “exchange students”, you will be something special and meet great curiosity from your classmates. If you are open and get involved in one of the many clubs or teams, you will quickly make new international friends!

Do you feel like getting to know life at an American high school as an exchange student? Then you can find out more about your options on our program page.