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If you’re immigrating to America, you’ll be pleased to know that according to research from the United Nations, as brought together in the Social Progress Imperative education ratings, the USA’s education system is ranked 14th in the world.

While not in the top 10, the $1.3 trillion (overall) national education budget results in a literacy rate of 99% and all citizens are entitled to free education until university.

There are, however, a few things you need to understand to make sense of the American education system.

Education 101 in the USA – what you need to know about American schooling

As an expat, making sense of the American education system can be a bit tricky, and if you’re still planning on immigrating to this country it makes sense to acquaint yourself with the structure the schooling system.


Our overview below will give you some pointers on education in the US of A.

There is no country-wide curriculum

Unlike South Africa, there is no country-level education system or curriculum in the USA. Each of the 50 states has its own Department of Education, which sets the guidelines for the schools of that state. No matter where your children are being educated in the USA, if they are in grades 1 – 12 they will not have to pay tuition at a public school. College and university students do pay tuition and may get loans in order to do so.

The three levels of education

While the schooling system might vary from state to state, most school districts are divided into three levels – Elementary School (kindergarten to grade 5), Middle School (grade 6 – 8) and High School (grade 9 – 12). It is compulsory in the USA for children to attend school until age 16, although most attend and complete grade 12.

Expats and public schools

As an expat, your children will be able to attend a public school in their local area. Although the fees are usually free, there may be some costs associated with books, equipment and uniforms. These fees vary from school to school and state to state. If you place your children at your local public school, they are likely to mix with a wider, more varied sample of American children and settle quickly into their local neighbourhood.

Private schools

It is generally felt that private schools in the USA do offer a better standard of education than public schools – as is the case in South Africa. The teachers do not have to conform to the state educational directives and have more flexibility and freedom to implement a variety of teaching styles.

All private schools are fee-paying schools and because of this, they tend to offer a greater variety of extra-curricular activities and support to their student. Securing a place at a private school is not dependent on the area in which you live. Your children will be able to attend a private school in another state if you choose, and boarding facilities are often available.

Colleges and Universities

Admission policies to colleges and universities vary from one to the next. But most determine their admission based on several criteria including the child’s Grade Point Average (GPA), their Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or American College Testing (ACT) exam scores, their extra curricular activities, a written essay and occasionally, a personal interview.

World Ranking education

Where the USA really comes into its own, is in the tertiary education sphere. The World University Ranking 2016-2017 show that America’s universities dominate the top 10 with:

  • The California Institute of Technology in 2nd place
  • Standford University in 3rd place
  • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 5th place
  • Harvard University in 6th place
  • Princeton University in 7th place

In addition, nine American universities are ranked in the 10th place to 20th spots. So without a doubt, when your children get to university, they’ll benefit from some of the best education in the world.

Let finglobal.com sort your finances

Although public school education is free in America, you will have to fork out for your children’s private tuition or university fees. Luckily, you could use your South African retirement savings as a financial windfall, or perhaps you have tax rebates due to you?

If you’re not sure, finglobal.com can assist you in analysing your cross-border financial portfolio and advise on the optimal route for transferring your funds abroad. Simply leave your details and we’ll call you back for a free assessment.
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