Decoding American education

Lots of the books we have in the ILC were written in the USA, and set in the American school system – Such as “To all the boys I’ve loved before” by Jenny Han, “The rest of us just live here” by Patrick Ness, or “Percy Jackson and the lightning thief” by Rick Riordan.

But what do words like “junior”, “freshman”, “junior high”, “varsity team”, “jock”, “preppy” or even “6th grade” mean?

Hold onto your baseball cap for our whistle stop tour of American school terms and their British equivalents…

In the USA children start school a year later than here, so their first year – called Kindergarten – is the equivalent of Year 1. Check out the chart below.

British Year American Grade Also known as
Year 7 6th Grade  
Year 8 7th Grade  
Year 9 8th Grade  
Year 10 9th Grade Freshman year
Year 11 10th Grade Sophomore year
Year 12 11th Grade Junior year
Year 13 12th Grade Senior year

Even more confusingly, like some places in the UK, the USA has a three school system – Elementary School up until 6th Grade, then a Junior High for 7th and 8th Grades, then a High School until the end of senior year.

Your year group isn’t always set by your age, you can be held back, or jump forward a year.

And as for those other terms, the “Varsity Team” are usually for 11th and 12th graders and the elite players. A “jock” is someone who plays a lot of sport. Describing someone as “preppy” means that they look as if they were a pupil at a private school.

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