United States School System

The Federal Government does not run public schools, rather, each of the 50 states has its own Department of Education that sets guidelines for the schools of that state.  In the United States, education is mandatory until ages 16 to 18 depending on the individual state.


The structure of the New York State School system is as follows:

  • In New York State, children who will will be five years old by December 1st enter Kindergarten.  Many school districts also offer an optional Pre-Kindergarten program.  Grades One through Twelve follow for the next twelve years.



Preschool is the first type of education for 3- and 4-year olds. In many places, 3-year olds attend preschool two days a week,     4-year olds for 3 days a week. Preschool focuses more on physical, social, and emotional development of young children, and far less on “education”. Preschoolers are often introduced to reading, writing, and the alphabet–but at a very early level. Preschoolers generally are not expected to have mastered these. Preschool is generally not offered by public school districts; instead it is provided by churches, daycares, or cooperatives.


The next step is kindergarten, schooling for 5-year-olds. It is generally optional (though recommended). In some districts, a school day only lasts for of the day. Most public school districts make kindergarten available for children within their district.


After that, grade school begins. This is the first mandatory year of schooling for children. It usually begins in the fall after the child’s sixth birthday, though in some areas five-year-olds who are near their sixth birthday are allowed to enter first grade.

This is typically divided into elementary school (first – third grade), middle school (fourth – eighth grade), and high school (ninth – twelfth grade). It may vary, but this is the most common division.



The following terms are used to describe students in grades 9-12; they are also used for college undergraduates-

  • Freshman: Grade 9/first year of college (American usage of the word “college”)
  • Sophomore: Grade 10/second year of college
  • Junior: Grade 11/third year of college
  • Senior: Grade 12/fourth year of college




In most parts of the United States, school attendance is for 5 days of the week (Monday through Friday), nine months (180 instruction days) of the year. A full school day is usually 7-8 hours, including a break for lunch, excluding extracurricular activities such as sports.

The school year generally starts anywhere from mid-August to late September, and generally ends anywhere from mid-May to late June (though snow days in northern districts can sometimes push this into July). Two major breaks during the school year are winter vacation (often called Christmas vacation)- typically 2-1/2 weeks in December, and Spring Break– 1 week off in late March (sometimes early April).

Generally, younger children (grades 3 and lower) only go to school for half the day.


College and University

In the United States, the words “college” and “university” are mostly interchangeable, and to most people outside the US, they are.  

Both offer courses that satisfy requirements to earn an associate’s, bachelor’s, and graduate degrees. An associate’s degree typically takes 2 years to complete; bachelor’s takes 4. Graduate school is optional for students who want to go even further in their chosen field of study.

Colleges and universities can be either public or private.  

There are many schools with similar names, so it’s important to be aware that something like “Boston College” and “Boston University” are two different schools.  However, it’s up to your own discretion about which one is the best choice. Rather than the name of the school, look at the courses being offered, and decide based on your interests.



Where to Start

Once you figure out what level you’re at, you should contact the local social services, who can direct you to the right school/agency, and give you more specific information about your area.

Students typically attend schools in the district they live in.   

The Broome County Government has a complete listing of all the school districts and educational institutes on their website. Please visit the website below for more information regarding individual institutions –