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What Is a Secondary School Compared to High School? Mystery Solved!

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: September 7, 2019

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: September 7, 2019


With so many terms for parts of the education system that seem to change between every country, it can be confusing to know what is a secondary school. Especially when compared to high school, college, preparatory school, senior secondary school, how do you keep them all straight?

First of all, no matter what the title is, high school or secondary, your diploma will mean something similar all over the world — that you are ready for the next step of your life! So, let’s solve the mystery of what is a secondary school compared to high school.

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What is a Secondary School?

Secondary school refers to the schooling offered after a primary school, and before higher, optional education. Most countries offer part of secondary school as optional schooling in preparation for higher education.

What is Secondary School in the U.S.?

Simply put, there is no such thing as secondary school in the United States. Technically speaking, and by definition, middle school (grades 6-8), and high school (grades 9-12) can be considered part of secondary school because they are offered after elementary school. However, you will be hard-pressed to find someone using the term ‘secondary school’ to describe any schooling in the United States.

Is Secondary School the Same as High School?

Yes! And no. Secondary school is defined as schooling after elementary school, therefore in the U.S. that would be grades 6 through 12. However, once a student reaches grade 9, they are considered to be a high school student. Generally speaking, however, secondary school in many English-speaking countries is equivalent to high school in the U.S.

High School in the U.S. and Canada

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In the U.S., high school consists of grades 9-12. It is compulsory education. After a student graduates from high school, they will then go on to college, university, army, or enter the workforce.

In Canada, the situation is very similar. Secondary school also consists of grades 9-12 and after, Canandian students go to college or university. In Quebec, however, high school is grades 7-12.

Secondary School in Australia and New Zealand

In these oceanic countries, schooling changes a bit. School is compulsory until grade 10, and there are schools called secondary school and senior secondary school. After grade 10, which is the end of secondary school, students may enter the workforce or an apprenticeship. After secondary school, students may also attend senior secondary school (grades 11-12). This is seen as preparation to enter a university or training school.

Secondary School in the U.K.

There are two types of secondary schools in the United Kingdom. Lower secondary school is compulsory and is for ages 12 to 16. After lower secondary school, a student may continue to upper secondary school for ages 16 to 18. Upper secondary school is seen as preparation for university.

Secondary School in South Africa

South Africans sure do get their school types mixed up — secondary school is also called high school, and is called college as well! While this form of schooling is for grades 8-12 in South Africa, schooling is only compulsory until grade 10.

Is College a Secondary School?

In most cases, no. Secondary school is the education a student receives before college or university. However, some countries such as South Africa use the terms college, secondary school, and high school interchangeably.

What to Do After High School or Secondary School

If you’re about to finish high school or secondary school, congratulations! You have an exciting future ahead of you! And good for you for looking at your options now, listed below:

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1. Higher Education

Colleges and universities are a common option for students after high school or secondary school all over the world. You will be able to earn a degree and advance your career in what you love, while learning about yourself, making lifelong friends and having a once in a lifetime experience. If you are worried about the growing student debt, or time commitment in college, don’t be! There are so many flexible, online options for degree programs. University of the People offers a US accredited, tuition-free Associate and Bachelor degrees.

2. Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are still available today. If you know what you want to do, and understand that real, on the job training under a professional is how to get to the next level of your career, then an apprenticeship might be right for you. Common areas of apprenticeship include construction, health technology, and installation, maintenance and repair jobs.

3. Training Programs

There are many training programs that will lead straight to a specific career, instead of spending time earning a degree. Many people choose this route because it gives them a specific focus that can lead to a good job, in less time than a typical four-year degree. Examples of careers earned from training programs include dental hygienist, IT technician, computer programmer, web developer, paralegal, medical technologist and technician, and therapy assistant, among many others.

4. Enter the Workforce

Many people decide to get their feet wet in a job or career right after high school or secondary school. This is a great option for people who are already qualified for what they know they want to do, for people who want some extra time to think about the right degree program, or save money, or for people who want to spend a bit more time traveling or finding themselves before starting college.

5. Join the Military

This is a big decision, and for many, it’s the right decision. If you love your country and want to serve time for them, while gaining experience and benefits, the military might be right for you. There are many different paths to follow in the military, so you can find the right one for you. In addition, you will get tuition benefits for when you do decide to go to school after the military.

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If you attended high school or secondary school, there are so many options available to you now after graduation. The world is your oyster, and you can achieve whatever you set your mind to. If you’re looking for further reading, check out this article: Things I Wish I Knew When I Graduated High School.

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.