Distinguishing High School from College

High School vs College

It is crucial to understand the distinctions between high school and college for those planning to pursue higher education. High School, College, and University are terms used to describe educational institutions that teach students at various levels. However, the level of teaching provided and the authority to award certificates varies from country to country. The term high school was first used in Scotland to describe secondary school, with the world’s oldest high school being the Royal High School (Edinburgh), established in 1505. In this article, we will explore how these two terms are interpreted in different English-speaking countries.

What is High School?

In the United States, high school generally refers to an upper secondary school that educates children from grade 9 through grade 12. However, this definition may differ across states within the US, with some senior high schools covering only grades 10-12 and others educating students from grades 7-12 or 6-12. Upon successful completion of high school, students receive a high school diploma or general education development (GED) certificate, which is required to enter a college, university, or other tertiary education programs. In addition to general high schools, there are vocational high schools in the US that offer career-based hands-on training to students.

In the United Kingdom, England, and Wales, the term high school is not officially used to describe secondary schools, although the term was introduced by Scotland to refer to secondary schools. In most Commonwealth countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand, high school is commonly used to refer to institutions providing secondary education to students. However, the grades covered may vary from country to country and state to state. Upon successful completion of high school, students receive a High School certificate, which is essential for tertiary education in most cases.

In Canada, high school generally refers to schools comprising grades 8 through 12 and may also be called Secondary School or Collegiate Institute. In India, secondary educational institutions are known as Higher Secondary School, Senior Secondary School, or Junior College.

What is College?

The definition of college depends on the country in which it operates. The term college has various meanings, including a degree-awarding tertiary educational institution, an institution within a university or affiliated with it, a vocational institution, or a secondary school.

In the United States and Ireland, college and university are loosely interchangeable, with both offering undergraduate studies and awarding degrees. However, a university is a research institution offering post-graduate degrees in addition to awarding undergraduate degrees.

In the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and other Commonwealth countries, college often refers to a high school, a vocational institution, or a part of a university. In these countries, the term college is more commonly used to refer to an institution between secondary school and university or to a part of the university that does not have degree-awarding powers but prepares students for the degree of the university with which it is associated or affiliated. Some university colleges are independent and have the power to award degrees, but they are not recognized on par with universities.

The term college is also used to refer to some professional bodies, such as the Royal College of Organists, the Royal College of Surgeons, etc.

What is the difference between High School and College?

  • High school refers to an educational institution that offers secondary education, with the available grades varying from country to country and state to state. It may have grades from 10 through 12, 6 to 12, or anything in between and up to the secondary certificate level (diploma in the US).
  • A college in the US may offer degrees, whereas, in the UK and other Commonwealth countries, it does not have degree-awarding authority on its own. It is commonly an educational institution between secondary school and university.
Maria Nguyen
Maria Nguyen
Maria Nguyen is a talented writer with a flair for developing captivating content in a range of formats. Her commitment to thorough research and producing top-notch material has contributed to over 4 years of professional writing and editing experience. Outside of work, Maria finds pleasure in solitary activities and immersing herself in nature. Her introspective nature and passion for self-reflection inspire her creativity. She believes that spending time alone and observing the natural world can provide valuable insights and foster personal growth, broadening her perspective as a writer.


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