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relocating to the USA

When you’ve secured your dream job abroad stateside, the initial ecstatic feeling of relocating to the USA is often followed by slight panic at the scale of preparation required for the move. If travelling with a family this concern is often regarding the education system. The last thing people want to do is disrupt their child’s progress and you want to ensure they can thrive on their own terms.

Here we provide an insight into the US school system, the factors to consider and look at how you can positively influence your child’s school experience:

Local or international school? And how are they funded?

Due to the lack of a language barrier, going to a local public school (American state schools) is a valid option for British children living in the USA, although there are cultural differences to be aware of. Enrolment in US state funded schools is down to application by district, so it is worth researching, or having a relocations expert research the situation in the district you are moving to.

Your other options are international or private schools which have the advantage of offering a more diverse curriculum but naturally cost more. Prices vary by state but are normally comparable to their UK equivalents.

The qualifications

The education system normally follows the same format: elementary school (kindergarten to 5th grade or age 5-10), middle school (6th to 8th grade or age 11-13) and high school (9th to 12th grade or age 14-18).

Most of the qualifications on offer are recognised across the globe, the International Baccalaureate (IB) is widely recognised as are the American curriculums.

When relocating to the USA, if your child is halfway through year 11 in the UK, if feasible and they can stay with relatives, it may be worth letting them complete their GCSEs before making the move. However if a child is at the start of their GCSEs, the US system is fairly flexible and it is possible to switch to a high school diploma or IB qualification. Transferring over at the age of 14 could be a good move because children would start as a high school “Freshman” and their fellow pupils would also be starting anew.

The maths and science syllabus vary significantly in the USA so it is definitely worth practicing some online tests while still in the UK. These can be expensive to download but worth it, particularly if the school you choose for your child requires an admissions test.

What is the classroom culture like?

In the USA, there is a fairly casual teacher-student relationship. Students are encouraged to provide individual opinions and debate openly. The lack of school uniform in state schools also makes for a more relaxed classroom atmosphere.

There is a real emphasis on extracurricular activities, particularly but not exclusively sports. Identifying suitable options and encouraging your child to participate in these will be a great way for making friends.

Research, research, research

While the above has hopefully provided an overview of the US educational system, the federal government has a limited influence on educational policy and it really does change from state to state.

School districts vary in size and are managed by a school board which represents the local community. The educational values and resources offered by each school is therefore heavily affected by where the school is located.

If you are relocating to the USA, do your research for the specific area you are moving to. Phone schools in the area and ask them how common it is for British students to join the school and what sort of challenges they have faced with the switch. For a more objective view, U.S. News publishes a High School Rankings report which provides useful insights across 50 states and the district of Colombia. If you don’t have the time to carry out this research it may be worth seeking the advice of a relocations expert.


If you are relocating to the USA, Crown Relocations can help you find the right schools for your children click here to find out more.

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