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Overview of US Education System (K-12)

Education in the United States is mainly provided by the public sector, with control and funding coming from three different levels: federal, state, and local. Child education is compulsory and can be satisfied by many ways such as public schools, state-certified private schools, or an approved home school program.

Public education is well present in the United States. From kindergarten to 12th grade (K-12), many public schools will be in your neighborhood whether it’s an elementary, middle or high school. Any K-12 public school curricula or any resources necessary are controlled and represented by elected school boards governing school districts in the county you reside. They possess jurisdiction in schools and apply the decisions made by the states or federal legislature represented by the U.S. Department of Education.

All children are required to enroll in school by age 5. For Washington D.C. and Maryland, your child must turn 5 by September 1st; for Virginia, by September 30th. An overview of the grade levels and typical age ranges are available here.
There are many public and private school options for you to evaluate and choose from in the DC, Virginia and Maryland area.


Elementary School

It is the main point of delivery of primary education in the United Stated for children between the ages of 4 and 11 years old from grade one through 6 th grade. Typically, the curriculum in public elementary education is determined by individual school districts. The school district selects curriculum guides and textbooks that reflect a state’s learning standards and benchmarks for a given grade level.

Middle School

Middle school is from 6 th grade through 8 th grade. It is the first step of Secondary education in the United States. Variety of classes are larger, allowing the student to start taking a foreign language or advanced math and science classes in middle school. Most middle schools have “honors” classes for motivated and gifted students, where the quality of education is higher and much more is expected from the enrolled student. Successful completion of middle school leads entry into high school.

High School

High school is from 9th grade through 12th grade. It is the last step of Secondary education in the United States. There are many types of high school depending of your child’s needs but high school is the key element in order to enter to college thanks to an abundant choice of different courses suited to the student’s level. Most high schools prepare well students to college with advanced level courses known as AP (Advanced Placement) or offer them the opportunity to work for the International Baccalaureate, a highly respected education allowing the student to apply to excellent universities anywhere in the world.

Bilingual Schools (International Private Schools Education System)

Apart from the International Baccalaureate schools, the Maryland and DC areas benefit the presence of schools with a unique education system. Your children will be therefore capable of continuing or maybe even finish their respective education program before applying for a university. These bilingual schools are the following:

Lycee Rochambeau – The French International School

Rochambeau presents a unique opportunity: a truly transformative environment in which students learn, grow and become fully prepared to thrive and succeed in an ever-changing world. Rochambeau optimizes students’ potential by giving them as many opportunities as possible for their future. Having a broad base of knowledge, the ability to think critically, and an understanding of the world from different perspectives, Rochambeau graduates are bicultural and bilingual, often multilingual. With both a US High School diploma and a French Baccalauréat with the OIB Option (Option Internationale du Baccalauréat), they can choose their education in the US, Canada, the UK, and France or anywhere in the world. This is the Rochambeau Advantage.

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The British School of Washington

The British School of Washington is a distinctive private international school, with over sixty nationalities represented in their student body. From kindergarten to 12th grade students, they also propose the International Baccalaureate program allowing students to be accepted from leading colleges and universities worldwide.

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The German School of Washington

Located in Potomac, MC, the German School has been teaching children from preschool through twelfth grade over 50 years. The diplomas granted at the end of twelfth grade provide students access to universities in Europe as well as in the United States.

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International Baccalaureate Education – Washington International School (WIS)

The International Baccalaureate Organization (known as the IB) offers four high-quality and challenging educational programs for a worldwide community of schools, aiming to create a better, more peaceful world. At the centre of international education in the IB are students ages 3 to 19 with their own learning styles, strengths, and challenges. Students of all ages come to school with combinations of unique and shared patterns of values, knowledge, and experience of the world and their place in it.

Washington International School is a coeducational independent school (private school) offering a challenging curriculum and rich language program from Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12.

Washington International School allows students to develop the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the prestigious IB Diploma Program, the curriculum in Grades 11 and 12.

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Applying to College

Students should meet with their high school counselor to learn about the process of applying to college.

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Standardized Tests

Standardized tests are required by most U.S. colleges, although requirements are different for each school.


The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) is a nationwide, multiple-choice test that 10th- and 11th-grade high school students take as practice for the SAT and ACT. The test is given at schools each fall and can also be used to identify National Merit Scholars and award merit scholarships. The PSAT 10 is the same test as the PSAT/NMSQT but it is only for 10th-grade students, is given during the spring, and its scores are not eligible for the National Merit Scholars Program.

The PSAT/NMSQT and the PSAT 10 cover the same content areas. Both tests provide students and educators with the chance to check in on progress toward college and career readiness and success. Both serve as an excellent way for students to review and practice for the SAT because they are tightly aligned with the SAT.

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The SAT is the nation’s most widely used college admission test. Used with high school GAP, SAT scores are the best predictors of a student’s potential to succeed in college.

A new version of the New SAT is coming in March 2016 with different rules than the current one. The New SAT is the anchor of the SAT Suite of Assessments. Tightly aligned with the PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, and PSAT 8/9, it provides a powerful connection to college and career. As students will progress from grade to grade, the tests will keep pace, matching the scope and difficulty of work found in the classroom. The main skills and knowledge areas it will test are the following:

  •   Reading Test
  •   Writing and Language Test
  •   Math Test
  •   SAT Essay (now optional)

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SAT Subject Tests

Subject tests are hour-long (much shorter than the SAT), content-based tests that allow you to showcase achievement in specific subject areas where you excel. These are the only national admissions tests where you choose the tests that best showcase your achievements and interests.

SAT Subject Tests allow you to differentiate yourself in the college admission process or send a strong message regarding your readiness to study specific majors or programs in college. In conjunction with your other admission credentials (high school record, SAT scores, teacher recommendations, etc.), they provide a complete picture of your academic background and interests.

There are 20 SAT Subject Tests in five general subject areas: English, History, Languages, Mathematics and Science.

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Originally an abbreviation of American College Testing, the ACT is a standardized test for high school achievement and college admissions in the United States produced by ACT, Inc. The ACT and SAT have the same “value” in terms of evaluation as colleges and universities accept the ACT or the SAT for college applications. High school students are encouraged to take both standardized tests in order to evaluate their best performances. However, the ACT is somehow different than the SAT for many reasons (duration, scores, penalty guess, essay, etc.). For example, the sections of the ACT are the following:

  •   English
  •   Mathematics
  •   Reading
  •   Science
  •   Writing Test (optional)

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English-language Proficiency Exams


The TOEFL iBT Test, administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) via the Internet, is an important part of your journey to study in an English-speaking country. This test measures your ability to use and understand English at the university level. It evaluates how well your combine your listening, reading, speaking and writing skills to perform academic tasks.

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IELTS – International English Language Testing System

IELTS is accepted as evidence of English-language proficiency by over 9000 organizations worldwide. It is jointly owned by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment.

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How much you are willing to or can spend on college is a very important factor to take into consideration in the college selection process. While you should never let the price of a school discourage you from applying, you do need to think about that massive tuition bill.

Field of Study

One thing that’s really important when you’re comparing schools is ones offer the major you would like to study. While most four-year colleges offer most majors, there are some specializations within majors that not all colleges offer.
Don’t forget to check out the specific professors in your field of study because they will be directly responsible for what you learn or don’t.

Where you will live

This factor is two-fold. You need to decide where you will live, as in the location of the school and where you will live, as in housing.
Location: school out of state, different weather, rural areas
Housing: dorms/campus, roommates, off-campus apartment
All these information can have a significant importance in your choice of college.

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Early Decision (ED) & Early Action

Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) plans can be beneficial to students – but only to those who have thought through their college options carefully and have a clear preference for one institution.

Early Decision plans are binding – a student who is accepted as an ED applicant must attend the college. Early Action plans are nonbinding – students receive an early response to their application but do not have to commit to the college until the normal reply date of May 1. Counselors need to make sure that students understand this key distinction between the two plans.