Life in an American High School

Hi everyone, I am writing a story set in an American high school BUT, I am British and don’t know how it works. Let me explain about typical british high schools and then I would really appreciate someone telling me what the equivalent information is in America.

High school for us is 5 years long, starting at year 7 (the year in which you turn 12) and ending with year 11 (the year in which you turn 16). The years are just called year 7, year 8 and so on, we don’t have names for them like freshman, sophomore and such (please explain those to me). For the first 3 years you don’t get to pick what subjects you do, they are chosen for you, then at the end of year 9 you get to pick some lessons you’d like to do for GCSE’s (end of school exams), You obviously have to keep the core topics like English and Maths and such but you could choose things like a language or drama, some schools do business studies and other more, varied lessons. We also don’t do every lesson every day, we would do English and Maths 3 times a week, Science 2 or 3 and then other lessons would depend where the school slotted them in.

A typical day in a British high school looks like this:

  • 8:40 - arrive at school
  • 8:45 til 9am - Morning Registration (seeing who is there and making sure everyone is ok)
  • 9:00 til 9:45 - Lesson 1
  • 9:45 til 10:30 - Lesson 2
  • 10:30 til 10:45 - Breaktime (I think you guys call in Recess)
  • 10:45 til 11:30 - Lesson 3
  • 11:30 til 12:15 - Lesson 4
  • 12:15 til 1pm - Lunchtime (Once you’ve eaten you can go play outside and some schools even let their Year 11’s (the oldest ones) leave campus to go get food from the local shops)
  • 1:00 til 1:30 - Afternoon Registration and Assembly (to make sure everyone was still in from the morning. Assemblies would generally just be talking about the school values and such or issues affecting the pupils, that sort of thing)
  • 1:30 til 2:15 - Lesson 5
  • 2:15 til 3pm - Lesson 6
  • 3pm - Home time

I watch a lot of American tv so I hear about events that happen throughout the year so if you could tell me about these (and any others I haven’t listed) that would be great, including when they usually happen: Homecoming, Spirit Week, Senior Skip Day, Fall Carnival, Sadie Hawkins Dance and Pep Rallies. Also, what is a GPA (we don’t have that?)

If there is anything else you think I have forgotten, please tell me, I just want to understand what life in an American high school is like so I can make an authentic story :slight_smile:


Okay, let me first say that the British school system sounds amazing for someone that went to American schools all her life. Not all schools do it the same way, but here’s how my experience was:

The School System
There are approximately 4 levels of schooling here in America: Preschool, elementary school, middle school, and high school (there may be a level or so in between, but this is generally the structure). Elementary school starts at approximately 5-6 years old, and preschool is typically for 3-5 year olds (these are definitely approximations, it depends on a person’s birthday when deciding which grade they’ll be placed in). Elementary school is typically grades K (Kindergarten) to 5th (approximately 10-11 years old). From there you move on to middle school, 6-8, until you’re about 14 (or about to turn 14). High school is grades 9-12, and each year has its own name:

Grade 9: Freshman (14-15)
Grade 10: Sophomore (15-16)
Grade 11: Junior (16-17)
Grade 12: Senior (17-18)

Scheduling and GPA
Where I’m from, students are able to choose their schedules from grade 9 on (but there are still required classes each year, such as English (4 years), Math (3 years), Science (2 years), History (1.5 years)). Sophomore year (Grade 10) you’re required to take Drivers Ed, Speech, and Spanish (foreign language credit). You need 23 credits to graduate, which are earned by taking the required classes I listed above. There are other required classes as well, but I won’t go into them as I’m sure they won’t matter, and schools across America likely do it differently than mine did. GPA means Grade Point Average, it shows your overall grade average on a 4.0 scale unless it is weighted by AP classes (which are on a 5.0 scale and for advanced students). The numbers in the scale represent a letter grade each, the classic A, B, C, D, and F. Here’s the list of what they are:

5.0: A [Only achievable when an A is earned in an AP course]
4.0: A
3.0: B
2.0: C
1.0: D
0.0: F

Here’s an example of how a GPA would be calculated:

Let’s say these are a person’s grades:
English: B (3.0)
Math: B (3.0)
History: A (4.0)
P.E. (Physical Education): A (4.0)
Science: C (2.0)
Elective 1: A (4.0)
Elective 2: A (4.0)
Elective 3: B (3.0)

To calculate this person’s GPA, you’d first want to add all of the grade “worths”, we’ll call them, together. So that’d be 3.0 + 3.0 + 4.0 + 4.0 + 2.0 + 4.0 + 4.0 + 3.0 = 27.0. You would then divide that by 8 (or the amount of grades being used), which would get you 3.375. You would round to the nearest tenth to get the GPA, which, in this case, would be 3.4. That means the student would have a B centered GPA because the number falls in the B range.

School Days
A typical school days is about 7 hours here in America. Where I’m from, this is the typical schedule (very rounded, just for a general feel. Also not very accurate because I suck at making schedules):

Hour 1 (start of the day): 8-8:45
Hour 2: 8:50-9:45
Hour 3: 9:50-10:45
Hour 4: 10:50-11:45
Hour 5 (lunch): 11:50-12:20
Hour 6: 12:25-1:30
Hour 7: 1:35-2:50 [Home time]

Every school is different, this is just how my school was. The hours were all pretty much the same amount of time, I just suck at estimating.

School dances and other events you’d see in stories
Many of the listed events from your post revolve around American football. Homecoming, pep rallies, and spirit week all take place Homecoming week. Homecoming is always a home football game weekend, the game typically occurs on a Friday night with the dance occuring soon after. In the week leading up to the Homecoming game there is a spirit week; at my school, students of all grades would compete against the other grades for fun, Seniors (the oldest students) almost always won. Some competitions included dressing up to a spirit week dress up theme each day (like wacky Wednesday, country western/country club, school spirit aka school colors, pajama day, etc.), float building (I’ll explain this in depth in a moment), and finally performance at the pep rallies at the end of the week (Friday, the day of the game). The pep rallies were full of games played between the different grade levels, and even the teachers. After the school day, there was a Homecoming parade featuring floats created by each grade level (9-12), the Homecoming King and Queen (nominated the week of the Homecoming game and announced during the pep rally, not during the dance like many believe), and many other things that I can’t think of. Senior ditch day (or skip day) typically occurs the Monday after the Homecoming dance (which occurs near the end of September to early October), or after Prom (April or May). I never participated in these days to know enough about them, but only a handful of seniors from my school ever did them (usually those in general education classes, not in AP classes). As for the Fall Carnival and Sadie Hawkins Dance you mentioned, I don’t know what those are either, my school never had those.

I hope this helped to answer the questions you had about American high school! If you have any other questions, or if I missed anything, feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to answer them!


My school is very similar to the one Winteronepisode mentioned. However, classes were one hour long and we ended school at 3:12 pm and lunch would be during Hour 4/what we call 4th Period.

As for Registration… the closest thing for my school at least would be advocacy. Advocacy/Home Room is a once a week activity in between periods (around Period 2 and 3) that would talk about “school values and such or issues affecting the pupils” as you mentioned in your Afternoon Registration and Assembly. While attendance is checked, it is not the priority of advocacy, though. Students would have the same advocacy class throughout their 4 years of high school with the same teacher and same students.

A Zero Period class is also available to students if they desire or need to take it to fulfil graduation requirements. This is a class that occurs around 7:00 - 7:55 am (before typical school starts). Only about 10-25% of students at my school would take one of these each year.

Besides Homecoming, juniors (grade 11) and seniors (grade 12) each have one major school dance. For juniors, it’d be Junior Prom which was the most well-known dance at my school. Only grade 11 students are allowed to go. Everyone dresses up really nice and usually bring prom dates or go with friends in the spring-time. For seniors, it’d be Senior Ball. It’s also a dance where only grade 12 students are allowed, and everyone also dresses up really nice for this one, too.

Graduating requirements for my school were very similar as well, but my school’s personal graduation requirements didn’t need Drivers Ed and instead required students to pass a Government and an Economics class. Math is required for senior year, but you can choose to take it 3 out of 4 years in high school. We were also on a 60 credit scale for graduation, but the required classes are probably just have different credit scores proportional to 23 credits.

I hope this helps.

Everything above pretty much covers it. There’s also a general time frame of the school year…

School usually starts towards the end of August and ends around the second Friday of June. The school year is commonly split into trimesters which divides the academic year into 3 sessions: fall, winter, and spring. Each trimester is about 12-13 weeks long. Then there’s obviously breaks such as three day weekends, winter break (2 weeks long) and spring break (1 week long).

Idk if this is important but there are also conferences where the student usually brings their parent(s) to the school so teachers can tell parent(s) how the student is doing in class. I don’t think it’s mandatory, and I got a couple days off when it came close.

And about the the Fall Carnival and Sadie Hawkins Dance events, I’d say fall carnivals are more connected to the city/town than the school. I had to look up with a sadie hawkins dance was since I haven’t heard it called that, but my school did have that same event where the girls asked out the guys to a dance (it just wasn’t called Sadie Hawkins). It was informal and there was a theme around it, I remember one year the theme was Jurassic Park or something like that and the couples wore Jurassic Park outfits/shirts.

Just to add depending on what state you’re referring to, the school times end differently. For an example I’m from Nj and the school schedule from me is like this

  • School Opens - 7:30
  • School Starts - 8:30-8:45ish
  • First Period - 8:30/8:45- 9:15 (breakfast time)
  • Second Period - 9:25- 9:50
  • Third period - 9:50 - 10:33
  • Fourth period (typically lunch time for the lowest grade) 10:33-11:15
  • Fifth period- 11:15- 12:00
  • Sixth period - 11:15-12:43
  • Seventh period - 12:43 - 1:25
  • Eighth period - 1:25 - 2:15
  • Ninth period - 2:15 - 2:45

Then school is over. :slight_smile:

Oh and btw and some different cites the school starts around August, but ends in june. My school starts at September tho and ends and june.

Thank you all so much, this information is really helpful for me. I’m going to keep the thread open though in case anyone else wishes to add anything.


My school was the same way with these, I forgot to mention them. Senior year was when Government and Consumers/Economics were required, sophomore year you had to either take Drivers Ed in school or confirm you were taking it somewhere else.

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