expat network

Choosing A School In America – Top Issues For Expats

parent abroad
The business of choosing a school in America is of primary importance to expatriate families planning their move there.
The US educational system offers enormous choice: provision varies from state to state, with both public and private schools as well as international schools to choose from.

This article was written exclusively for Expat Network by Stephen Spriggs of William Clarence Education.

Long heralded as the pinnacle of the Western world, America has many allures to its name. From cultural and historical landmarks, natural beauty, a global economic leader and the bright lights of major cities, the States hold a gravitational pull to those with the cash and credit required to relocate.

As expat destinations go, there are many benefits to heading state-side, not least of all the common language and comparative lack of cultural barrier as opposed to alternative locations. Indeed, rather than coming to terms with new alphabets and ways of life, the main differences will be remembering what side of the road to drive on and practising the ability to decline ‘supersizing’ meals in order to protect the waistline. For those travelling with families the educational system in the US is widely regarded as amongst the best in the world.

Depending on where in the country you move will bring with it some unique differences. Unlike most countries, with the sheer vastness of America, moving state to state can be equated to flying to new countries, all with different norms and oft times dramatically different geographical landscapes. Take Texas and Louisiana, while not too far apart one is a cauldron of heat and drought whilst the other experiences the highest amount of rainfall in the country annually resulting in swamps and bayous.

The educational system in the US is spilt between elementary, middle school, high school and college. For expats looking to bring younger family members it’s advisable to check in with local schools prior to arriving to allow time for consideration before enrolling. Home-schooling is also common alongside private schools, every state will have a selection of both though the nearer to a big city you are the more likely you are to find a reputable one.

Like any country the quality of options available in relation to education institutions will vary from city to city and state to state, generally the overall quality of education is amongst the best in the world but it may be a tough task to find schools in states such as New Mexico who have the lowest high school graduation rate in the country, compared to a more urban state like New Jersey who have the second highest rate of graduates.

This correlation is mainly down to the funding avenues, public schools in the USA are typically funded by property taxes, those within wealthier suburbs will likely have better facilities.

For expats only planning to stay for a few years, international schools offer the opportunity to allow children to remain on a British (or the school’s country’s) curriculum, allowing a simpler transition into the new school but also providing the opportunity to easily reintegrate into a school back home. Only 25 of the 51 US states have international schools, these vary in number with New York hosting 13 schools and California with 11 while states such as Colorado only have one. It’s important to note the curriculum being followed at these schools too in order to ensure they match your own, for example while there are many British and French schools, there are only five Japanese schools across the country (plus one to prepare Japanese-Americans to return to Japan).

Once you settle on a school and if private make the necessary payments, interviews and pass any entrance exams, you’re good to go. Term dates in the US vary as each state’s school districts set their own terms, typically they start somewhere between August and September (though some are push into October). There are a number of school holidays throughout the year including the standard Christmas/New Year and half-term breaks, additionally holidays such as Thanksgiving while additional State holidays also provide days off from school.

Regardless of where you’re looking to relocate within the USA, education shouldn’t be too much of an issue. As a leading educator, cultural juggernaut, and general manufacturer, America remains a highly appealing destination for many expatriates and their families.


William Clarence Education is the leading education advisory and consultancy service in the UK. With an unrivalled reach into the UK Schooling and University Network, William Clarence helps and advises families from around the world to reach their maximum potential and gain access to the very best of UK education. With close links to former Heads of Schools and senior figures within the education industry, William Clarence is proud to offer expert advice that puts your child at the centre of the process. Their business works with families at every stage of their academic journey including School placementUniversity placementOxbridge applicationsUS College admissions and Home-schooling.