What Are the Levels of Education?

Get an overview of the different levels of education, from early childhood education to postsecondary education, in this blog post.

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Introductory level

The lowest level of education is typically introductory, which is also known as primary education. This is the level where young children are first exposed to academics and begin to develop the skills they need to succeed in school.


Pre-school (also called nursery school, preschool class, kindergarten outside the US and UK) is an educational establishment or learning space offering early childhood education to children before they begin compulsory education at primary school. It may be publicly or privately operated, and may be subsidized from public funds.


In the United States, kindergarten is the first year of formal education. It typically begins in August or September of the calendar year, and ends in May or June of the following year. Most kindergarten programs last for five half-days per week, although some are full-day programs. Kindergarten is not mandatory in all states, but most parents choose to send their children to kindergarten because it provides them with a head start on their education.

Primary level

Primary education, also known as elementary education in some countries, refers to the first stage of compulsory education. It is typically the stage of education that children receive during their formative years, before they enter secondary education. The exact age range and structure of primary education varies from country to country, but it is generally considered to be between the ages of five and eleven.

Elementary school

Elementary school is the first level of primary education. It usually starts at age 6 and lasts for 6 years. In some countries, children start elementary school at age 5 or 7.

Middle school

The level of education below university level is taught in schools, colleges and sixth forms. There are three main stages of school: primary, secondary and further education (FE).

In England, children between the ages of five and eleven are educated in primary schools. They take KS1 exams at the end of Year 2 and KS2 exams at the end of Year 6.

Secondary school starts at the age of eleven, when children take their KS2 exams. They will stay in secondary school until they are sixteen, taking GCSEs at the end of Year 11.

Further education (FE) usually takes place in colleges, and is for students over the age of sixteen. Colleges offer a wide range of courses, from A-levels to vocational qualifications.

Secondary level

Secondary level education usually takes place in high schools, which are either publicly funded or privately owned institutions. Students typically spend four years at this level, after which they may choose to either enter the workforce or continue their education at a tertiary institution.

High school

The four years of high school are typically completed between the ages of 14 and 18. High school focuses on preparing students for college, but also provides them with basic knowledge and skills that will be necessary in the workforce. Most high school students take a mix of academic and vocational courses.

Vocational school

Vocational schools, also called trade or career schools, are institutions that provide training in a particular trade or craft. Students usually attend vocational schools for a period of one to two years, after which they are prepared to enter the workforce.

Vocational schools can be found throughout the United States, and many offer programs that lead to certification or licensure in a particular field. Common vocations include cosmetology, culinary arts, automotive repair, and carpentry. Many vocational schools also offer programs in healthcare and computer technology.

Tertiary level

The tertiary level of education, also known as post-secondary education, is the stage of education that comes after the secondary level. It generally takes place at universities, colleges, and technical and vocational schools. Tertiary education generally results in the receipt of a certificate, diploma, or degree.


In the United States, a university is an institution of higher education that has been awarded the status of having degree-granting authority by a group of educational peers. Universities typically offer both undergraduate and graduate programs, and many professional programs such as law and medicine.

The word “university” is derived from the Latin word universitas, which means “the whole, total, or universal.” The term was used to describe groups of scholars in the Middle Ages who came together to form an intellectual community. Today, the term university is used to refer to institutions that offer a wide variety of academic programs and award degrees at all levels.


The final level of education is tertiary education, also known as higher education. This is when students attend colleges and universities to study for degrees, diplomas and other academic qualifications. In some countries, such as the United States, college generally refers to a four-year undergraduate program, while in others, such as the United Kingdom, it may refer to any post-secondary education.

There are many different types of tertiary institutions, including public universities, private colleges, community colleges and technical and vocational schools. Tertiary education generally lasts two to four years, depending on the type of institution and program.

Most colleges and universities offer a wide range of undergraduate programs leading to a Bachelor’s degree. These programs typically last four years and include general education courses, as well as courses in the student’s chosen field of study. In some cases, students may be able to complete their Bachelor’s degree in three years by taking advanced courses or earning credit for prior learning.

After completing an undergraduate program, students may choose to pursue a graduate or professional degree. Graduate degrees include Master’s degrees, PhDs and other advanced degrees. These programs usually take two to four years to complete and require significant research and writing. Professional degrees include law degrees (LLBs) and medical degrees (MDs), which typically take four years to complete.

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