For our members outside of the United States that are unfamiliar with the education system, this guide is here for you to explain how high school and university is run in America (obviously it can and does vary widely across the country) and specifics to Elias Academy.
Public high school in America is free (paid for by taxes) and mandatory. Students start in kindergarten, typically at age 5-6. In Maine, the cut-off is October 15th: if you are 5 at the beginning of the school year or will turn 5 before October 15th, you will enter kindergarten that year. If you turn 5 after October 15th, you must wait until the next school year. After that is 1st grade, 2nd grade, and so on all the way until 12th grade, when students graduate, usually at 17-18 years of age. Pre-kindergarten programs for children under the age of 5 do exist, but are not mandatory and are often not free. Which school students go to usually depends on zoning: where their parents live determines which school they go to. Some schools (usually middle/junior high and high schools) have specialty programs that allow students to transfer to one other than their assigned one.
Elias Academy is very similar to public school in most aspects. One big difference is that it is technically considered a boarding school, as students live in the dorms. Therefore, it is not free, but has tuition like college. Like college, too, however, there are ways to get help paying for the tuition, like student loans, financial aid, and scholarships. There is an organization on the island that helps pay for students who do not have the financial means to do so themselves. Those who cannot or do not want to pay for schooling at the Academy can attend the public high school on the mainland, reachable by the ferry.
High school usually begins when students are 14-15 and lasts four years (grades 9-12). They are often referred to as your freshman (9th), sophomore (10th), junior (11th), and senior (12th) years. American high school education is 'general education', so students are expected to obtain general knowledge in what's known as the 'core' curriculum: English literature and grammar, math, history, and science. These are required for all students all four years of high school; some variation does exist, i.e. a student can choose between chemistry or biology for their science, but they must fulfill certain graduation requirements. Physical education (gym class and health and sex education) is required for the first two years. Other subjects, like various arts, music, or foreign languages, are viewed as electives students can choose between in addition to their core requirements.
Grading is from highest to lowest: A, B, C, D, F. Some schools also use a 4.0 grading system, where an A is a 4.0, a B a 3.0, C 2.0, D 1.0, and F 0. Grades are then averaged together to get one grade (a Grade Point Average, or GPA). F is considered a failing grade, and students who receive an F are usually required to retake the class, whether it be during the next school year or over the summer in summer school. High schools are often quarterly instead of semesterly; classes last a full year, but grades are issued every 9 weeks in quarterly 'report cards'. One final, averaged grade at the end of the year is the grade that will be reflected on their transcript. Seniors who do not fulfill their graduation requirements are 'held back', meaning they must complete another year in high school.
School typically runs from late August to mid-May, five days a week, with breaks for Thanksgiving (that Thursday and the same Friday), winter break (a week and a half to two weeks in the third and fourth weeks of December, resuming school sometime in the first week of January), and spring break (typically the week before Easter Sunday, as it used to be called Easter break), with a day or two here and there for other federal holidays. A school day lasts around seven hours, from eight am to three pm, with staggered thirty minute lunch breaks. Most high schools do not allow students to leave campus at any point during the day without permission, including lunch. Students may either bring their own lunch or buy one, but everyone must eat in the cafeteria. Each student is only allowed a certain number of absences per quarter. If they exceed that number they may face academic consequences, fail and be forced to repeat that year, or, in extreme cases, be brought up on truancy charges. High school is mandatory through age 16; after that, students are allowed to 'drop out'. Students who don't finish and graduate with their diploma can later go back and take a test (called a General Education Development, or GED) to stand in as alternative certification.
In addition to academics, sports and clubs are big parts of the American high school experience. Sports are usually based on skill; only those who are able to make the team will be able to play. Some smaller schools or less popular sports do have teams that are small enough that anyone interested can play. Being able to play on your school's sports team is directly tied to your academic and legal record, however; being put on academic probation due to too many failing classes or getting in legal trouble will get you suspended from or even removed from your team. Teams will play teams from other schools in the same district. School clubs work very similarly. Clubs can be organized by faculty or by students, but a staff member is needed to be 'sponsor' to oversee club meetings on school property. Neither sports nor clubs are typically funded by schools: with some need-based exceptions, students will need to be able to pay for their own uniforms, equipment fees, and other costs. Dances are often held by school organizations, such as homecoming (usually coincides with the school football team's first home game), open to all students, and prom, open to only juniors and seniors and their dates.
Students typically begin to start applying for colleges in their junior year, or 11th grade. For this reason, it's largely viewed as the most difficult year, as students must take important classes, maintain their GPA, keep up with their extracurriculars, and prepare to apply for college. Applications usually take months of hard work on the part of the students and counselors. All students are assigned guidance counselors to help them with academic, and sometimes personal, issues. For college applications, they must showcase their academic and extracurricular achievements through their GPA, academic transcript, personal essay, letters of recommendation from faculty or other superiors, and other information deemed pertinent. Taking the SAT and/or ACT used to be required, but is becoming increasingly optional. The number of colleges a student can apply to is unlimited, but they should be prudent: applications are not free (though there are ways to get the fees waived for need-based reasons), and can be expensive depending on the school. Most colleges have an early deadline (usually early fall) for students who are certain they would want to attend that school should they be accepted. For a lot of schools, this earlier deadline is binding; if you are accepted, you are expected to attend barring extreme circumstances. The bigger, later deadline (usually winter, most often January 1st) is not binding but those applicants are not given priority. Students typically apply in the spring/summer of their junior year to the autumn of their senior year. They sometimes apply to the early deadline for the schools they most want and the later deadline for their other choices. Most colleges will notify students whether they're accepted, denied, or waitlisted (meaning they must wait to see how many accepted students actually decide to attend before the college can see how many more they can accept) in early March. Students must inform the school they choose of their acceptance within a few weeks and make sure to keep those grades up! Most acceptances to schools are conditional on your grades staying at a certain level. Soon it's final exams, then graduation time, and off to university!
Students will usually (but not always!) begin semester straight out of high school in the fall after graduation. Most rising freshman are therefore 17-19 years old. Most undergraduate degrees require 120 credit hours to complete, so schools will stress that a course load of 15 credits per semester is the ideal, as it would allow students to complete their degree within four years. The 'years' aren't quite as strict in university; whether you're a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior is not determined by how many years you've spent in school, but by your credit hours. 0-30 hours makes you a freshman, 31-60 a sophomore, 61-90 a junior, and 91+ a senior. A credit is literally an hour's worth of class per week. Most classes are three credits, meaning they meet three hours per week per semester, but some are less, and some (especially labs or foreign languages) can be more credits. As mentioned, 15 credits per semester is the aim most universities will stress for, but anywhere from 12-18 is considered 'full time'. Less than 12 means a student is classified as 'part time', and will often not be able to receive the same financial aid or other benefits as a full-time student. More than 18 is possible, called 'overloading', but it requires permission from the head of the department.
Unlike in high school, university students are in charge of forming their own schedules. They can and usually do get help from counselors in their chosen major to make sure they're choosing classes that will count for their degree requirements, but it is ultimately up to them. Most three-credit classes meet either three times a week (typically Monday, Wednesday, Friday) for one hour, twice a week (typically Tuesday and Thursday, but it can vary) for an hour and a half, or once a week for three hours. The first classes of the day start at 8am and can go all the way until 10pm. Classes are usually not scheduled on the weekend, but some Saturday classes occasionally are released.
The university (often called college in America) is broken down into colleges or schools (yes, this can get confusing since we tend to use all three terms interchangeably) by fields of study. A major is the student's main field of study. Most students will only have one major, but some can double-major (meaning they earn one degree with two majors) or do a dual degree (meaning they earn two degrees with one major each). Dual degrees are much more difficult than double majoring, and will usually require more than four years to complete. A degree will have a general education requirement, a major-specific requirement, and electives. The general education requirement is something that all students must complete, and is very similar to the core curriculum in high school, albeit with more options. The specific requirements can vary widely by college, but usually are 24-30 credits worth of writing, math, science, or history. Advanced high school classes (such as AP or IB) can sometimes be applied as college credits to fulfill these requirements, or students may test out of them. Many degrees also have a foreign language requirement. Major requirements are then usually 48-60 credits of classes directly related to the area of study. The rest, typically 30-42 credits, are required to be upper-level electives. During the final year, students must take a capstone (also sometimes referred to as a senior seminar or undergrad thesis) where they do a paper/lab/project/etc. with lots of original research and/or work that summarizes their undergraduate career. This means the first year and a half to two years of university are usually spent doing general requirements and prerequisites and the last two to three years are spent doing more specialized, major-specific study. Students can also have minors, or secondary areas of study. These are typically only 18-24 credits worth of classes in a field, and they can and usually do overlap with a major. Therefore, students will often get minors in fields that are related to or similar to their major studies (i.e. History with a minor in literature, or political science with a minor in a foreign language, etc.). However, there are certainly eclectic mixes like Biology with a minor in Musical Theatre or Journalism with a minor in Systems Engineering.
There's more to university than just classes, though. Students will almost always live on-campus for at least their first year, though sometimes will choose to for all four years. Freshman dorms are usually single rooms shared by two freshman of the same sex. They each have their own bed, and share bathrooms and common areas with several other rooms in their hall. Upperclassman dorms are typically more like apartments; bedrooms can be either single- or double- person, for up to four people in the same dorm, with a bathroom per two people. Upperclassman dorms also have access to a kitchen. All on-campus dorms are monitored by an Resident Adviser, or RA, an upperclassman selected by application. Dorms are single-sex only, with no drugs, alcohol (for anyone under 21), weapons, or other banned items. Inhabitants are expected to obey the rules of both the university and the building, and can be evicted or even expelled from the university for extreme infractions.
University is expensive. In addition to the fees students have to pay to even apply to the school, they have to pay for tuition, books, and other living fees, including room and board and food. Universities are either public or private. At public schools, students who live in the state pay less (in-state tuition vs out-of-state), but at private, there are no government subsidies to make tuition cheaper. Tuition for public universities for the 2015-2016 year averaged about $10,000 for in-state students, and about $24,000 for out-of-state students. Private universities cost on average $32,000. This is just the tuition, and does not include other fees, including additional costs for certain majors or things like technology fees, library fees, and athletic facilities. Housing is usually an additional $10,000-12,000, and books and living expenses are easily several thousand more. Many middle-class families begin saving for their children's college career the moment they're born. Plenty of people, however, don't have the luxury, and must rely on scholarships (need- and merit-based), loans (most common form of financial aid), and grants provided by the government. This can help subsidize costs for many, there are very, very few that are able to attend school for free. College debt is a huge and ever-growing thing in American culture, so the 'broke college student' has emerged because of this.
Elias Academy is a private university, with a small population of a few thousand. Like with the high school students, there is a fund to help those with less means be able to afford to attend the university, as well as many scholarships available. Elias Academy prides itself on not only turning out well-adjusted high school students who are prepared for the higher education beyond, but of helping to mold and create university students who have the skill set and dedication it takes to be successful in the job market. It might not be considered an Ivy League school, but it certainly strives towards those values, making it an excellent, if a bit expensive, choice in schools.