Differences Between a Norwegian High School and American High School

By Dina Arndt


One of the biggest differences for me as an exchange student here in New York is how the schools are run and their typical size. I come from a small community down south in Norway where everyone knows each other. We have only one elementary school, one middle school, and a high school, there’s no such thing as a private school. We all get divided by age into one class. There’s usually three classes in each grade. The class you get placed in is the class you are going to spend the whole day in each weekday (except when you have your lunch period). Instead of having 500 students circulating from class to class, we have the teachers doing it instead, which causes a lot less drama and arguing between students.


At 13 you are considered a teenager, which means you have the knowledge to start middle school. The teachers also expect you to be mature enough and aware of your education because in middle school you are much more on your own. You don’t interact with the teachers in the same way as you do in elementary school. Our elementary school is from 1st grade to 7th grade and our middle school is 3 years long, (7th to 10th grade). These 3 years are really important for your education.


The students work hard at attaining the best grades possible. We don’t have any form of extra help, extra credit, make-up tests, clubs or sports where you can show your potential. This forces us to really focus in class and study a lot on our own. Our work during middle school is really important because at the end of 10th grade you have to apply for high school. High school is not mandatory in Norway, so getting accepted to one is important if you want to fully obtain an education and attend a university. We have to choose a certain study path and each school represents different study paths. This system allows us, students, to start our education as soon as possible so that we don’t have to learn things that won’t benefit one’s selected career. If you want to become a nurse there are schools that have classes you will need to become one.


Since there aren’t a lot of high schools in the different cities, we have to apply around the whole country, so most of the students have to move out by themselves at the age of 16. This emphasizes the importance of being independent and mature by 16. By starting your education at such an early age, allows you to already be done before you turn 21. Your education will most likely be 10 years of primary school, 2 years in secondary school, and 2 years in an internship before you take a final exam; which will determine if you can graduate or not.


Some students are not sure what they want to become when they’re 16. This was my case. We have one study path which qualifies you to apply for any education you want. This is similar to the US system of education. It may take you a longer time to finish your education and it requires more effort from you, but at least you wouldn’t be locked into a certain career. In Norway, there is a 3-year long education where you can get a taste of everything and attain a great variety of knowledge. After graduation (13th grade), you can apply for any major you want. In order to get a bachelor’s degree, you must attend our universities for 3 years.


A normal school day starts at 9 am and ends at 3 pm. Since you are in charge of your own education and the school wants you to learn how to be mature and independent, we don’t have a lot of rules. We don’t have any security guards, we can leave the class or the school buildings at any time we want and we can also skip school. We have an absent limit and if you go above the limit, you will fail the year and have to take it all over again. We are also assigned a single classroom, so we don’t need to rush from class to class. We have 6 periods in a day, each period lasts for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Each day is different because the subjects you have on Monday won’t be the subjects you’d have on Tuesday. The last year of high school, before graduation, the students  have a big celebration that lasts all through May.

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