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Life Planning Information Website - Education Bureau

The Education System

American children usually begin elementary school at the age of 6 and attend primary school for 6 years (Grade 1-6). Secondary education covers grades 7 through 12. The American educational system comprises 12 grades of study over 12 calendar years of primary and secondary education after which students are usually eligible for college admission.


(a) Elementary and Secondary Education

The elementary and secondary schools are divided into public and private schools. Foreign students in the United States may attend public high schools for up to a maximum of twelve months, whereas private boarding schools in the United States welcome international students for a complete course of study. Boarding schools typically require specific admission tests such as the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) or the Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE). International students also may be required to provide scores from tests of English proficiency such as the Secondary Level English Proficiency Test (SLEP) or the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Contact the boarding school's admissions office to find out their specific requirements.


(b) Community and Junior Colleges

These are postsecondary institutions that offer 2-year associate degree programmes designed to prepare students for transferring to 4-year universities for an additional 2 years of study. Most community colleges are commuter institutions that serve local residents and thus do not operate student housing facilities.

Community colleges maintain “open-door” admissions policies in which anyone who wishes to enroll and meets minimum entry requirements is able to do so.

For Hong Kong students, these minimum admissions requirements are:

  • Completion of Secondary 6, or older than 17 (Washington State and some early college programmes accept students aged 16);
  • English language proficiency, as demonstrated by the TOEFL iBT,  International English Language Testing System (IELTS) score or Duolingo English Test; and
  • Evidence that the student has at least the financial resources to pay for the expenses incurred in 1 academic year.


(c) Colleges/Universities

These institutions offer 4-year bachelor’s degree programmes and professional training. "State universities" are subsidised and run by state governments. Private colleges and universities are funded by a combination of endowments, tuition fees, research grants, and gifts from alumni. Students are advised to start their preparation and apply to colleges and universities at least twelve months prior to the term's commencement date. For Hong Kong students, typical admissions requirements include:

  • Completion of Secondary 6;
  • Official high school transcripts;
  • English language proficiency, as demonstrated by the TOEFL iBT, IELTS test score or Duolingo English Test;
  • May need undergraduate aptitude tests, like the ACT and SAT, depending on the institution’s admission requirements;
  • Letters of recommendation;
  • Application essays; and
  • Evidence that the student has at least the financial resources to pay for the expenses incurred in 1 academic year.

For details about schools that do not require SAT or ACT scores, please visit



(a) Tuition Fees

The range of tuition fees may vary greatly from school to school, and there is no correlation between the level of tuition fees and the quality of an institution. Tuition fees are generally higher for private universities than for state universities.

Each college and university determines its own academic year but usually begins in late August or early September and continues through May or June. Each year is divided into terms. Typically, a school will have either 2 terms per academic year (semesters), 3 terms (trimesters) or 4 terms (quarters). Many schools divide the calendar year into 4 "quarters", and then designate 3 of those quarters (usually fall, winter, and spring) as the academic year.


(b) Living Costs

Living costs vary widely and depend on the location of the school and the student's lifestyle. Living expenses are highest in large cities, in California, and in the Northeast. Costs can be much lower in the South, the Midwest, and other areas.

Average price for tuition fees, room and board (US$)

2-year community college: $18,830

4-year public college*: $44,150

4-year Private college: $55,800

* The fees for 4-year public institutions based on out-of-state tuition fees.

Source: College Board


School Application Procedures

  1. Research and select 3 to 5 schools (at least 1 year in advance).
  2. Check schools' admission requirements and take required tests. Make sure to have scores sent directly to the schools.
  3. Complete application forms online. Make sure all necessary forms and documents will be received by the schools' application deadlines.
  4. Upon acceptance, apply for a student visa. Bring with you to the visa interview the letter of acceptance and I-20 form issued by the school. Over 97% of student visa applicants in Hong Kong received visas.

Visa Application Procedures

1. Visit the web-based information system at or call the free call centre at 5808 4666.

2. Browse the video “8 must-haves before the U.S. student visa interview”:

QR code for Visa Application Procedures



This webpage serves only as a general guide to studying in the United States. Further information is available at:
EducationUSA Advising Center (By appointment only. Appointment can be arranged via WhatsApp and email)

Tel./ WhatsApp:

6829 4053


2845 0735



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