I was creating a web form for a client who requested the highest-grade completed for primary and high school and then college.

The original paper form had the following

Circle highest grade completed 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 College 1 2 3 4

For the web form, I turned these into two dropdowns. Labeling College was easy, but the 1-12 was harder.

Due to space issues, I chose "Compulsory" as grades 1-12 in the US are compulsory, but my project manager felt it wasn't a layman term, so I switched it for K-12, which is what the Department of Education calls it, even though kindergarten is not included.

So, my question is, is there a one-word (or very short phrase) equivalent to Primary + High School?

  • 9
    "K-12" is the usual notation.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 17:48
  • 1
    The description of pre-college education as "compulsory" is 1.) rather British (as is the word "compulsory" itself, imo); and 2.) not strictly correct in the US, since students may drop out before completing high school.
    – senshin
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 20:16
  • 1
    @senshin You can drop out, yes, but if you just don't show up they'll send the truancy officers after you.
    – VampDuc
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 21:26

10 Answers 10


The answers and comments to this question have already demonstrated that it varies across the country. I would have answered that the terms "Primary School" and "Grade School" both refer to elementary, middle, and high school collectively.

According to Wikipedia, the government considers "elementary school" to cover anything up to grade 8, whereas in my experience it's only considered to extend to grade 5.

Because of these ambiguities, I think that "K-12" is the only real answer to your question that works regardless of who the user is (as long as they're from the US.)

  • I'm pretty sure the US norm is elementary includes 6th grade. Commented Oct 3, 2015 at 1:26

If you used the categories Pre-College and College, I think people could easily determine that "pre-college" refers to grades 1-12.

  • 2
    Not necessarily. I would eect precollege to refer to something like 11-12 or maybe all of high school. Or summer school after high school
    – atk
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 23:33

My own inclination would be to refer to grades 1-12 as "Grade School", but Wikipedia warns me that this may often be taken to refer only to the lower grades (K-5). So perhaps you would be better off just referring to it as "School" (since "College" will be right there as a higher level), or by breaking it down further (based on Wikipedia's Educational Stages info) into "Primary School" (K-6), "Secondary School" (7-12), and "Higher Education" (years toward degree). (You might also add "Post-graduate" if you want to include the entire spectrum of educational possibility.)

Alternatively, you could label the 1-12 dropdown as simply "Grade".

  • Which grades are considered "grade school" definitely varies by region. As you said, it often means K-5, and where I grew up, it meant just grades 4 and 5.
    – Nicole
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 20:17
  • When someone says "school," I immediately think of whatever level of schooling I'm at.
    – apnorton
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 20:45

Where I grew up, we had:

  • Elementary School (k-6)
  • Junior High School (7-9)
  • High School (10-12)

I moved half-way across the US to go to college and discovered they had:

  • Elementary School (k-5)
  • Middle School (6-8)
  • High School(9-12)

Then we had kids, and our school district grew and they have:

  • Primary School (k-2)
  • Elementary School (3-6)
  • Middle School (6-8)
  • High School(9-12)

You may want to refer to:

  • Primary (k-6 or 8)
  • Secondary (7 or 9 - 12)
  • Tertiary, or Post-Secondary (college)

But those may be older terms.

  • What, no mention of Lower School (another term for elementary school)? But yeah, apart from that, this list is pretty exhaustive (at least in the U.S. I know they have "forms" in the U.K.). Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 18:46
  • That's a new one on me!
    – FreeMan
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 18:48
  • When I was growing up, elementary school was K-6, junior high was 7-8 (yes, just two years), and high school was 9-12. Sometime after I graduated, they shuffled things around so the divisions were K-5, 6-8, and 9-12, but as far as I know, the terminology didn't change. "Primary school" was a synonym of "elementary school" with a slight whiff of old-fashioned fustiness to it. "Middle school" was a straight-up synonym of "junior high", just one we didn't happen to use much.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 19:09
  • I went to a K-8 school, but it did have different terms for what the grades were. Kindergarten was just kindergarten, grades 1-3 were elementary school, grades 4-5 were grade school, and grades 6-8 were middle school. After that, I went to a different school for high school, grades 9-12.
    – Nicole
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 20:19
  • Primary, secondary, and postsecondary is what we use. I work in the education field. The line between primary and secondary (7?, 8? 9?) can be fuzzy sometimes but I generally see P-8 as primary, 9-12 as secondary, and anything additional as postsecondary.
    – mikeY
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 21:51

It's K-12. I've been a public school teacher for 26 years. This is the most recent terminology.


Higher Secondary is the term used in India to refer to classes culminating at the 12th standard.

  • How does this provide an answer for 'my question is, is there a one-word (or very short phrase) equivalent to Primary + High School?'? Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 10:05
  • @EdwinAshworth, a Higher Secondary / Senior Secondary School is equal to 'Primary+High School'.
    – B Gaurav
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 15:15
  • OP carefully tags their request 'american-english'. In the UK, secondary education and primary education are disjoint, but saying this would also be inappropriate in an 'answer'. Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 18:58

On most web forms I've seen collecting education information, the break down is less granular for the lower levels and more granular for higher levels. The first breakpoint referenced is high school, which I think other answers have illustrated nicely as the most common name for grades 9 or 10 through 12, at least in the United States.

Some values I remember seeing (in roughly ascending order of education level) include:

  • Did not graduate High School
  • High School Diploma/GED equivalent
  • Some College
  • Associates Degree
  • Bachelor's Degree
  • Some Graduate School
  • Masters or other Graduate Degree
  • Doctorate Degree

This is somewhat tangential to the 'highest grade completed' as phrased in the question, but in my experience, it's nigh standard for the type of form you're asking about. One reason for this focus is (I think) that a High School Diploma is the first academic achievement that's noteworthy enough for consideration in adult life. So unless you're specifically collecting information on exactly when someone dropped, I would stick with this approach. You might also consider looking for or asking a related question on the User Experience SE site.

  • I agree entirely, but the web form I was making needed to match the paper form I was provided. Other forms I've made have used this breakdown or just asked for all schools from high school on.
    – VampDuc
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 13:17
  • If you had to match exactly, why didn't you just leave it as a unified dropdown with the same elements? You could have a disable option or option group label that says "─ College ─", between 12 and 1 (where 'College' appeared in your original list. A similar effect could be accomplished with radio buttons and separators. Labeling it "Select the highest grade completed" is closer to the original than adding additional language.
    – Patrick M
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 17:11
  • I didn't need it to match exactly. The paper form I'd been given was confusing because the education fields were split up. I was trying to keep everything on one line, which is why I had space issues. From knowing the client and the form's purpose, optgroups would have been more confusing than helpful and radio buttons would have taken up too much room.
    – VampDuc
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 17:48

It depends on what country. In Canada we have 'Primary' 'Elementary' and 'Secondary' for K-12 levels and 'Post-Secondary' or more specifically 'Undergraduate and Post-Graduate'


In Bangladesh, we have:

  1. Preschool
    • Playgroup
    • Nursery
    • KG-1
    • KG-2
  2. Primary school: classes 1-5.

  3. Secondary School: classes 6-10.

  4. Higher Secondary: equivalent to college.


The collective term for all grades from beginning through high school is:

  • elhi

(ELementary [through] HIgh school)


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