What could one call the educational stages prior to university? I know that there are the primary, elementary and secondary levels of education. But is there a hypernym for just the aforementioned three types of education?


2 Answers 2


I think you might find "compulsory education" works for you.

What it means depends on the region you're in but it literally means "required education" - or the years of education required by government.

Compulsory education refers to a period of education that is required of all persons and is imposed by law. Depending on the country, this education may take place at a registered school (schooling) or at home (homeschooling).

The one downside to this is the fact that it is dependent on your jurisdiction.

So, it varies by state in the US and each country may have a different concept of what years are required but, in general, it covers the years of schooling from elementary through high school.

  • 1
    As the minimum requirements for compulsory education (described by individual states by age and not by grade) do not prepare someone for "university" as described in the OP question, I don't think this is an adequate definition. Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 22:30
  • The question says nothing of "preparing" a person for university... only asks for a term that describes those years prior to university.
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 22:31
  • "Compulsory education" doesn't fit the UK legal situation. There are usually 2 years of "optional" education (ages 16-18) between the end of compulsory school education and university. In England (but not in Scotland, N. Ireland or Wales) some form of education or training is compulsory from 16-18, but not necessarily preparation for university education - for example it may be a formal apprenticeship or other training scheme combined with employment. gov.uk/know-when-you-can-leave-school. ...
    – alephzero
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 1:32
  • ... a common term in the UK would be "studying for A-levels" (or "highers" in Scotland) or "taking A-levels". Grades in those exams are the standard method used by UK universities to accept or reject applicants for undergraduate courses .
    – alephzero
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 1:39
  • Incorrect answer. The particulars of what students were required to take what courses in what grades at what ages has varied greatly over time and in different locations. I know of no place that requires first grade all the way through senior year of High School for all youth. So “compulsory education” is not at all a correct answer to the question of what word describes all of primary & secondary eduction. Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 3:47

In the United States, Canada and Australia, primary and secondary education together are sometimes referred to as K-12 education, and in New Zealand Year 1–13 is used. The purpose of secondary education can be to give common knowledge, to prepare for higher education, or to train directly in a profession.

-Wikipedia Education

As @ab2 kindly affirmed K-12 is universally understood in the US.

  • Crossword puzzle constructors would have you think that ELHI (i.e. elementary through high school) is a commonly used term for K-12 education. However, it's textbook publisher-specific jargon which is not in widespread use, even within the textbook trade, not to mention general usage. Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 2:28
  • Although I occasionally hear K-12 with respect to the US educational system, I very rarely hear K-12 wrt the Canadian system (I am a Canadian university professor). Part of the reason may be that not all provinces have 12 grades (for example, Quebec has 11 + 2 for cégép). Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 15:46

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