High School in the United States vs New Zealand

High School in the United States vs New Zealand

I have been in New Zealand for quite a bit of time and while I was not mountain biking through the redwood forest, tramping (hiking) in native bush, and kayaking deep in volcanic river canyons, I went to school. The transition was not extremely difficult but there are definitely a few aspects that confused me at first. Here is a wee article on the New Zealand school system written by an American international student to other international students who are about to embark on a journey of a lifetime.

Firstly, since New Zealand is located in the Southern Hemisphere, it is important to realize that the school year, just like the weather, is switched. Instead of running from around August to June/May school runs from January to November/December (depending on your year level and the exams you choose to take). It can get chilly during the year, but it is important to wear your school uniform as many schools are quite strict about this. But do not worry, they will have jackets and pants as a part of the uniform. Lastly, New Zealand schools are proud of their culture and emphasize the Maōri word whanau (family) throughout the school. From the beginning of the year, you will be placed into a specific house with a portion of the school’s students and teacher. Many of these people will become close friends.

A normal school day goes as the following:

  • 8:40, Arrive at school before
  • 8:40 – 8:55, Roll check/homeroom
  • 8:55 – 9:55, Period 1
  • 9:55 – 10:55, Period 2
  • 10:55 – 11:20, Interval (break)
  • 11:20 – 12:20, Period 3
  • 12:20 – 1:20, Period 4
  • 1:20 – 2:10, Lunch
  • 2:10 – 3:10 Period 5

However, on days where it is stormy outside the school often shortens lunch by ten minutes allowing students to get out at 3 pm.

Schools often have a few sports days (one fun day and two competitive days of track and field/swimming) throughout the year in which students have the day off in order to participate. The teachers, unlike most adults, are referred to as their last name (e.g. Mr. Dunn). Teachers are often formal when needing to be formal, but will still share a laugh with there students. Classes are relaxed and less strict compared to the US. For our interval and lunch break, many students flock to the school Cantine for a classic New Zealand pie or hot chips/wedges while others, like myself, bring their own lunch. Most students will eat outside throughout the school at benches or tables with their friends. There will often be an international room open as well for international students to meet for announcements and such.

As far as classes go, you will be placed in a class with a number similar to the US but there can be lots of exceptions. For example, when I arrived in New Zealand I was a fifteen-year-old coming from my second semester of sophomore year, but on my first day of school in NZ, I was placed in Year 12. This is common due to the switched school years. As a student traveling to New Zealand at the start of the New Zealand school year, you will probably be placed in a year above what you currently are aged. Heres a handy chart to help with high school years, but remember, there can be lots of irregularities.

New Zealand Years

Age Group

USA Grades

Year 9 13 – 14 8th Grade
Year 10 14 – 15 Freshman Year
Year 11 15 – 16 Sophomore Year
Year 12 16 – 17 Junior Year
Year 13 17 – 18 Senior Year

The grading in New Zealand is completely different from that of the US and follows the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) system. Students do internals (class projects and tests) and can do externals (exams) in order to earn a certain amount of “credits” for each class. Each of these externals or internals have a set amount of credits that can be awarded if the external/internal is passed. These credits can take many forms of achievement from ‘not achieved’ (F) to ‘achieved with excellence’ (A). At the end of the year, a student is required to have a certain amount of credits in a class to pass the class. One can pass a class with only achieved credits just like you can still pass a class with a C in the USA; however, students often pursue excellence credits as this will be noticed by universities and scholarships.

This chart shows how the grading system transfers.

New Zealand Grading

USA Grading

Not achieved F
Achieved D/C
Achieved with Merit B
Achieved with Excellence A

So that is basically everything you need to know! The rest will be a fun surprise. If you are reading this, I definitely encourage you to take a leap and a risk and go to New Zealand as an international student. You will not be disappointed!

Learn more about studying abroad in New Zealand

High School in New Zealand

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