Difference Between Secondary and Postsecondary Education

Middle school and high school are packed with core academic classes and fun, extracurricular activities.Working hard in middle school and high school also provides a solid foundation for success in college. Together, secondary and post-secondary education comprise the academic experience that a student receives after fifth grade. Secondary education, along with post-secondary education propels students into adulthood and aims to give them necessary career skills.

Secondary Education

Secondary education refers to schooling that takes place during the middle and high school years, between sixth and twelfth grade. It is divided into courses in English, mathematics, social studies, science and foreign language. For some, secondary education includes electives such as music or drama. In the U.S., public secondary education is free and available to all. Secondary education is compulsory in the U.S. through the age of 16.

Post-Secondary

Post-secondary, or tertiary, education includes any educational program that takes place after you complete your secondary education. This includes community college, professional certification, undergraduate education and graduate school. Post-secondary education is more advanced and specialized than secondary education. Post-secondary education is also broad, allowing students to pursue the subjects that most interest them. Students can receive a wide range of degrees from a broad liberal arts degree that deepens critical-thinking skills to a more hands-on business degree.

Purposes of Secondary and Post-Secondary Schooling

The purpose of secondary education is to ready students to either pursue a post-secondary education or enter into a vocational career that does not require further formal study. Post-secondary education helps students develop skills and expertise they can apply in later professional careers. For example, a student who studies English may pursue a career as an editor. A medical student studies to become a doctor. A computer engineering student may become a computer scientist. The goals are twofold: to help students develop independent reasoning skills and to prepare them for the job market.

Equality and Access

In the U.S., income inequality affects the quality of secondary public education such that children from low-income families sometimes attend poorly performing schools that receive less funding. This can limit their access to post-secondary education opportunities and set them up for academic and financial struggles when they choose to further their studies. The number of women receiving post-secondary education surpasses that of men in the U.S., but subtle forms of gender inequality, such as a professor's preferential treatment of males, can deter some women from specializing in traditionally male-dominated fields, such as math and science.