Middle School vs. Junior High: What’s the Difference?

Middle school and junior high are not quite the same.
Middle school and junior high are not quite the same. / Maskot/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Between learning to color inside the lines in elementary school and reading Moby-Dick in high school, most students go through a transitionary period. Junior high and middle school are two names for this intermediate stage of education. Though they generally cater to the same age group, the schools aren’t exactly alike.

According to Western Governors University, the junior high experience comes closer to high school, while middle school is more similar to elementary school. This is reflected in each institution’s approach to learning as well as the ages of their students. Traditionally, middle schools serve sixth, seventh, and eighth graders; a junior high school may only offer seventh and eighth grade classes. In some cases, they include ninth grade as well, which would be a part of high school otherwise.

In addition to having a more mature student body, junior high schools are more focused on preparing young teens and preteens for high school. Instead of one teacher leading the same group of kids throughout the day, different instructors teach different subjects. The school day is broken up into periods, and one student may learn from six to eight teachers before the final bell rings. This allows students to have a schedule that fits their ability level. They may stick with their own grade for certain subjects and learn with older kids for others.

A typical middle school day tends to be more integrated. Rather than seeing up eight instructors per semester, a middle school student may stick with the same three to four teachers throughout the year. Classes are longer, and teachers collaborate to put together a more cohesive curriculum. While this gives the students more opportunities to form connections with teachers and classmates, they may not get the same individualized experience they would from the junior high model.

These are general differences and not strict criteria schools must meet. The label given to a school is sometimes arbitrary, which means it’s possible for places with middle school in the title to have more teachers per student, and for certain junior highs to have fewer. So if you’re planning your child’s eduction, do you research and don’t send them somewhere based on this naming convention alone.

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