High school in Canada

By Delaney Rombough

Posted on September 13, 2021

Secondary school in Canada, also known as high school, encompasses Grades 9 to 12. Students typically graduate high school the year they turn 18, but one can complete a high school diploma at any age. Canadian high schools have a strong record of student achievement. The average high school graduation rate is 83 percent.

What to expect

Many high schools in Canada operate on a semester system. The first semester runs from September to January and the second semester is from February to June. Students will usually take four or five classes in each semester and have final exams and culminating projects at the end of the semester. Students who attend schools that don’t have a semester system will take the same classes all year long.
High school students will receive personalized timetables, and will move from classroom to classroom throughout the day—with a different teacher for each class. Teachers generally specialize in teaching one or two subjects. Students will also be assigned a personal locker where they can keep their books, jackets, gym clothes, and any other personal belongings. Classes usually start around 8:00 a.m. and finish by 3:00 p.m. but each school may vary.

Students are guaranteed a lunch break in the middle of the day, and five to ten minutes between classes. Senior students may also have a free period, which they can use to do homework or hang out with their friends in the cafeteria or library.


Each province has their own specific curriculum that all public and private high schools must follow. Most Canadian high schools have a credit system. This means that students have to earn a certain number of credits in order to graduate. Usually, one class is equal to one credit. Students often need to take a set number of core credits in subjects including English, math, science, and social studies. There are also a number of elective courses that students can choose to take to fill out the rest of their credit requirements. Elective courses may include subjects like film, business, computer science, and psychology, so students can choose courses that they’re interested in.

In Ontario, high school students are required to take 30 credits in order to graduate; 18 credits are compulsory core classes, and the remaining 12 credits are elective courses.

Classes in high school tend to narrow in focus, and become more challenging compared to elementary school. For example, in high school, there are separate classes for chemistry, biology, and physics, rather than just a general science class.
Students in Grades 11 and 12 should pay special attention to the courses they take to ensure they are following requirements if they plan on attending university or college admissions. Most Canadian post-secondary schools require students to have Grade 12 English and many programs require Grade 12 math. It is a good idea to speak with a school counsellor to help with this process.

Specialized programs

Students usually attend the high school that is closest to their home, but some high schools across Canada offer specialized programs that students may be interested in. For example, schools may specialize in the performing arts or science and technology. There are also schools and programs for students with learning disabilities.

Registered schools may offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program and some schools may offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Students may also choose to attend private schools, which may be more academically challenging. Private schools and schools with specialized programs still have to follow the provincial curriculum. They may also offer different electives or require students to take additional specific courses in order to graduate and complete the program.

Extracurricular activities

Many high school students participate in extracurricular activities such as sports teams, music, or student clubs. Extracurricular clubs and activities are usually run or supervised by a staff member, and may run during lunchtime or after school. Extracurricular activities are a great way to get involved in the school community, make friends with similar interests, and help build your resume for university applications. Some provinces may also require students to complete 30 to 40 hours of volunteer work over their four years of high school in order to graduate.

Canadian high schools offer students a safe and supportive learning environment where they can earn a world-class education, and have the opportunity to explore their interests outside of the classroom at the same time

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