Fact Checked

What is an Academic Institution?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

Any degree-granting institution that is dedicated to research and education is generally considered an academic institution. Such institutions range from primary and secondary schools to post-secondary schools such as colleges and universities, and they are generally populated with a body of faculty who guide students through research and degree acquisition. An academic institution can provide a broad education of a variety of subjects or be subject-specific and cater to only one field of study.

The first academic institution a child will attend is the primary school, at which basic concepts such as reading and introductory mathematics are taught. Primary schools, also known as elementary schools, can be broken down by grades; for example, in the United States, many primary schools run from kindergarten to sixth grade, or from kindergarten to eighth grade. Schools that run from kindergarten to sixth grade generally funnel the graduates into a middle school, which encompasses seventh and eighth grades, as well as sometimes ninth grade.

Hoover Tower at Stanford University, a private research university.
Hoover Tower at Stanford University, a private research university.

Secondary schools are the next level of academic institution that students will enter. This is most commonly known as high school, as the grades included in this level are ninth through twelfth. While the grade levels included in this category range from country to country, a student usually enters this academic institution between eleven and fifteen years old. The curriculum at the secondary level picks up where the primary level leaves off, and it is usually considered the last stage of compulsory education.

China is home to the oldest university in the world, the University of Nanjing.
China is home to the oldest university in the world, the University of Nanjing.

Post-secondary schools include community colleges, colleges, universities, and specialized schools such as law school or medical school. Many students do not attend this type of academic institution after their compulsory education is finished, either because it is too expensive or because the student has chosen to finish schooling and join the workforce. Those who do attend such institutions often seek out financial aid in the form of loans, grants, or scholarships. Community colleges are generally less expensive and offer a more versatile class schedule to cater to part-time students who may otherwise be working day jobs.

A primary school is an academic institution that begins with kindergarten.
A primary school is an academic institution that begins with kindergarten.

Associate's degrees, bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, and doctorate degrees can all be attained at the post-secondary level. These degrees generally require a rigorous course of study, as well as substantial amounts of research, particularly when working toward a master's Degree or PhD. Technical schools are two-year institutions that train students for specialized jobs in a variety of fields, from labor jobs to office positions.

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Discussion Comments


@anon282109: In the United States, the terms are interchangeable. We use school year or academic year for all levels of education. I'm not sure what the style is in the UK or Australia, but either term is acceptable here. Hope that helps!


What is an "academic year"? Is it different from the "school year" in English?

I am in the University of Yaounde Cameroon, and given that our two official languages are English and French, some here hold that "academic year" has to do with tertiary education institutions while "school year" is for primary and secondary education institutions.

Thanks for your answers.

Mayoua, from UYI, Yaounde Cameroo


@Denha- I agree with you. While you didn't say what you are doing, I know people with English degrees doing everything from teaching to working abroad and working in communications with various fields.

I studied theater, among other things, in school and am always amused by people who say that people who pursue acting will never make it. Are there no plays on Broadway? Or in other towns? Do people still go to movies or watch television?

Everyone spends money on the entertainment industry, and so obviously there is more money in it than anything else. Not everyone will be an A-lister in Hollywood, but I know many people acting for a living, and succeeding at it.


@latte31- I want to say that I am always a little confused when people talk about "realistic" degrees. Any degree can be realistic, it depends on your view of reality.

People who study the humanities or even the performing arts have many opportunities available to them, sometimes more than those of people who pursue things like the sciences and business.

I recently graduated from college with a degree in English and in Theatre; I had friends involved in science, in business, in music, and many others. Aside from the ones going to grad school, the number of people with jobs are are similar ratios across the board, and because of the recession, none of them are getting that dream job everyone talks about.


Both of my kids attended college at one of our state universities. Each of them also had the opportunity to take a semester for education abroad. One of them went to New Zealand and one of them studied in England.

They were both able to receive credit for this semester of study, and this gave them an experience that they would have never been able to have otherwise.

I think any time the academic institution you are at offers you an opportunity to do something like this, you should take advantage of it. The hardest part is coming up with the extra finances when money is already tight because you are student.


When my son was in high school we did a couple years of home schooling. Since this was our first experience with home schooling I did not know how well it would work and if I would continue with it or not.

I looked at several different options before enrolling him in an online academic institute that was accredited. The advantage of this was if he was to return back to the public school, his home school courses were credited and there would be no problem with him getting credit for those courses.

This turned out to be a good solution. The institute we used was very professional and I believe he received a good education from his classes. He did return to high school for his senior year and the transition was easy because of the accredited ranking of the academic institute we chose.


@Crispety - I know what you mean. I think that you should consider degree courses in college that will give you a more realistic opportunity to find a job because if not you will be saddled with a lot of student loan debt unless this is something that you really want to do.

It also takes a lot of time which is another thing that you have to think about, but if these things are not a problem then in that case I would go for it.

I wanted to say that I remember when I was in college, my Cuban history professor got many United States government grants in order to pursue research on Cuban studies. He was paid to go to Cuba and he wrote several books about the island.

I thought that this would be such an incredible opportunity because Cuban travel is so restricted that he was really blessed to be able to go there and write about it.

Although, I disagreed with much of what he said, I did find the class fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed it and really learned a lot.


@Oasis11 -Wow what a great program. I really like when schools offer the study abroad program. Last year one of the nearby private middle schools took their classes on a two week trip to China at the end of the school year and they went to Paris during spring break.

I think that traveling and education really go hand in hand especially if you are visiting a foreign country for the first time. You learn so much.

I also think that if you read up on the culture and a little bit about the language and history you will have a far more enriching experience. Sometimes I wish I could be a professor and do academic research in a foreign country.

I think that I would be in heaven because I love to travel and researching things is my passion. The problem is that academic jobs like this are hard to come by.


@GreenWeaver - That is a great idea and I also wanted to say that a community college in my town had a variation of a program like that but actually placed the graduates in a job upon graduation.

These students took vocational courses at the community college and were granted high school credit because these courses were especially designed for these students by the employers.

After completing the courses the students were placed in an externship with the company and if they passed that portion of the training, then they were offered a permanent job.

The students also got paid for the externship and many were filled with pride at these opportunities. A lot of these jobs were in the health care field which is really growing and usually considered recession-proof.


I know that there are a lot of high schools that offer courses in vocational studies as well as classes that will prepare students for college. When I was in school there were a few high schools that offered vocational programs in lieu of academic courses.

These students were considered at risk students that had a higher than average probability of not finishing school. Through these programs these students studied a trade and then upon graduation had a job in their field.

This can be a great option if you don’t want to go to college because although a college degree can give you a lot of advantages in life, it will not guarantee that you will have a job upon graduation.

Some of the courses involved air conditioning repair, cosmetology, and even plumbing.


@animegal - Choosing a good academic institution when you are looking into post-secondary education is really important. There are so many schools out there and they are not all created equally. I think that if you want to find a school that is really going to suit your budget and educational needs you need to do a lot of research.

Firstly, you shouldn't put too much stock into the university world rankings. It can be an indicator of a school's quality, but isn't really that important. Once you have your program decided I would check out the facilities of the school and tuition costs. This should get you started on the right path.


If you are looking for a good quality academic institution to get your first degree at what kind of things should you look for in a school? How important do you think things like world university rankings are?

I am starting to look into schools and am really worried about making the right choice. I have an interest in the sciences so I want to make sure wherever I go has great laboratories.

University can be really expensive, so I am wondering if it is worth the extra tuition to go to a school that is more famous. I don't mind traveling to another place to study, I just want to make sure I get a good education.

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      By: Ritu Jethani
      Hoover Tower at Stanford University, a private research university.
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