How to Choose the Best American International School in Bangkok

How to Choose the Best American International School in Bangkok

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There’s a lot to think about when it comes to choosing an international school – fees, accreditation, location, exam results.

Compared to other factors, curricula the schools choose to follow may seem fairly low down on the list for many parents at first.

However, it could end up making a big difference in your children’s educational prospects.

International schools are differentiated from local schools by the curricula they follow. Namely, local schools follow the host country’s national curriculum, while international schools follow ‘international’ curricula.

The two most popular national curricula at Thailand’s international schools are the British and American, and you often hear schools that follow either referred to as British or American schools, respectively.

For citizens of those countries, deciding on either a British or an American school may seem like a no-brainer.

However, for other nationalities, or for those not particularly committed to their home country, there’s a lot more leeway in deciding what kind of school you’d prefer to send your children to.

In this article, we’re going to take an in-depth look at American schools in particular.

We’ll explore what the American curriculum entails, what qualifications you or your child will end up with, and what differentiates American schools from others.

Finally, if all this sounds good to you, we’ll throw in a list of American-curriculum schools here in Thailand so you can check them out for yourself.

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The American Curriculum

Defining what the American curriculum is can be a little tricky, as it technically doesn’t even exist.

In fact, as of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 the very notion of an American national curriculum has been banned outright.

However, in keeping with America’s “50 countries in one” model, each state oversees a curriculum of their own.

International schools, therefore, generally follow the curriculum of the state in which they’re accredited.

So if the state sets the rules, where does this leave colleges?

After all, if a student from New York and a student from Kentucky both show up with high grades, who’s to say one didn’t get lucky with an easier curriculum than the other?

The answer, of course, is that rather than adhering to one national curriculum, the majority of American schools — including American international schools in Bangkok — aim to meet a nationwide set of principles and standards known as the Common Core Standards, which we’ll delve into soon.

On top of that, students are assessed holistically via the use of a Grade Point Average (GPA) and standardized tests such as the SAT or AP.

In short, how they get there is left up to each individual school. The important thing is that students are capable of hitting the national targets and can demonstrate a decent level of academic competence.

Common Core Standards

The Common Core State Standards Initiative provides a set of guidelines detailing what each student should know at the end of each school grade from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

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As of 2021, 41 of the U.S.’s 50 states are following Common Core guidelines.

The Standards themselves are divided up between English Language Arts and Mathematics.

English Language Arts covers five key components:

  • reading
  • writing
  • speaking and listening
  • language
  • media and technology

Mathematics covers eleven separate domains, which students are expected to have a good grasp of — namely:

  • counting and cardinality
  • operations and algebraic thinking
  • number and operations in base 10
  • measurement and data
  • geometry
  • number and operations in fractions
  • ratios and proportional relationships
  • the number system
  • expressions and equations
  • statistics and probability
  • functions

Math is taught sequentially, so students can expect to progress from algebra to trigonometry to calculus and so on.

American Schools in Thailand – What To Expect

Below are some of the things you’ll run across with American international schools in Thailand.

School System

Those of us who’ve spent a great deal of our lives watching U.S. media are probably familiar with the different stages of the U.S. school system: kindergarten, elementary school, middle school (or junior high), and high school.

However, you may not be aware of exactly how each stage breaks down age-wise, so here’s a quick guide.

Kindergarten

Kindergarten covers students aged around five years or younger.

As one would expect, the emphasis here is on learning through play, with the very basics of education — letters, numbers, drawing, shapes, colors — being gradually introduced.

Kindergarten is not compulsory in Thailand, although it’s extremely popular with parents keen to give their kids a head start.

Elementary School

Elementary school (sometimes also known as grade school) is the U.S. equivalent to the British primary school.

It covers students from age six to 11 or 12, and the first to fifth grade of education.

Just like primary school, the emphasis here is on continuing to develop basic skills in reading, writing, and math, as well as social skills.

Middle School

Middle school (sometimes also known as junior high) covers students from age 12 to 14, and the sixth to eighth grades of education.

Middle schoolers moves on to study more technical subjects, such as foreign languages and computing.

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High School

High school covers students from age 14 to 18, and the ninth to twelfth grades of education.

High school is all about preparing students for college or university, and it’s during this time that students complete college-entrance exams such as the ACT or SAT (which we cover in more detail next).

School Calendar and School Day

Expect the majority of American international schools in Thailand to follow the Northern hemisphere academic calendar, running from August or September to June or July, with half-term holidays in October, December (Christmas), and March or April (Easter).

This is notably different to the Thai school calendar, which runs from May to March with a short break around September or October and a longer break in April, so students transferring from a local school may want to bear that in mind.

Individual teaching days are usually the same as other international schools, running from 8 am to 4 pm Monday to Friday.

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities — particularly sports — are a big deal in American schools, perhaps even more so than their European counterparts, and American schools in Thailand are no different.

Extracurricular activities in Manorom International Christian School.
Extracurricular activities at Manorom International Christian School.

For example, International School Bangkok boasts a huge and varied number of clubs, councils, and events ranging from environmental activist clubs and community outreach to chess and babysitting — all good stuff for that all-important GPA.

For sports, expect classic American pursuits such as basketball and softball or baseball to be present, as well as sports more popular with local and other international students such as football (soccer) and rugby.

Assessments

Assessments in American school systems are a continuous process, with every essay, exam, and course taken over the course of the school year contributing to the student’s GPA.

Other things which might affect students’ GPAs include homework assignments, participation in class, and attendance.

In short, it’s an average grade of the student’s performance over the course of the year. This differs from systems such as the British, where the emphasis in assessment is much more on end-of-school exam results.

Student performance is tracked through the use of a transcript, which details all the courses the student has taken, their grades, notable extracurricular activities, and so on.

At the end of high school, this transcript is then sent on to prospective colleges as part of the application process.

On top of this transcript, students aiming to enroll into an American college may take additional assessments.

These include the following.

SAT

Standing for Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is a standardized test administered by the College Board. Its purpose is to determine the readiness of high school students for higher education.

Although not mandatory, the majority of colleges and universities in the U.S. expect a SAT score as part of the application.

The SAT is a multiple choice exam consisting of two sections: math and evidence based reading. There is also an optional essay section, which is scored separately.

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Students are scored based on a combination of the two exams, with passing scores landing between 400 and 1600 points.

The exam itself lasts around three hours, with potentially an additional 50 minutes for the essay section.

The exams are offered yearly during August, October, November, December, March, May, and June.

ACT

Another option for students who don’t fancy the SAT is the American College Testing (ACT).

The ACT is another multiple-choice test, although it covers a broader range of subjects than the SAT, namely English, math, reading, science, and yet another optional writing section.

The ACT is set by ACT Inc., a non-profit organization based in Iowa.

The ACT exam is a little shorter than the SAT, clocking in at two hours and 55 minutes (three hours and 35 minutes with the essay).

Each section of the ACT is graded on a 1 to 36 point scale, with your total score being an average of the four (also graded from 1 to 36).

Generally speaking, there is little difference between the SAT or ACT in the eyes of most colleges. However, the ACT’s addition of a science section might be beneficial for students looking at studying in the STEM fields.

With competition for top college places becoming ever more fierce, some students have even begun taking both.

Whether that sounds like a practical option or a bridge too far to cross is, of course, up to you.

Other Assessments 

SATs and the ACT are not the only assessments in the American curriculum. Here are the others.

Preliminary SAT (PSAT)

The PSAT — or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT) — is, as the name suggests, a standardized test students can take before the SAT.

But it’s more than just a practice test — high-achieving students may be entitled to a scholarship.

Like the SAT, the PSAT is divided into math and evidence-based reading sections, but it clocks in at a much more brisk two hours and 45 minutes.

Advanced Placement (AP)

AP tests are subject-based college-level exams, administered at the end of an Advanced Placement course students enroll in during high school.

Getting a good score on your AP nets you college credits, which can potentially lower your overall tuition.

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There are currently well over 30 subjects offered by AP, though which subjects in particular depend on the school.

Exams are graded on a 1 to 5 scale. Advanced Placement courses tend to be immensely popular with international school parents, and often the presence of AP courses is a big sell for international schools.

Differences Between American Schools and Other Schools

In real terms, there aren’t too many differences between schools which follow the American curriculum and schools which don’t.

Chances are your children will still be learning how to spell and count and mix things up in test-tubes. However, there are a couple of key differences.

Perhaps the biggest difference is the reduced focus on exams. All students who’ve been through the British system, for example, are familiar with the stress of passing those all-important SATs and GCSE exams at the end of each “Key Stage” of their education.

As American students are predominately assessed by their GPA — of which passing exams is just one part — far less hinges on getting good exam results.

That’s not to say that American students don’t get their fair share of tests, and in fact the frequent standardized testing in American schools has been a source of criticism in some areas.

However, international schools are generally exempt from much of this relentless standardized testing, and students are only expected to pass their required courses.

Another key difference is the broadness of the American education system. In the British education system, education becomes narrower and more focused the higher up you go.

By the time you get to A-Levels, it’s common for students to be studying just four or five subjects. However, they study those four or five subjects in much greater depth.

It’s assumed that by that stage in their education, students know what field in which they want to study and will be getting more and more specialized accordingly.

By contrast, students at American schools continue to study all subjects right up until they leave high school.

This gives them a greater range of knowledge in all subjects, but lacks the depth of individual subject-knowledge that the British students get.

For some this is a benefit. Many students still don’t know what they’d like to do with their lives in high school, and having a broad knowledge base increases their options.

However, for others it may mean they’re on the back-foot in their chosen subject compared to students who’ve been studying it for 10 or 12 hours a week.

Your mileage may vary.

Why Choose an American International School? 

Either way, American schools are extremely popular among non-Americans.

According to some reports, up to 75 percent of students at American international schools are non-Americans.

There are a whole host of reasons for non-Americans to choose to study at an American international school.

These include:

Preparing to Study or Live in America

Perhaps the most obvious and commonplace reason to enroll students into an American school is to familiarize them with the education system before moving over there — either for further study, or permanently.

A student arriving with SAT and/or AP scores, and with an in-depth knowledge of how the system works, will obviously be at a great advantage over a student without.

Wide-Ranging Courses and Subjects

As stated above, the American curriculum is all about producing well-rounded students, knowledgeable in a whole host of different areas.

Students study all subject areas right up until the end of high school, giving them a broad knowledge base.

Flexibility

American schools tend to have greater autonomy in how they approach their content.

Of course, this can be a double-edged sword, as while it allows teachers greater freedom to explore subjects they’re interested in, it can make choosing a school unpredictable.

Developing Strong Academic and Social Skills

With the GPA system of assessment, students are evaluated using a broad range of criteria.

Creativity and critical thinking skills are encouraged, and things like class participation are factored into assessment, encouraging students to take part more.

Choosing the Right American School 

There are a number of things to think about before enrolling your child into an American international school.

Some of the most important things to consider are introduced in the following sections.

Accreditation 

The absolute first thing you should check with any prospective American school is its accreditation.

Not only does accreditation ensure that the school meets minimum quality standards, it also ensures that the diploma you get at the end is officially recognized, saving headaches later on.

American schools in Thailand will likely be verified by one (or more) of four official accrediting bodies:

Generally this information will be displayed on the school website.

Values

Browse the list of American curriculum schools below and one thing quickly becomes apparent — there are an awful lot of Christian schools in the mix, especially outside of Bangkok.

This is a consequence of the legacy of missionary work in Thailand, with many of the missionaries arriving from America.

Obviously how much of a deal-breaker this is for you and your family depends on a number of factors, not least being the level that religion plays into the day-to-day life of the school.

Some schools may be only nominally Christian, while others may fully embrace it as part-and-parcel of everyday life. 

Religion — or lack of it — can play a big part in people’s lives, so it’s worth checking that the school’s values align with your own (or what you’re most comfortable with) before signing on the dotted line.

AP Programs 

For many academically-minded students, being able to enroll into an AP program is a must.

Not only does it look good on your college application and provide some essential college-level experience, it earns you college credit, too — which could ultimately save you from paying exorbitant college fees.

According to Which School Advisor, there are currently 14 schools in Thailand offering AP courses, almost all of them located in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, which could be an issue for people living outside of those two cities.

Also, exactly which of the 30-plus available AP courses are available depends on which school, so it’s worth checking beforehand.

Location 

As one might expect, the majority of American international schools in Thailand are located in the major population/expat centers of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket.

However, much of the rest of the country is reasonably well-covered by American international schools, especially the North and Central regions, which boast several each.

Only the Northeast region is relatively lacking, with just one school for the entire region — and it’s tucked away in Korat, which might make commuting a bit of a problem if you live in, say, Nongkhai.

If you already live in a major city, do factor the omnipresent gridlock into your school decision. Nearer is always better.

While many schools may offer their own transportation for students, Bangkok can be an unpredictable city at times.

You never know when a flash flood or an overturned bus might halt proceedings for who-knows-how-long.

Being close to school keeps things a lot safer and simpler.

Tuition Fees

Fees at American international schools vary wildly, ranging from around THB100,000 per year to as high as a THB1,000,000 per year at top institutions like ISB.

Generally, fees depend upon level of education, with prices rising the higher up the grades you go.

Note that in addition to these tuition fees, many schools expect you to pay additional fees such as registration, transportation, and building fees.

American Curriculum Schools in Thailand

There are about 50 international schools offering the American Curriculum across Thailand.

As one would expect, the majority are located in Bangkok. However, they can be found all across the country.

Let’s look at some of them.

Bangkok

There are currently 27 schools offering the American curriculum in Bangkok, so there’s plenty to choose from.

Some of the more popular schools include:

Central Thailand

There are a handful of American schools located in the country’s central region.

The town of Saraburi boasts an impressive four American schools:

The small town of Chai Nat also boasts an American school, Manorom International Christian School.

Northern Thailand

There are seven American international schools in the northern capital of Chiang Mai, namely:

Chiang Rai also boasts three American schools:

Southern Thailand

The bulk of American schools in Thailand’s south are, as one would expect, focused on the expat hub of Phuket, which contains three:

Buds International School Phuket
Buds International School Phuket is a boutique primary, kindergarten, and nursery school.

There is also the American Prep International School, based in Hat Yai, and the Theodore International School in Chumphon.

East Thailand

Pattaya boasts one American school, International School Eastern Seaboard.

Northeast Thailand

 For Northeast Thailand, there’s the Adventist International Mission School in Korat.

Now, on to You 

American international schools can offer plenty to prospective students, even for those who aren’t American and have no desire to study in America.

The broad curriculum and focus on developing students’ social skills in addition to their academic skills provides students with a well-rounded education, suitable for higher education anywhere.

Thankfully, Thailand is well-provided for when it comes to American international schools, with a wealth of high-quality institutions from which to choose, many of which are relatively inexpensive compared to their counterparts in Europe and elsewhere in Asia.

With the right research, it’s more than likely that there’s a school out there for you or your children.

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