According to the Collins Dictionary, the noun "graduate" slightly differs in meaning with regard to the location of speaking:

In Britain, a graduate is a person who has successfully completed a degree at a university or college and has received a certificate that shows this. – "They are looking for graduates with humanities or business degrees."

In the United States, a graduate is a student who has successfully completed a course at a high school, college, or university. – "The top one-third of all high school graduates are entitled to an education at the California State University."

The difference is seemlingly provable in the case of the verb "to graduate" as well:

In Britain, when a student graduates from university, they have successfully completed a degree course. – "She graduated in English and Drama from Manchester University."

In the United States, when a student graduates, they complete their studies successfully and leave their school or university. You can also say that a school or university graduates a student or students. – "When the boys graduated from high school, Ann moved to a small town in Vermont"; "In 1986, American universities graduated a record number of students with degrees in computer science."

From the information above I would come to the conclusion that in British English the discussed noun and verb cannot apply to secondary education, only higher education. Is that correct? And if so, what similar noun(s) and verb(s) can be used in BE to refer to finishing secondary education?

1 Answer 1


In the UK, only university students 'graduate' so the noun unambiguously means 'a person who has successfully completed a university course', however in the US education system, a person who completes high school education and obtains a diploma is also called a 'graduate', so in the US, the noun is qualified (e.g. a high school graduate, a college graduate). In the British education system, we do not have specific nouns to denote level of secondary education, but we might say 'educated to GCSE level' or 'educated to A-level'.

  • I see, thanks for the help. Is it thus advisable for English-speakers outside of the UK to say "I've taken my GCSE exams" or "A-level exams" when talking to speakers of BE in order to avoid confusion? Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 10:24
  • 2
    They should say "I have qualifications equivalent to the UK GCSE (or A-level) standard". Since most countries outside the UK do not have examinations called 'GCSE' or 'A-level' it would be misleading or confusing to use the names by themselves. Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 10:29

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