I finished school the year before last.
I finished school before last year.
Is there any difference between these phrases?
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There is a difference. It is now 2015 ...
Year before last designates a specific year. If you say I finished school the year before last we understand that you finished school during the year which preceded last year: sometime in 2013.
Before last year designates an indefinite timespan which ended at the beginning of last year. If you say I finished school before last year we understand that you finished school at some unspecified time before last year. It might have been 2013, it might have been 2012, it might have been 1990 or 1980 or 1970 or 1960 ...
By the way, in US English you need not say the year before last—this is fine:
I finished school year before last.