Upper School: 9th - 12th Grade

Even before the pandemic, ...
- less than 43% of all U.S. students at 4-year colleges graduated in 4 years.  About 62% graduate in 6 years.
- more than half of students who receive a SC Life Scholarship lose it in their first year.
- at our biggest state universities, Clemson and U of SC, the 4-year graduation rates are 60%.
- colleges report that most S.C. high school students are unprepared academically and struggle to navigate independence.
- colleges are in the midst of evolving, and this is changing admissions (SAT optional is growing), especially for selective colleges.
- high schools remain largely unchanged across America, with high-achieving students doing largely the same thing at school across school in our country (isolated on campus with their age peers, striving for good grades, taking lots and lots of AP classes, etc.). It is difficult for colleges to differentiate.
- our model is different, and it yields students with an array of life skills and experiences that will enable them to flourish in the world (and that colleges are yearning for).
USL graduates will thrive in college -- and beyond -- and are much more likely to graduate on time because they have had the rare opportunity to gradually master the 4 issues most likely to derail college students.

(1) Personal accountability for time management - USL high school students have less structured days with breaks, off campus activities, and differing schedules to mimic more closely the college week. Students also attend actual college classes on college campuses to experience the difference in testing schedules and independence needed on assignments.

(2) Self-advocacy - USL students have had daily exposure to communicating with multiple 
adults a day (and different hosts/speakers throughout the year) about what they need. This makes going to office hours, tutoring, and advisor sessions much easier.

(3) Social skills - USL students have been getting years of feedback on their social skills in 
hundreds of real world settings, including a diversity of religions, cultures, occupations, and ages which leads to their learning to approach new situations with respect and curiosity.

(4) Critical thinking - This is a cornerstone of the University School curriculum. Whether it be about 
current issues, literature, or potential career choices, USL students are taught to think deeply and in multiple perspectives gained through first-hand experience and classroom settings.

Academic Highlights

We believe that keeping young adults constrained on a high school campus, even one with many electives and opportunities to explore their interests and keep them engaged for 35+ hours a week, does them a disservice. This is insufficient preparation for a self-directed and successful path through college and beyond. High school is not preparation for life; it is life.

University School Upper School students aren’t like your typical high school students. Academically, they are comparable to high-achieving students across America. What distinguishes them is their civility and direct experience with life beyond a school.

In contrast to their peers at traditional high schools, USL seniors applying to colleges and universities have experienced 100+ field trips. They have talked to religious leaders at 15 or more houses of worship, met representatives of the 4 major political parties, traveled all over America, heard from a wide range of speakers of all ages and occupations, and had multiple job shadow experiences to learn more about potential career interests. They have visited 10+ college campuses across America and both sat in on classes and completed classes at a college with all of the different ages, religions, and viewpoints that one could expect.

USL seniors have seen and experienced the world and all of its diversity and possibilities in a way that is not possible at a traditional high school. When half of South Carolina students are losing their S.C. Lottery scholarships in their first year of college because of inadequate academic and/or social and emotional preparation, we have forged a better way.

Signature Programs  

30 Field Trips Per Year / Experiential Learning - The Learning Outside the Classroom (LOTC) program is a hallmark of our curriculum. Students take part in weekly field trips (30 per year) covering a wide array of disciplines and career fields. Students visit areas of historical significance, hospitals, houses of faith, military bases, etc., to learn first-hand from experts on-site. Over the course of four years in high school, a student will engage in over 120 field trips.  In addition, the Upper School takes a weeklong trip to a different region outside of the Southeast for three years and then out-of-the country.  These excursions include college explorations and tours.

Generosity / Integrated Service Program – Upper School students guide the mentoring of younger students, oversee the cleanliness of the campus, and lead committees that focus on various aspects of campus and student life. They also have designated class periods (“Generosity”) each week for regular service to USL and the greater community. Our students host shared community programs and venture into the world each week for field trips, where many of the experiences are service learning-based. Over the course of four years in high school, a student will complete over 200 hours of service to the community, fostering the development of adults and citizens who will engage and uplift the communities to which they belong.

Faith exploration - In order to become informed citizens of the community and the world, University School students learn first-hand about different faiths by visiting houses of worship and exploring all religions represented in our region and across the globe (through yearly overnight trips). Over the course of four years in high school, a student will explore 12-15 different houses of worship.

Preparation for College-style Courses and Learning – Most Upper School classes are formatted like college classes, meeting less frequently and placing more of the learning onus onto the student. Students have “Flex” periods where they can independently work and call upon colleagues or faculty if needed. Students regularly observe classes at our local colleges. It is encouraged that each student then takes at least one course at the College of Charleston for direct experience in a college classroom. This is not traditional dual enrollment that is based on our campus: our students travel to the College of Charleston and take the classes there.  For the 2020-2021 graduating class, seven students completed approximately 30 college classes prior to high school graduation.

Independence and Life Skills – To prepare students for life in college and beyond, USL gives ample independence to leave and return to campus during the day to those in good standing. Leaving campus during lunch break or during Flex is permitted, as long as check out/in procedures are followed. Students must travel in pairs and take a Medical Bag with them in case of emergency. We also coordinate practical field learning experiences including apartment hunting and signing a lease, basic car maintenance, preparing meals, filing taxes, etc.

Leadership and Mentoring Program – USL is a small, vibrant school where students of all ages regularly interact with each other. This makes for a more compassionate environment where students receive and give care among a wide range of students, both older and younger, adding another dimension of responsibility and role-modeling. Younger students have older students with a variety of interests and goals to inspire them, and older students help guide the younger students to become good citizens and learners.

Citizenship and Government - Engaged in regular civics education and tailored LOTC programming, students keep abreast of current events daily, examine comparative government, and study the democratic process in America. They are given the opportunity to meet and hear from many candidates representing different political parties to further explore issues of governance and civics. Our yearly exit poll project on Election Day, during which students conduct exit polls across the county and in neighboring precincts to make statistical predictions based on their collected data. This enables students to see firsthand the difference in turnout rates for the many types of elections, from Congressional to Mayoral; regional and statewide, occurring in both even-numbered years or odd-numbered years, respectively. We employ this hand-on civics project practice to produce educated and active stewards at the local and national level, a cornerstone of USL’s student development philosophy.

Art and Cultural Appreciation – Exposure to different artistic mediums and forms of cultural expression is woven through the University School of the Lowcountry curriculum. Every year, the school hosts and shares 4-5 cultural programs, and students take part in 5-7 art and cultural field trip opportunities. A high school graduate attending all four years will experience approximately 50 distinct artistic and cultural experiences and field trips, focused on profound lessons in empathy and creativity.