Secondary school offers five years of general education, divided into two cycles. Cycle One, which lasts three years, enables students to consolidate the learning acquired in elementary school and to begin to think about their career options. From the third year on, optional subjects are added to the general curriculum, giving students the opportunity to explore various subject areas (sciences, arts, etc.). At the end of the fifth year of secondary education, students are awarded a Secondary School Diploma (SSD) that provides access to college, but does not lead directly to university. It is worth noting that the proportion of students graduating with a first secondary school diploma in Québec in 2003 was 82 per cent (young people and adults combined), compared with an average of 78 per cent in the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Various vocational training programs leading to a trade are offered in Cycle Two. Some of these programs start in the third year of secondary school. Over 170 vocational training programs in 21 sectors allow young people and adults to earn a Diploma of Vocational Studies (DVS) and then, if they so choose, an Attestation of Vocational Specialization (AVS). After Secondary Three, students may also enroll in a program leading to an Attestation of Vocational Education (AVE) in order to prepare for a semiskilled occupation.