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titleThe Guidelines define School as follows:

A building or building complex used as a learning center for children grades kindergarten through high school.

INCLUDES: Public, private, alternative, and juvenile hall schools. School types include elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and private K‐12 schools.

DOES NOT INCLUDE: preschools, stand-alone kindergartens (i.e., no classes higher than kindergarten), daycares, or headstart programs.

What is a school? 

A school is a building where children are taught in any grade from K through 12.

What types of schools should I collect?

Schools are typically divided into three separate categories based on grade levels offered: Elementary, Middle, and High school. We also include a fourth category (i.e., General School) for those schools whose grade levels do not fall into one of these categories. This is most often the case for schools that combine two or more categories into one organization, such as K-12 schools.   

It is important to note that there is no ultimate black-and-white definition for what category a school falls in. Each school district structures their schools in a unique way, and this structure is the ultimate deciding factor of what category a school falls into.

Here are some general guidelines for what each school category entails:

  • Elementary School: A school for the beginning years of a child's education, often including kindergarten. Does not include combined elementary and middle schools (e.g., K-8 schools), K-12 schools, or any schools where kindergarten is the highest (or only) level offered. Schools covering grades K-8 or grades K-12 should be categorized as a General School. Schools offering PreK-K or K-only are considered preschools and should be deleted.

  • Middle School: A school between elementary school and high school; levels generally include grades 6th through 8th. However, grades 5th through 8th or 6th through 9th may occur in some states.  Does not include schools extending beyond the 8th grade or schools serving 5th grade and below (e.g., PreK-5, K-5, K-12, or 6-12). Schools covering K-12 or 6-12 should be categorized as a General School.

  • High School: A secondary school attended after middle school that usually goes through grade 12. A high school diploma is offered upon graduation from this type of school. Does not include schools that include 8th grade or lower (e.g., K-7), or schools that include grades in addition to the traditional high school grades (e.g., K-12 or 6-12).  Schools covering K-12 or 6-12 should be categorized as a General School.

  • General School: A building or building complex that offers education for children in grades kindergarten through high school. Includes schools that do not fall into a specific category, such as K-8, K-12, or 6-12 schools.

EXAMPLE: If a school does not self-identify, the table below provides a few scenarios that you might encounter:

School District A


Elementary School


Middle School


High School

School District B


General School


High School

School District C


Elementary School


General School

Check out our Structures List or this Decision Tree for more on what category a school falls under.

Where do I place a school structure point?
Most schools typically have one building and the point should be placed at the center of the building. If a school has multiple buildings as part of the same complex, place the point at the center of the complex.

Many schools, especially rural schools, have multiple institutions all in one building. Should these be depicted as one school, or multiple schools (elementary school, middle school, high school)? This generally is decided based on information from the school website or the state department of education website. If these websites list separate schools at the same address, then add one point for each school, with each point placed within the footprint of the building. Our March 2019 Newsletter contains an article titled Rare Find: 4 High Schools in One! that walks users through this very scenario.

For more information on how to identify a school building, check out the“Aerial Photo Interpretation Part 9: Schools”article in our March 2019 Newsletter.

Where can I find authoritative lists of schools?

The best place to find information about a school is on a dedicated school and/or district website. These websites are the first to reflect any changes in pertinent information (e.g., name, address, etc.) and therefore are typically the most accurate. If a dedicated school and/or district website cannot be found (as may be the case for smaller, rural, and/or private schools), there are many secondary sources that compile information from authoritative sources into an aggregate list. Examples of secondary sources include:

  • State department of education websites: These typically include all of the licensed public schools in the state. They may also include private schools, but in general they should not be considered a comprehensive list of private schools because they may only include schools whose school administrators have requested to be on the list.

  • TheNational Center for Education Statistics (NCES) maintains a database of public and private schools. This database is a result of a voluntary survey results for the Department of Education. Public schools are surveyed every year. Private schools are surveyed every 2 years. The NCES website allows a search for private or public schools by city, county, or state.

  • The National Association of Independent Schools has an online searchable database.

  • The National Parochial Schools Association lists parochial schools by state.

Insiders Tip: Many schools have websites or official Facebook pages that include a news section or event calendar. Before assuming all the information is valid, check to see if recent posts have been made to the page’s news or events section. There are scenarios where a school may have recently closed but its website is still online.  Checking the news or events sections for recent updates helps to verify if the school is still in operation.

For example, M J Jones Elementary School in Richmond, VA has a calendar page on its website. The calendar shows current events at the school, thereby indicating that the school is still in operation.  

Check out our Authoritative Sources List for more on the types of sources that are acceptable.


titleCollege / University

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titleThe Guidelines define College and University as follows:

A building or building complex used as an institution of higher learning that grants a degree at the completion of a course of studies.

  • INDICATORS: offers associates degrees or higher.

INCLUDES: 4‐year universities and community colleges, junior colleges requiring a high school diploma or equivalent for admission.

DOES NOT INCLUDE: Technical / trade schools offering technical training for job-specific certifications.


What is a College / University? 

The key indicator of a college or university is that the institution grants degrees.  There are 4 types of degrees: Associate, Bachelor, Master, and Doctoral.

Degree-granting is generally regulated by the States, with each having a higher education agency to oversee degree-granting institutions. The U.S. Department of Education has a list of these higher education agencies that maintain lists of the degree-granting institutions in their state.

For the most part, this degree-granting requirement leaves out vocational schools (also called trade schools, career schools, or technical schools), which generally grant certificates but not degrees; these should be captured as a Technical / Trade School. An exception is technical colleges which do grant degrees; these should be captured as a College / University structure.  

It is important to note that we are not collecting university extension locations whose primary mission is to perform community outreach. If a university manages an alternative campus and its title includes the term “Extension”, this point can be collected so long as this campus serves students enrolled in a degree-granting program. If the alternative “Extension” campus only provides education and outreach to the community, this does not meet our definition of a College / University and therefore is not a point we would collect. Check out this Q&A entry for more on how to handle University extensions.

Where can I find authoritative lists of College / University structures?
An institution’s individual website is the best place to find authoritative information on a College / University.  Therefore,
it is highly recommended that users confirm the information on these lists by locating the website for each College / University listed.

The closest thing to a national list may be the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). NCES maintains a database of primary, secondary, and higher education (aka, college) institutions. Users can search the NCES database for colleges.

Each state also has a higher education agency that may include a list of colleges and universities within their state.  

Check out our Authoritative Sources List for more on the types of sources that are acceptable.

Where do I place a College / University structure point?
In general, each college and/or university campus should be represented by a single structure point placed on the administrative building for that institution. If one does not have firsthand knowledge of the location of the administration building, it can usually be found on the school's campus map. If the location of the administration building cannot be determined, then place the structure point on a building at the center of the campus.A university campus may contain several colleges or schools (i.e., College of Arts, College of Sciences, School of Business, School of Medicine), but so long as these are units of the same university and located on the same campus, then they should be not be added as separate points. One point would represent the university or college. However in some cases, separate institutions may share the same campus (for example, the Auraria campus in Denver, Colorado is home to Metropolitan State University of Denver, the University of Colorado Denver, and the Community College of Denver) – in this case each institution should be represented by a separate point. Some colleges, especially in an urban environment, may have multiple campuses or widely dispersed buildings. In general a separate campus should be represented by its own structure point. However, if a dispersed college location consists of a single building, or a few rooms in a single building, then use your best judgment as to whether it is important enough to be considered a campus and therefore justify a separate structure point. Medical schools that are co-located with hospitals should be represented by a separate College / University structure point. The associated hospital would be represented as a separate Hospital structure point.


titleState Supreme Courts

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titleThe Guidelines define State Supreme Courthouses as follows:

A building which houses the ultimate tribunal (or court of last resort) for a given state.

INCLUDES: a point for a single building, usually located in the city designated as the state capitolcapital.

DOES NOT INCLUDE: Municipal and/or township level courts, tribal courts, county-level courts, federal courts, bankruptcy courts, or historical courthouse buildings that are not used for court functions.

What is a State Supreme Court?

A State Supreme Court is a type of appellate court (a state's court of last resort) and operates as the highest court within each state. As a result, there is typically only one state supreme court structure point for each state. State supreme courts rarely hold trials since their primary focus is the review of legal matters.

Please note that this feature class does not include state administration buildings.Nor does it include city, county, or federal level courthouses.

here can I find authoritative lists of State Supreme Courts?

Most states maintain a state judiciary website (e.g., Colorado’s Judicial Branch website) that describes the state’s court system; such websites often include a separate page dedicated to the State Supreme Court.  
The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) and may also contain information about State Supreme Court locations.

Check out our Authoritative Sources List for more on the types of sources that are acceptable.

Where do I place a State Supreme Court structure point?

State Supreme Courthouses typically consist of one large building, which are often in close proximity to the state’s capitol building. Volunteers should use information from state websites along with aerial imagery to identify which building houses the state’s supreme court, and then place the point on the center of this building.

How do I name a State Supreme Courthouse?

Similar to county courthouses, try to determine the name of the building. Contact information on government websites usually includes the building name with the address.  Our Name and Address Formatting Guide has a few examples of how to properly format a name for this structure type. Our User Guide also provides a thorough walkthrough of the courthouse naming process.