Tertiary education typically refers to any sort of education a person will undergo after completing secondary education. There are a number of specific terms for different types of tertiary education, often used regionally in different countries. In the US, for example, this sort of education is often referred to as higher education and can be found at colleges, universities, and technical schools. The UK divides tertiary education into two separate forms, with further education referring to technical schools and similar types of education, and higher education being reserved for universities.
In general, the term tertiary education typically refers to any sort of non-compulsory education that can be received after a student successfully completes his or her secondary education. Compulsory education, which is to say education that is required of young people in many countries, is generally divided into primary and secondary education. In the US, for example, this compulsory education is usually seen as the school years of kindergarten through 12th grade, though once a person is of sufficient age, he or she is not required to finish this education. Primary education in the US consists of kindergarten through sixth grade, while secondary education refers to seventh through 12th grades.
After completing these primary and secondary educations, a person may then receive a tertiary education at a school that is not required but may be necessary for various careers. This usually involves attending classes offered by a college, university, technical school, or similar institution, and this coursework may be substantially more difficult than what is offered at lower levels of education. The difficulty of these classes often increases with each passing semester, as does the narrow focus and specialization of classes offered for students. Tertiary education typically seeks to ensure students have a broad understanding of many subjects, with an extensive and deep understanding of a particular field of study.
While in the US, tertiary education is not typically divided into different types, in other countries this is not the case. In the UK, for example, tertiary education is referred to as either further education or higher education. Further education typically deals with technical learning and employment skills in general. These types of classes can be used to enter a particular profession or may prepare a person for further study in higher education.
Higher education, on the other hand, generally refers to the broad range of learning that takes place at colleges and universities. Though the terms are not typically used by this meaning in the US, there is still something of an ideological separation between these types of schools. Some people see one type of learning as superior to the other, but in fact they merely offer students opportunities to learn different skill sets and prepare for different types of careers.