Courses to take in High School

To prepare for college, there is no substitute for getting a solid and broad academic education. This means you should take challenging courses in academic subjects and maintain good grades in high school. Your high school academic transcript will be an important part of the college application process. A transcript lists all the courses you take in high school along with the grade you earn in each course.

What makes for a solid transcript? Colleges want to see good grades, but even more important, colleges want to see that you take challenging academic courses.

To build a strong high school academic record, you need to take challenging courses in math, English, science, history, and a foreign language. If you want to go to college, it’s better to get B’s in tough courses like these than straight A’s in easy courses!

You should take at least five solid academic classes every semester. The following subjects and classes are standard for success in high school and beyond, whether you plan to attend a 4-year, 2-year, or technical college.

English (Language Arts)
Take English every year. Traditional courses such as American and English literature help you improve your writing skills, reading comprehension, and vocabulary. These should include courses in literature, writing, composition and grammar, and/or speech.

Math
You will need algebra and geometry to succeed on college entrance exams, in college math classes, and in most careers. Take them early on and you'll be able to enroll in advanced science and math courses in high school. By taking challenging courses you will show colleges you're ready for higher-level work. These math courses should include algebra I, geometry, algebra II, and precalculus (including trigonometry).

Science
Science teaches you to think analytically, and apply theories to reality. Laboratory classes let you test what you've learned through hands-on work. Six semesters of laboratory science are recommended. This includes two semesters in biology, two semesters in chemistry and/or physics, and two semesters in earth sciences, advanced biology, advanced chemistry, or physics.

Social Studies
You can better understand local and world events that are happening today by studying the history and cultures that produced them. Social sciences round out your core curriculum. Social sciences should include two semesters in U.S. history, one semester of U.S. government, one semester in economics, one semester in world history or geography, and one additional semester in any of these fields, or other areas like psychology or sociology.

Foreign Languages
Studying a foreign language shows colleges you are willing to take challenging courses that are beyond the basics. Many colleges require at least two years of foreign language study, and some prefer more.

The Arts
Research indicates that students who participate in the arts often do better in school and on standardized tests. The arts help you recognize patterns, discern differences and similarities, and exercise your mind in unique ways, oftentimes outside of a traditional classroom setting.

Computer Science
More and more college courses and jobs require at least a basic knowledge of computers. Computer skills also can help you do research and schoolwork better and faster.

Advanced Placement Program® (AP®)
In advanced placement (AP) programs, you can try college-level work, master valuable skills, and, with satisfactory grades, maybe even receive college credit. More than 1,400 higher education institutions award credit based on satisfactory AP Exam grades.

Science Science teaches you to think analytically, and apply theories to reality. Laboratory classes let you test what you've learned through hands-on work. Six semesters of laboratory science are recommended.   This includes two semesters in biology, two semesters in chemistry and/or physics, and two semesters in earth sciences, advanced biology, advanced chemistry, or physics.
Social Studies You can better understand local and world events that are happening today by studying the history and cultures that produced them. Social sciences round out your core curriculum.   Social sciences should include two semesters in U.S. history, one semester of U.S. government, one semester in economics, one semester in world history or geography, and one additional semester in any of these fields, or other areas like psychology or sociology.
Foreign Languages Studying a foreign language shows colleges you are willing to take challenging courses that are beyond the basics. Many colleges require at least two years of foreign language study, and some prefer more.
The Arts Research indicates that students who participate in the arts often do better in school and on standardized tests. The arts help you recognize patterns, discern differences and similarities, and exercise your mind in unique ways, oftentimes outside of a traditional classroom setting.
Computer Science More and more college courses and jobs require at least a basic knowledge of computers. Computer skills also can help you do research and schoolwork better and faster.
Advanced Placement Program® (AP®) In advanced placement (AP) programs, you can try college-level work, master valuable skills, and, with satisfactory grades, maybe even receive college credit. More than 1,400 higher education institutions award credit based on satisfactory AP Exam grades. Learn more about the AP Program.
English (Language Arts) Take English every year. Traditional courses such as American and English literature help you improve your writing skills, reading comprehension, and vocabulary.   These should include courses in literature, writing, composition and grammar, and/or speech.
Math You will need algebra and geometry to succeed on college entrance exams, in college math classes, and in most careers. Take them early on and you'll be able to enroll in advanced science and math courses in high school.  By taking challenging courses you will show colleges you're ready for higher-level work.   These math courses should include algebra, geometry, algebra II, trigonometry and/or calculus.
Science Science teaches you to think analytically, and apply theories to reality. Laboratory classes let you test what you've learned through hands-on work. Six semesters of laboratory science are recommended.   This includes two semesters in biology, two semesters in chemistry and/or physics, and two semesters in earth sciences, advanced biology, advanced chemistry, or physics.
Social Studies You can better understand local and world events that are happening today by studying the history and cultures that produced them. Social sciences round out your core curriculum.   Social sciences should include two semesters in U.S. history, one semester of U.S. government, one semester in economics, one semester in world history or geography, and one additional semester in any of these fields, or other areas like psychology or sociology.

Why Are These Courses Important?

Reading, writing, math and science form the foundation upon which to build your knowledge and expand your mind. It’s important to master these courses in middle school and high school as they will give you the tools you need to succeed in college and beyond.

Reading: Reading—literature, fiction and non-fiction, and lots of it— helps improve vocabulary, verbal skills and writing ability.

Writing: Expressing yourself well is important no matter what career you choose. Learn good research and writing techniques. Get feedback and give yourself plenty of time to rewrite and edit your writing assignments to do the best job possible.

Computing: In today’s technological world, having an understanding of math and science is a must. Progressing from basic math to algebra to geometry, calculus and trigonometry will give you the tools to open your mind to new ways of thinking and problem solving.

Adapted from the article “How to Select Your Classes.”  © 2006 collegeboard.com.  Reprinted with permission.  Visit www.collegeboard.com to read the full text.

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