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High School Course Requirements for College Admissions

Learn What Core Courses You Need to Get into College


While admissions standards vary greatly from one college to another, nearly all schools will be looking to see that applicants have completed a standard core curriculum. As you choose classes in high school, these core courses should always get top priority. Students without these classes may be automatically disqualified for admission (even at open admissions colleges), or they may be admitted provisionally and need to take remedial courses to gain an appropriate level of college readiness.

In general, a typical high school core curriculum looks something like this:

  • English: 4 years
  • Foreign Language: 2 to 3 years
  • Math: 3 years
  • Science: 2 - 3 years
  • Social Studies (including history): 2 to 3 years

To learn more about requirements for each subject area, these articles can help: English | Foreign Language | Math | Science | Social Science

When colleges calculate your GPA for admissions purposes, they will often ignore the GPA on your transcript and focus solely on your grades in these core subject areas. Grades for physical education, music ensembles, and other non-core courses are not as useful for predicting your level of college readiness as these core courses.

Core course requirements vary from state to state, and many of the more selective colleges will want to see a high school record that goes beyond the core (read "What is a good academic record?"). AP, IB, and Honors courses are a must at the most selective colleges.

Note that many colleges with holistic admissions do not have specific course requirements for admission. The Yale University admissions website, as an example, states, "Yale does not have any specific entrance requirements (for example, there is no foreign language requirement for admission to Yale). But we do look for students who have taken a balanced set of the rigorous classes available to them. Generally speaking, you should try to take courses each year in English, science, math, the social sciences, and foreign language."

That said, students without a basic core curriculum would have a hard time gaining entrance to one of the Ivy League schools.

The chart below shows minimum course recommendations for a sampling of different types of selective colleges:

College English Math Science Social Studies Language Notes
Davidson 4 yrs 3 yrs 2 yrs 2 yrs 2 yrs 20 units required; 4 yrs science and math through calculus recommended
MIT 4 yrs through calculus bio, chem, physics 2 yrs 2 yrs &nbsp
Ohio State 4 yrs 3 yrs 3 yrs 2 yrs 2 yrs art required; more math, social science, language recommended
Pomona 4 yrs 4 yrs 2 yrs (3 for science majors) 2 yrs 3 yrs Calculus recommended
Princeton 4 yrs 4 yrs 2 yrs 2 yrs 4 yrs AP, IB, and Honors courses recommended
Rhodes 4 yrs through Algebra II 2 yrs (3 preferred) 2 yrs 2 yrs 16 or more units required
UCLA 4 yrs 3 yrs 2 yrs 2 yrs 2 yrs (3 recommended) 1 yr art and another college prep elective required
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