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How Much Science Do You Need to Get Into College?

Learn About the Relationship Between Science Preparation and College Admissions


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When applying to college, you'll find that requirements for high school preparation in science vary greatly from school to school. As you might expect, institutions with a focus in science or engineering often require more science education than a typical liberal arts college, but even among top science and engineering schools, the required and recommended coursework can vary significantly.

To get a sense of typical recommendations for science preparation, here are the guidelines from several different colleges and universities:

Auburn University: "Students must have completed course requirement in their high school curriculum. These include ... science - 2 years (This must include 1 year of Biology and 1 year of a Physical Science)"

Harvard: "We recommend ... the study of science for four years: Physics, Chemistry, and Biology, and preferably one of these at an advanced level"

NYU: "We would expect your preparation to include ... 3-4 years of laboratory sciences"

Stanford: "Our experience has suggested that students who excel in a curriculum like the one below are well-suited for the demands of college academics: ... three or more years of laboratory science (including biology, chemistry and physics)."

UCLA: "Fundamental knowledge in at least two of these three foundational subjects: biology, chemistry and physics."

Smith College: "There is no typical applicant to Smith and no typical academic program, but it is strongly recommended that a student prepare for Smith by taking the strongest courses offered by their high school. Where possible this should include ... three years of lab science"

Some of these schools list the science courses that they expect students to have completed in high school; when stated, these courses usually include biology, chemistry and/or physics. Even if a college doesn't specifically outline these requirements, it's probably a good idea to have taken at least, two, if not all three of these courses, as they provide a strong general foundation. This is especially important for students hoping to pursue a degree in fields such as engineering or one of the natural sciences.

Also note that many colleges stipulate that high school science classes must have a laboratory component in order to fulfill their science requirements. In general, standard or advanced biology, chemistry and physics courses will include a lab, but if you've taken any non-lab science classes or electives at your school, make sure you're aware of the specific requirements of the colleges or universities you apply to in case your courses don't qualify.

The chart below summarizes the required and recommended science preparation from a number of top American institutions. Be sure to check directly with colleges for the current requirements.

School Science Requirement
Auburn University 2 years required (1 biology and 1 physical science)
Carleton College 1 year (lab science) required, 2 or more years recommended
Centre College 2 years (lab science) recommended
Georgia Tech 4 years required
Harvard University 4 years recommended (physics, chemistry, biology, and one of those advanced are preferred)
MIT 3 years required (physics, chemistry and biology)
NYU 3-4 years (lab science) recommended
Pomona College 2 years required, 3 years recommended
Smith College 3 years (lab science) required
Stanford University 3 or more years (lab science) recommended
UCLA 2 years required, 3 years recommended (from biology, chemistry or physics)
University of Illinois 2 years (lab science) required, 4 years recommended
University of Michigan 3 years required; 4 years required for engineering/nursing
Williams College 3 years (lab science) recommended

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