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How Many Years of Social Studies Do You Need?

Learn Social Studies Requirements for College Admissions

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Choosing the high school courses that will best prepare you for success in college can be a difficult process, and social studies, though an important subject for a strong college application, is easily overlooked, particularly if you aren't planning to enter a liberal arts program. Requirements for high school preparation in social studies vary significantly among different colleges and universities, and the term 'social studies' can mean something different to different schools.

Most competitive colleges recommend at least two to three years of high school social studies, which generally includes history as well as courses in government or civics. Here are some specific recommendations for high school social studies coursework from several different institutions:

Carleton College: "The strongest candidates for admission to Carleton have taken ... three or more years of social science ... at a minimum, applicants should have ... two years of social science" https://apps.carleton.edu/admissions/apply/requirements/

Harvard University: "We recommend ... the study of history for at least two, and preferably three years: American History, European History, and one additional advanced history course" http://www.admissions.college.harvard.edu/apply/preparing/index.html

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: ... History/Social Studies: three or more years. Such courses should include the writing of essays." http://www.stanford.edu/dept/uga/basics/selection/prepare.html

Pomona College: "The strongest applicants to the College take the most rigorous high school curriculum offered to them by their individual school ... It is strongly recommended that applicants complete a minimum of ... two years of study in ... social sciences (three years recommended)." http://www.pomona.edu/admissions/apply/frequently-asked-questions.aspx

UCLA: "Two years of history/social science including one year of world history, cultures and geography; and or one year U.S. history or one half year U.S. history and one half year of civics or American government." http://www.admissions.ucla.edu/prospect/adm_fr/fracadrq.htm

Williams College: "To be competitive, applicants should pursue the strongest program of study offered by their high schools ... a program of study should ideally include ... three years of study in the social sciences" http://admission.williams.edu/apply/highschoolprep/coursework

Of course, it's important to remember that colleges look more favorably upon applicants who have done more than meet the minimum requirements. College admissions officers are looking for students who have challenged themselves throughout high school, taking on advanced coursework in multiple subjects. As social studies is an area in which most schools only require two or three years of study, this may be an opportunity to present yourself as a well-rounded and dedicated student, particularly if you are applying for a program in history, civics, or any of the liberal arts.

The chart below lists social studies requirements and recommendations from a range of selective colleges and universities.

School Social Studies Requirement
Auburn University 3 years required
Carleton College 2 years required, 3 or more years recommended
Centre College 2 years recommended
Georgia Tech 3 years required
Harvard University 2-3 years recommended (American, European, one additional advanced)
MIT 2 years required
NYU 3-4 years required
Pomona College 2 years required, 3 years recommended
Smith College 2 years required
Stanford University 3 or more years recommended (should include essay writing)
UCLA 2 years required (1 year world, 1 year US or 1/2 year US+1/2 year civics or government)
University of Illinois 2 years required, 4 years recommended
University of Michigan 3 years required; 2 years for engineering/nursing
Williams College 3 years recommended
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