High School Classes Required for College

Girl studyingPlanning to go to college? It’s important you take the right classes in high school.

Beginning in ninth grade, the majority of your classes should be ones that will prepare you for college. When it comes time to apply, you want to make sure you meet the admission criteria for ALL colleges in which you are interested. It’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.

Here’s what you need by the end of your senior year in order to meet the admission criteria at a majority of colleges:

Make sure your take four full years of English classes. This includes courses in which you study writing and courses in which you read literature. You need to be able to write well in nearly every career. Use your English classes to read, analyze, and develop strong communication skills.

Sign up for four full years of math classes. Students who take math in each year of high school are far more successful in college than students taking only three years. Never skip a year of math in high school because you will lose your momentum. Your math classes should include at least four of the following six classes, taken in this order:

  • pre-algebra
  • algebra
  • geometry
  • algebra II and/or trigonometry
  • precalculus
  • calculus


Take three to four years of laboratory science classes. You will have the strongest background if you have taken at least one year each of:

  • biology
  • chemistry
  • physics

Social Studies

Two years, at a minimum, of social sciences are required by most colleges. The majority of college freshmen studied world history and US history in high school. Other social science options include:

  • government
  • sociology
  • geography
  • psychology

Foreign Language

Take two to four years of a foreign language. More and more colleges are requiring a minimum of two years of language study while in high school. 
A small number of colleges require one year of visual or performing arts prior to admission.

International Students Applying to Schools in the United States

NACAC's Trusted Sources International Student Guide can help you understand the process.