What Classes do you need in High School to go to College?

What classes do you need in high school to go to college? This is the most important thing that all colleges will look at when you apply along with your grades. If you only focus on one thing throughout high school, make it getting the classes you need and getting the highest grades you can in those classes.

This article is important for students planning to attend a four year college, but it’s a good idea to follow this guidance for students planning to attend a two year college. There are several reasons for this:

  1. It will prepare you to do well in college classes
  2. It will prepare you well to transfer to a four year college
  3. It will help you not forget important things before college – for example, if you didn’t take math your senior year, or you stopped your world language before senior year, it’s much harder to pick it up again after a gap!

Minimum Required High School Classes to go to College

In Washington State, the requirements to graduate from high school and be eligible for a public four year college are not the same, so it’s important to first understand the requirements and make sure you have those classes at a minimum! In some states the high school graduation requirements are the same as those of public four year colleges, so this may be different if you live outside of Washington.

In Washington, the requirements to be eligible to attend a four year public college are called CADRS which stands for College Academic Distribution Requirements. The CADRs are:

  • English – 4 years
  • Math – 3 years
  • Social Studies – 3 years
  • Science – 3 years (2 years must be lab science)
  • World Language – 2 years
  • Senior year math based quantitative course – 1 year (see the CADRs link for more details – essentially this can be an additional year of math or a math based science class or AP computer science)
  • Fine, visual or performing arts – ½ year
  • Academic elective – ½ year

Compare these requirements to your high school’s graduation requirements and make sure you take the classes that are not required for graduation. The most common course to pay special attention to is the World Language requirement (two years) as many high schools do not require this for graduation. If you are fluent in a language other than English, you can also do the world language competency testing instead of taking two years of classes, freeing up your schedule for other classes. 

Take Challenging Classes

If you’re asking yourself what classes do you need to take in high school, the minimum requirements probably aren’t enough. Once you’ve planned to take the classes to meet minimum requirements, the next thing that colleges want to see is that you’ve challenged yourself beyond the basic requirements. 

It’s also important to do well in your classes and to enjoy learning so be thoughtful about the ways in which you challenge yourself. 

In general, the more competitive or selective a college is, the more challenge and harder classes you’ll need to compete.

Ways to challenge yourself with your high school classes include:

  • Make sure you have a full schedule all four years of high school
  • Consider taking Honors or AP classes
  • Consider Running Start if you’re in Washington State
  • Consider other challenging high school classes or classes that give you the option of college credit that are offered at your school
  • Take more than two years of world language
  • Take four years of science
  • Take four years of math
  • Take electives that are interesting and fun for you such as additional years of visual or performing arts, computer science or journalism

Get the Best Grades Possible

The more selective and competitive a college is, the more important it is to have a high GPA. If you don’t have perfect grades, don’t worry! There are lots of options available to you.

You still want to do as well as you can in school, both to make your college application as strong as possible, but also to prepare yourself for college and figure out how you learn best.

Some ways to do your best in challenging high school classes include:

  • Ask for help! This is such an important life skill and something many people don’t learn until way too late. If you’re not sure about something ask your teachers, professors and fellow students for help
  • Find an organizational system that works for you – especially for bigger projects it’s never too soon to figure out the way you work and how to stay organized. Some people use google docs or other online tools, some people prefer a paper planned or visual checklist. Learn what works for you and stick with it! This will help you so much as a college student too!
  • Challenge yourself the most in subjects you love – if you love math and hate writing, then take more challenging math classes and don’t feel like you have to take super hard writing classes. You’ll have to do some writing of course, but you don’t have to pile it on more than necessary!

By Jennie Flaming