Handbook: Preparing Your Child for College

Academic Preparation for College

Take Courses Recommended for College-Bound Students

To prepare for college, there is no substitute for your child getting a solid and broad academic education. This means your child should take challenging courses in academic subjects and maintain good grades in high school. Your child's transcript will be an important part of his or her college application.

A college education builds on the knowledge and skills acquired in earlier years. It is best for your child to start planning a high school course schedule early, in the seventh or eighth grade. Research shows that students who complete algebra and geometry by the end of ninth grade are more likely to go to college than those who do not. By taking these courses early, students are then prepared to take geometry, trigonometry, calculus, and science courses in high school.

Most selective colleges (those with the highest admissions requirements) prefer to admit students who have taken courses in certain subject areas. For example, many colleges prefer that students have taken challenging science courses and mathematics courses beyond general math and algebra. Basic computer skills are now essential, and some colleges prefer three or four years of a foreign language. Your child's guidance counselor can help your child determine the high school courses required or preferred by different types of colleges. If your child is interested in specific colleges, he or she can contact those schools and ask about their admissions requirements. Many high schools offer advanced placement (AP) courses and exams. AP courses are college-level courses in approximately 16 different subjects; they help students prepare for college-level work while they are still in high school. Students who take AP courses are often more prepared for the academic challenges presented in college. In addition, a student who takes an AP course, and who scores a grade of 3 or higher on an AP exam, can often receive advanced placement in college or credit for a college course*. Talk to one of your child's teachers, your child's guidance counselor, or the principal of your child's school to find out if the school offers AP courses. If they don't, ask whether they might consider offering AP courses in the future.
*This can result in significant cost savings. However, not all colleges and universities give credit or advanced placement for earning a grade of 3 or higher on an AP exam. Write to the admissions office ofthe colleges that are of interest to your child to find out if they give credit for an AP exam grade of 3 or higher. Ask to obtain the college's AP policy in writing or look for a policy in the institution's catalog.

Chart 2 lists the high school courses that many higher education associations and guidance counselors recommend for a college-bound student. These courses are especially recommended for students who want to attend a four-year college. Even if your child is interested in attending a junior college, community college, or technical college, he or she should still take most of these courses since they provide the preparation necessary for all kinds of postsecondary education. (In addition, many students who attend two-year colleges go on to earn a B.A. or B.S. degree at a four-year college or university.)

Mathematical and scientific concepts and skills learned in math classes are used in many disciplines outside of these courses. Recent studies have shown that students who take higher level math courses are more likely to go on to, and complete, college than students who do not.

Traditional English courses such as American and English literature will help students improve their writing skills, reading comprehension, and vocabulary. History and geography will help your child better understand our society as well as other societies around the world.

Research also indicates that students who take courses in the arts disciplines and who participate in the arts (performing arts and visual arts) often do better in school and on standardized tests. The arts help students to learn; they often give students a richer understanding of history, science, literature, and math.

Thirty states require students to take some art course(s) (visual or performing) before graduating from high school; six state university systems require students to take at least one unit of art (visual or performing) at the high school level before gaining admission to the university. Many college admissions staff view participation in the arts as a valuable experience that broadens students' understanding and appreciation of the world around them.


Recommended High School Courses for College-Bound Students

Although academic requirements differ among colleges, the admissions requirements listed below are typical for four-year colleges. The specific classes listed here are examples of the types of courses students can take.

English-Four years
Types of classes:

  • American Literature
  • Composition
  • English Literature
  • World Literature

Mathematics-Three to four years
Types of classes:

  • Algebra I
  • Algebra II
  • Calculus
  • Geometry
  • Precalculus
  • Trigonometry

History & Geography-Two to three years
Types of classes:

  • Civics
  • Geography
  • U.S. History
  • U.S. Government
  • World History
  • World Cultures

Laboratory Science-Two to four years
Types of classes:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Earth Science
  • Physics

Foreign Language-Two to four years

Visual & Performing Arts-One year
Types of classes:

  • Art
  • Dance
  • Drama.
  • Music

Challenging Electives-One to Three Years
Types of classes:

  • Communications
  • Computer Science
  • Economics
  • Psychology
  • Statistics

Things You and Your Child Can Do To Prepare for a Technical Program at a Community, Junior, or Technical College

If your child is interested in pursuing a technical program in a community, junior, or technical college, he or she may want to supplement or substitute some of the electives listed in the chart with some vocational or technical courses in his or her field of interest. However, many technical fields, such as engineering and computer science, demand high levels of science and math. Regardless of the career your child is interested in pursuing, he or she should take the suggested courses in at least the core areas of math, science, English, history, and geography. Look especially for more advanced technology courses in the junior and senior years of high school.

Talking to an administrator or professor from a community, junior, or technical college is a good way to find out about the best high school courses to take in order to prepare for a specific technical program offered at that college. The dean of a particular technical program will also be able to tell you about the entry requirements for the program.

You may want to ask educators at a local college (or staff at your child's school) about educational programs that have formal connections between the high school and the local college. There are many career-focused programs that are offered by a network of high schools, local colleges, and, sometimes, local employers. Many of these programs are known as "tech-prep," "two-plus-two,"or "school-to-work" programs. The high school course work in these programs is formally linked to the course work offered at the local colleges. In this way, the high school material better prepares students for the college-level work. It also starts the student on a clear path toward a college degree.

Tech-prep and two-plus-two programs often refer to educational programs offered by networks of school districts and colleges. Such programs offer students career "pathways" that link their high school classes to advanced technical education in colleges or apprenticeship programs. These programs are often called twoplus-two programs because they span the last two years of high school and the first two years of college. Thus, they are four-year programs.

These programs emphasize applied leaning-the teaching of academic material through hands-on experience. In addition, students in tech-prep and two-plus two programs receive extensive academic and career guidance from counselors and teachers.

"School-to-work" is the term that often refers to career-focused programs that have many of the same elements as tech-prep and two-plus-two programs. In addition, "school-to-career" programs also provide students with the opportunity to learn in a real work setting. Students have the opportunity to spend time at a local worksite where they can apply their skills and acquire new ones. You can learn more about career-focused education programs by talking to educators in your community and by contacting the organizations listed in this guide.

Make Sure That All Courses Meet High Standards

It is vital that your child not only enrolls m the courses recommended for college-bound students, but also that the material taught in those courses reflects high academic standards and high expectations for what students should know and be able to do. Research indicates that high expectations and high standards improve achievement and positively influence student learning. Efforts are under way in states and communities across the country to answer the question: "What is it that our children ought to know and be able to do ... to participate fully in today's and tomorrow's economy?" Many states and local communities have been developing or revising their standards (sometimes called "curriculum frameworks") in core subject areas such as math, science, English, history, geography, foreign languages, civics, and the arts. These standards help provide parents with answers to questions such as:

"Is my child learning?"

"What is it that my child should know by the end of each grade?"

Many school districts are taking the initiative in setting higher standards. In many communities, parents, teachers, administrators, business leaders, clergy, college representatives, curriculum experts, and interested citizens are working together to develop or revise standards. In creating their own standards, many states and communities are drawing on model standards developed by national professional associations.

In order to make sure that the curriculum in your child's school meets high academic standards, call your child's school to find out if state or local standards are being developed. Ask how you can get involved in the standard-setting process. Join with other parents, teachers, and your child's principal and compare your school's standards against the best schools and the best state standards. You can also learn about the voluntary standards developed by national professional associations by contacting the professional organizations.

Take the Standardized Tests That Many Colleges Require

Many of the courses recommended for collegebound students (such as geometry and rigorous English courses) are also essential preparation for the college entrance examinations-the SAT* (Scholastic Assessment Test) or the ACT Assessment. The SAT measures verbal and mathematical reasoning abilities. The ACT Assessment measures English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning abilities. Students applying to colleges in the East and West usually take the SAT exam. Students applying to schools in the South and Midwest often take the ACT, however, students should check the admission requirements at each school to which they are applying.
*The general SAT test is also referred to as the SAT I to distinguish it from the SAT subject test, which is also called the SAT II.

Usually, the tests are offered in the junior and senior years of high school and can be taken more than once if a student wishes to try to improve his or her score. Students can get books at libraries or bookstores to help them to prepare for all of the tests. Some of these books are listed at the back of this resource book. In addition, some private organizations and companies offer courses that help students prepare for these exams.

Many schools offer the Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) to their students. This practice test helps students prepare for the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). The PSAT is usually achninistered to tenth or eleventh grade students. A student who does well on this test and who meets many other academic performance criteria may qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program. You and your child can find out more about the PSAT/NMSQT and the National Merit Scholarship Program by talking to your child's guidance counselor or by calling or writing to the number or address provided in the back of this guide.

Some colleges also require that an applicant take one or more SAT subject tests in major areas of study. These tests are also known as SAT II tests. SAT II subject tests are offered in many areas of study including English, mathematics, many sciences, history, and foreign languages. A subject test measures the extent of a student's knowledge of a particular subject. It is a good idea for a student to consult a guidance counselor about this test early in high school; often the best time to take an SAT subject test is right after the student has taken a course in that subject. For example, many students take the SAT biology test right after they have completed a course in biology. This could mean that your child would take his or her first SAT subject test as a freshman or sophomore in high school.

At the back of this handbook, in the section that lists places where you can get additional information, you will find the address and phone number where you can write or call for more information about the SAT general test and the SAT subject tests. You will also find the address and phone number for the organization that administers the ACT.

Knowing what will be required for college is important, by taking the right courses and examinations from the beginning of high school, your child may avoid admission problems later on. In addition, students who do not prepare well enough academically in high school, if admitted to college, may be required to take remedial courses. Most colleges do not offer credit for these courses, and students may have to pay for these extra courses and spend extra time in college to earn their degrees. Studies have also shown that students who take more rigorous courses in high school are more likely to complete college. Chart 3 lists some questions that you or your child may want to ask your child's guidance counselor.


Questions to Ask Guidance Counselors

  • What basic academic courses do you recommend for students who want to go to college?
  • What activities can students do at home and over the summers to strengthen their preparation for college?
  • How many years of each academic subject does the high school require for graduation?
  • How much homework is expected of students preparing for college?
  • What elective courses do you recommend for college-bound students?
  • What do different colleges require in terms of high school grades and SAT or ACT scores?
  • Can students who are considering college get special help or tutoring?



Course Planner for Parent and Student
This exercise will give you and your child a chance to look ahead and choose future courses. Be aware that some courses must be taken in sequence. On the form below, list your child's current courses or courses he or she will take this year. Then list courses that he or she will take during each year of high school. If you are not sure what courses your child should take, you should make an appointment with your child's guidance counselor and get some advice.
  This Year: ______Grade Next Year: _____Grade
  Fall Semster Spring Semester Fall Semester Spring Semester
Full Course Title:        
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History/Social Studies        
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Foreign Language        
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Course Planner for Parent and Student
  _____ Grade _____ Grade _____ Grade _____ Grade
  Fall Semester Spring Semester Fall Semester Spring Semester Fall Semester Spring Semester Fall Semester Spring Semester
Full Course Title:                
Full Course Title:                
History/Social Studies                
Full Course Title:                
Full Course Title:                
Foreign Language                
Full Course Title:                
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