Handbook: Preparing Your Child for College

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.

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