High School Classes Colleges Look For

Admissions officers look for a solid foundation of study you can build on in college. Taking five challenging academic classes per semester helps create that foundation.

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High School Classes Colleges Look For

If you’re in high school and thinking about college─and you should be─you should know that the courses you take matter. That’s because college admissions officers want to see a solid foundation of learning you can build on in college.

To create that foundation, take at least five solid academic classes every semester. Start with the basics, and then move on to challenging yourself in advanced courses. The courses listed below should prepare you for success in college and beyond.

English (Language Arts)

Take English every year. Traditional courses, such as American and English literature, help improve your writing skills, reading comprehension, and vocabulary.

two female students in front of a computer


Algebra and geometry help you succeed on admission tests and in college math classes. Take them early so that you'll have time for advanced science and math, which will show colleges that you're ready for higher-level work.

Most colleges want students with three years of high school math. The more competitive colleges prefer four years. Take some combination of the following:

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


Science teaches you how to think analytically and apply theories to reality. Colleges want to see that you’ve taken at least three years of laboratory science classes. A good combination includes a year of each of these:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry or physics
  • Earth or physical science

Competitive schools expect four years of lab science courses, which you may be able to get by taking advanced classes in these same areas.

Social Studies

Improve your understanding of local and world events by studying the cultures and history that helped shape them. Here’s a suggested high school course plan:

  • U.S. History
  • U.S. Government
  • World History and Geography
  • Economics

Foreign Languages

Studying a foreign language shows you're willing to stretch beyond the basics. Many colleges require at least two years of study in the same foreign language, while others prefer more.

The Arts

The arts help you recognize patterns, learn to notice differences and similarities, and exercise your mind in unique ways.

Some colleges require or recommend one or two semesters in the arts. Choices include studio art, dance, music, and drama.

Advanced College Courses

To ready yourself for college-level work, enroll in challenging high school courses, such as honors classes, AP courses, or IB-program courses. Find out about taking college classes in high school or at a local college.

Get Help Choosing Courses Admissions Officers Want to See

Use College Search to research the academic requirements of your preferred college to ensure you’re on the path to admission. Also, you can meet with a school counselor or teacher to ask questions about choosing classes and staying on track for college.


Do colleges look at specific classes?

Yes. Colleges look at the specific classes you take in high school. Admissions officers want to know whether you took all the core courses, including math, science, foreign language, English, and social studies. They also take note of whether you progressed to higher-level classes in the core subjects. Then they look at your elective courses to get an idea of your interests.

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What is the minimum GPA for college?

Most colleges don’t have a specific GPA requirement because high schools calculate GPA differently from colleges. For admissions, many colleges will recalculate student GPA so there’s consistency across applications. College admissions officers consider more than just a student’s GPA. They look at SAT scores and whether a student is taking college classes in high school, among other factors.

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What classes do most colleges require?

Most colleges are looking for students with a foundation of courses in the core subjects. College admissions officials look at your core course levels from your first year through your senior year. They want to see if you advanced to more challenging material in these subjects as you progressed through high school.

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What types of elective courses do colleges look for?

Most colleges aren’t looking for certain types of elective courses. Instead, admissions officers look at your elective courses for some insight into your interests. The variety of elective courses you choose conveys something about your willingness to learn about different subjects.

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Are college admissions officials looking for AP courses on my high school transcript?

College admissions staff are looking to see if you’ve challenged yourself and taken the most rigorous courses your school offers. That could be Advanced Placement® courses, honors courses, or other advanced courses. A student who’s successful in rigorous courses in high school is likely to be prepared for challenging work in college.

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How do colleges view online high school?

You should check with your preferred colleges to get more information about how those colleges view online high schools.

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Are extracurricular activities important to colleges?

Yes. Though extracurricular activities aren’t the most important thing college admissions officials look at, they do factor into their decision. The clubs and organizations you belong to communicate a lot about your interests. If you do volunteer work, college admissions officials are going to take note of where you volunteered and for how long. For example, volunteering for four years at a local animal shelter shows dedication to something you enjoy that helps your community.

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When should a high school student start to research college admissions requirements?

The sooner, the better. Researching college admissions requirements as a first-year student allows you to create future class schedules with those requirements in mind. You may discover one of your preferred colleges likes applicants to have at least three years of foreign language study. Making a long-term plan means you’ll be well prepared to apply to colleges by the start of your high school senior year.

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