High School Science Course Recommendations

Career Planning, Miscellaneous

Of the academic subjects students are required to take in high school, the science requirements tend to have the most flexibility. And ironically, this is one area where flexibility can actually lead to confusion! Following our blog with recommendations for math coursework, we’d like to share some  information about the science courses that high school students should consider. 

How much science should I take?

Most high schools only require two to three years of science in order to graduate. Most universities only require three years of high school science, including at least one lab science, to meet minimum eligibility. However,  we recommend that ALL college applicants, regardless of major, plan to complete three or four years of high school science. Students targeting a STEM major should take the full four years of science. 

Which science courses can I take?

Most high schools offer an assortment of science courses, including the following:

  • Earth Science
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Environmental Science
  • Physics

Some schools offer additional science courses such as Anatomy & Physiology, Living Earth, Health Science, Marine Science or other electives.

Which science courses should I take?

This depends on a number of factors, including what your high school requires and offers, and what your intended college major is. In general, however, college admissions officers like to see students take the “core 3” foundational sciences: Biology, Chemistry, and Physics, as familiarity with these subjects is part of a well-rounded education. More selective colleges also look for AP or Honors level science coursework.

Some students are able to align their science electives with their intended academic path. For example, if you are planning to be a pre-med major, it makes sense to complete AP Biology and a Health Science elective. If you are planning on studying Environmental Science, you should take AP Environmental Science, if your school offers it. Students targeting Chemistry-based majors should consider taking AP Chemistry.

If you are applying to the most selective colleges or to a STEM field at more selective colleges, you should plan to complete AP Physics. High schools typically offer one or more of the following AP Physics courses:

  • AP Physics 1: Algebra-based (similar to an introductory physics course at university)
    • Must have taken or be taking Algebra 2
  • AP Physics 2: Algebra-based (intended to serve as second year physics course at university)
    • Must have taken AP Physics 1, and completed or be taking precalculus
  • AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism (study of electrostatics, magnetic field, and conductors)
    • Must have taken or be taking calculus 
  • AP Physics C: Mechanics (study of kinematics, motion, work, energy, and power)
    • Must have taken or be taking calculus

Note that the strongest Engineering or Physical Science applicants should plan to take both AP Physics C courses (if offered at the high school) or complete equivalent courses at a community college.

As Independent Educational Consultants, we encourage students to choose courses which align with their strengths, interests, and academic and career goals.  And, we encourage students to review admissions requirements at the colleges they are considering to determine specific requirements (a reason to build their college list sooner rather than later). Contact us if you or your student would benefit from guidance in this area, we help our students choose their high school courses with their college goals in mind!