Which Math Class Should I Take?


We continue to hear from students and families who are confused regarding which math course is best to take in senior year. While students who love math will naturally choose the most challenging course available, for others it’s not so clear-cut. They fear they would struggle in a higher level math, but also don’t want to hurt their chances for college admissions. Students who really dislike math often ask if they even need a senior year math course. So what is the best option for you?  Like most topics in college admissions, the answer is “it depends.”  

How many years of math should I take?

Most universities only require three years of math to meet minimum eligibility, and expect that applicants will have taken one year of math beyond Algebra 2. To remain competitive for college admissions though, we recommend that all students complete four years of high school math.

What math courses should I take?

This is the most common progression for high school math:

Algebra 1 Geometry → Algebra 2 → 4th year of  advanced math

Here is another common progression, using Common Core course titles:

Math 1 → Math 2 → Math 3 → 4th year of  advanced math

In many districts, students can take Algebra 1 and even Geometry in middle school, allowing them to advance on these timelines and then take additional math courses in high school.

Students who complete Algebra 2 or Math 3 can typically move on to one of the following advanced math courses:

  • Trig/Pre-Calculus
  • AP Statistics
  • AP Calculus AB or BC
  • Data Science

Which advanced math should I take?

Students who take the 4th year of math often ask us which is best. We encourage students to think about the following factors: 

  • How well do you perform in math? 
  • How much do you like math? 
  • How selective are the colleges you’re applying to? 
  • What do you intend to major in during college?

Which advanced math is “best” ultimately depends on many factors, but when advising students, we tend to follow this guideline:

→ For students that don’t like math AND who are applying to non-STEM majors and/or less selective colleges, completing Trig/Pre-Calculus or Statistics are both reasonable options.

→ Students applying to Business or STEM majors at more selective colleges should aim to complete AP Calculus AB or BC.

→ Students applying to STEM majors at the very most selective colleges, may consider courses beyond AP Calculus BC, including community college courses in Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algebra, and/or Differential EquationsThis is only possible if students start planning their math pathway while in middle school!

It’s worth noting that taking more challenging math classes like AP Calculus will be beneficial to any student, regardless of their major or the colleges they apply to. For this reason, a student who is strong in math, or who really enjoys math, may want to consider Calculus regardless. 

Because college admissions decisions are so complex, there is rarely a “right” answer to questions like this! We advise students to plan ahead, be self-reflective and talk to their math teachers and school counselors to better understand their best options. The consultants at On My Way are experienced in helping students choose their high school courses, and we encourage you to contact us if you would like personalized guidance!