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Getting Ready for College Early: Steps 1, 2, 3 & 4 (page 2)

— U.S. Department of Education
Updated on Jul 12, 2011

Challenging courses help kids get into college

Research shows that students who take algebra and geometry early (by the end of the eighth and ninth grades) are much more likely to go on to college than students who do not. In a national sample, only 26 percent of low-income students who did not take geometry went to college; but 71 percent of low-income students who took geometry went to college. It is common in other developed countries for students to have mastered the basics of math, algebra and some geometry by the end of the eighth grade. By taking algebra early in middle and junior high school, students can enroll in chemistry, physics and trigonometry. In addition, students should take three to four years of a foreign language and as many Advanced Placement courses as they can before finishing high school.

Just as employers want workers who have certain skills, most colleges want students who have taken certain courses. Many of these courses can be taken only after a student has passed other, more basic courses. The most important thing a student can do to prepare for college is to sign up for the right courses and work hard to pass them. As parents, you should get involved in choosing your children's schedule for the next year, and make sure that your children can and do take challenging courses. College-bound middle and junior high school students should take:

  • Algebra I (in eighth grade) and Geometry (in ninth grade) or other challenging math courses that expect students to master the essentials of these subjects. Algebra and geometry form the foundation for the advanced math and science courses that students need to take in high school to prepare for college. These courses give students the skills they need to succeed on college entrance exams, in college math classes and in their future careers.
  • English, Science and History or Geography. Together with math, these courses make up the core or basic academic classes. Every student should take English every year in middle school and in high school. They should also take as many science and history (including geography) classes as possible because all of them are good preparation for college. See the chart on the next page for examples of recommended courses.
  • Foreign Language. Many colleges require their students to study a foreign language for at least two years, and some prefer three or four years of one language. Taking a foreign language shows colleges that a student is serious and willing to learn the basics plus more, and shows employers that he or she is prepared to compete in the global economy.
  • Computer Science. Basic computer skills are now essential, and more and more jobs require at least a basic knowledge of computers. Make sure your child takes advantage of any opportunities the school offers to learn to use computers.
  • The Arts. Many colleges view participation in the arts and music as a valuable experi-ence that broadens students' understanding and appreciation of the world around them. It is also well known and widely recognized that the arts contribute significantly to children's intellectual development.

There's no substitute for taking challenging courses and working hard. The following chart lists some of the courses students should take.

High School Courses Recommended for College

English 4 years Mathematics 4 years
  composition   American literature   English literature   world literature   algebra I   geometry   algebra II   trigonometry   precalculus   calculus
History and Geography 2 to 3 years Laboratory Science 3 to 4 years
  geography   U.S. history   U.S. government   world history   world cultures   civics   biology   earth science   chemistry   physics
Visual and Performing Arts 1 to 2 years Challenging Electives 1 to 3 years
  art   dance   drama   music   economics   psychology   computer science   statistics   communications
Foreign Language 3 to 4 years  

Note: Taking Advanced Placement courses and Tech-Prep courses in any of these subjects can give students added skills for college.

Source: Compiled by the Planning and Evaluation Service of the U.S. Department of Education from various sources.

Step 2: Getting Ready

Taking the Right Courses for College Starts in Middle School

Get a Leg Up on College Preparation and Save on Tuition High school students can also take courses for credit at many colleges. These courses, Advanced Placement and Tech-Prep, are available in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades. Middle school and junior high school students who plan ahead and take algebra, a foreign language and computer courses by the eighth grade are better prepared for Advanced Placement and Tech-Prep courses in high school.

  • Taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Advanced Placement courses are college-level courses in 16 different subjects, from arts and music to calculus and English, that help students get ready for college during high school. Students who score high enough on the AP exams can receive advanced placement in college or college credit. This saves time and money, as students may be able to take fewer classes in college. Your child's teachers, guidance counselor or principal can tell you if your local high school offers AP courses. If they are not offered, work with other parents to get them included as part of the core curriculum.
  • Taking Tech-Prep courses. Students who want to pursue a technical program at a community, technical or junior college may want to prepare by taking some technical courses in high school in addition to the core courses. Talk to someone at your child's school or from a community, junior or technical college to find out the best high school courses to take for tech prep involvement. "School-to-work" and "school-to-career" courses can also help connect students to colleges and the workplace. Work with your school counselor to find local businesses or school-to-work councils that can provide your child with these opportunities.
  • Getting ready for college admissions exams. Most colleges require students to take either the SAT I or the ACT in their junior or senior year of high school. Ask your guidance counselor how your child can best prepare for these exams.

Don't go it alone: help for parents Some parents especially those who did not go to or finish college themselves may worry that they cannot provide their child the guidance and support needed to get ready for college. But remember, getting ready for college is more work than anyone can handle on their own, and you don't need to have gone to college yourself to help someone else get ready for college. To provide children extra opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills they need for college, many schools offer before- and after-school programs, where children can learn more about the subjects that interest them, under the care and guidance of adults. Some schools also have mentoring programs, where an adult who has studied or worked in the same field in which a child is interested can provide extra help and advice about, for example, the challenging math and science courses college-bound students need to take, and how to plan for a college and a career connected to their interests. Ask your child's teachers or guidance counselor for infor-mation about such programs in your local schools. Ask your child's principal about opportunities for teachers or others who have graduated from college to come into the classroom to talk with students about their experiences and success.

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