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Redefining the High School Curriculum

A student’s choice of high school subjects can have a major impact on their academic experience and even their future career path. It’s important to take the time to carefully consider your subject choices.

The most crucial classes are the core ones, such as science, math, social studies and English/language arts. These are the classes that are required for graduation.

Core Subjects

Many schools use a core curriculum of subjects that all students must take in order to earn a high school diploma. This includes English classes, math and science. Other than these required courses, students are given freedom to choose their own electives based on personal interests. This might include yearbook, journalism or weight training.

As long as a formalized system of education exists, schools have been required to offer a certain selection of courses to students in order for them to receive a diploma. Different states have passed legislation that determines a field of study, minimum credit requirements and other factors in this regard.

Typically, the core subjects of the modern high school curriculum will always include English, math, science and history, with foreign language or health/phys ed added to the mix in most places. You'll also find that schools often count courses that teach basic computer literacy among the standard curriculum, even when those courses are not required for graduation.


When filling out your high school course schedule, the blank spaces that aren’t filled by required classes can be filled with electives. These courses may be a great opportunity for your student to explore new interests and learn skills that can benefit them in college, career and beyond.

Elective classes range from specialized academic to hands-on vocational training, and the choices are almost endless. But the best way to find the right elective is to ask your teen what they’re interested in studying.

Some elective classes can fit into the core academic subjects of English/language arts, math, social studies/history, science and foreign language; while others are outside of those subjects, such as music, art, photography, woodshop, first aid or physical education. Nevertheless, it’s not uncommon for colleges to look at the subjects your teen takes as an indicator of their interests and academic abilities.

AP Courses

For students interested in challenging themselves with college-level courses, a growing number of high schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) classes. These courses are standardized by an organization known as the College Board and give students a taste of the academic curriculum that they will encounter once they get to college or university. They also have the potential to earn students college credit if they score well enough on their AP exams.

Most AP classes are like college primers in high school-class form; they move at a faster pace and require more time spent reading and studying outside of class. Taking a lot of AP classes can increase your chances of getting into highly selective colleges, as it shows admissions officers that you are ambitious and ready for college-level coursework.

Because AP classes are harder than their counterparts, it's important that students take them seriously and plan accordingly. This means making sure that they have room in their schedule for other classes, extracurricular activities, and family commitments.

Standard Curriculum

As technology continues to be a vital part of our daily lives, it’s likely that classes in coding and computer programming will become part of the high school curriculum as well. Currently, most schools offer computer courses such as typing and Microsoft Office programs.

Typical social studies courses include geography in 9th grade, American or world history and cultures in 10th and 11th grades, and government or economics in 12th grade. Students with advanced academic skills can choose additional courses like microeconomics, macroeconomics, physics, and chemistry.

A world-class education doesn’t only come from the classroom and coursework, but also through extracurriculars, clubs, and volunteering experiences. The student-centered focus of the United States educational system along with its transparent communication and community involvement is one of the reasons it is considered among the top international education systems.