Parents often ask us which courses will help their student gain acceptance and be successful as STEM majors in college. Here are some quick tips to keep in mind:
Honors, IB, and AP classes in high school
When colleges examine an applicant, they look for good grades and also rigor (the difficulty of courses a student attempts relative to the offerings at their high school). That means students at a school offering few advanced level courses aren’t penalized, but a student with many options available to them should attempt higher levels of difficulty. In fact, an “A” in a standard level course may be considered less impressive than an “A-” or “B+” in an honors, AP, or IB course.
University of California and California State University build the concept of rigor into their GPA calculations, giving more weight to more difficult high school courses and courses taken at the college level or dual enrollment. While the process differs between institutions, you may even receive college credit for a strong AP/IB score or a class taken at the college level while in high school.
High school math classes
Students should take math all four years of high school with the highest rigor they can manage while still doing well. It is becoming more common for students to leave middle school with high school math credit. If this is the case, after maxing out the available high school courses, explore additional opportunities such as math classes at the college level (in person or online). If the student is interested in a field that requires data analysis, a statistics course could be a good fit. Some admissions officers suggest that AP Calculus is more impressive than AP Statistics, but consider the student’s future academic path if they are interested in social sciences including psychology and sociology.
Science classes in high school
Often students are required to take biology and chemistry in high school, but students interested in a STEM major should aim to take science classes all four years and prioritize taking physics. Physics is deeply ingrained in all science and engineering fields. Pre-health students will need to take a year of physics in college and having a foundational experience in high school can improve performance. Explore higher level courses (honors/IB/AP) to focus on at least one science subject.
If a high school offers computer science, this is a great introduction to college level topics across the STEM fields. Learning programming skills can give students the upper hand in STEM courses and research projects with data acquisition, analysis, and visualization.
Search out opportunities in robotics, environmental science, game programming, or anatomy and physiology. These courses can give you a taste of more specialized STEM fields you can explore in college.
Arts and language requirements
It’s important to examine the college admission requirements for all the colleges of interest. Students applying to University of California or California State University from out of state should make sure they take a year of relevant courses to satisfy the fine and performing arts requirement as well as two years of the same language.