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Last updated March 21, 2024

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Classes to Take in High School Based on Your College Major

Key Takeaway

Planning your high school courses with your college major in mind is important. You need to understand prerequisites, advanced course pathways, and course-major alignment. Seek guidance from teachers and counselors when you're not sure. Your course selections can demonstrate your dedication and readiness in a particular field.

Okay, so you don’t necessarily need to know what college major you’re interested when you’re only 14 or 15 years old. But it can be very helpful to have a sense of where you’re heading academically, especially if you’re interested in a competitive major like computer science, business, or engineering.

When you’re applying to competitive majors, admissions officers usually expect to see certain coursework on your transcript. But the thing is, those courses tend to build on top of each other. For example, you have to take Algebra II before you can take Pre-Calc.

To meet these expectations, you’ll have to plan ahead.

Let’s dive in.

Understanding Coursework Alignment with Your Intended Major

"Major alignment" means selecting high school classes that set you up for success with your intended college major.

Let’s look at an example: engineering. If you want to apply for engineering, you'll want to make sure you’re on track to take the most advanced STEM courses your school offers, which often requires you to get on an honors track starting in 9th grade.

By your senior year, you should probably plan to take these courses (or their equivalents at your school): AP Physics C, AP Chemistry, and AP Calculus BC.

These courses are about more than just course rigor. Particularly at highly selective schools, admissions officers know that students need this subject-specific coursework to be on track in the major’s curriculum.

If all of the first-year engineering majors at the school must take multivariate calculus, but the highest math you took in high school is Algebra II, then you’re not going to be ready to begin the engineering major’s course sequence. Admitting you would not be setting you up for success, so admissions officers (at highly selective schools, at least) are unlikely to admit you.

The Importance of Prerequisites

But the tricky part is that you can’t just magically take a class like AP Calculus BC in your senior year if you haven’t taken the right prerequisites.

Prerequisites are courses that you must take before you can take a high-level course.

Imagine jumping from basic geometry to AP Calculus BC… Unless you’re a math prodigy, that would probably be nightmarish.

To handle prerequisites effectively, you'll need to understand your high school's course sequence.

Classes usually build on each other: you'll need Geometry before Algebra II, or you'll have to finish Honors English before you can take AP Literature. So, planning ahead is essential. Make sure you complete the necessary classes before your junior and senior year.

If you’re not sure where to start, go visit your school’s counseling or academic advising office. They, along with your teachers, will be able to walk you through your school’s curriculum to make sure you’re on the right track.

What College Admissions Officers Look for in Different Majors

For college applications, course rigor is a big deal—it shapes how admissions officers view your overall academic record. They appreciate students who stretch themselves with AP, IB, or dual enrollment classes. These demanding courses show you're ready for college-level academics and also enhance your academic profile.

But certain competitive majors also look for specific rigorous coursework, not just rigor in general. Let’s take a look at three of the most popular competitive majors:

What courses do I need for an engineering major?

  • AP Physics C
  • AP Chemistry
  • AP Calculus BC

What courses do I need for a computer science major?

  • AP Computer Science
  • AP Physics C
  • AP Chemistry
  • AP Calculus BC

What courses do I need for a business major?

  • AP Macroeconomics
  • AP Microeconomics
  • Calculus

What courses do I need for premed?

  • Biology (AP preferred)
  • Chemistry (AP preferred)
  • Calculus (AP preferred)
  • Physics (AP preferred)

If you’re early on in high school, set yourself up on the right track when possible. If you’re later on in high school, you may be able to use your summer to get ahead by taking a community college class or testing out of a certain level.

If your school doesn’t offer any of these courses, don’t stress about it. Admissions officers know what classes are offered at your school, so they won’t ding you for not taking something that isn’t available to you. But if you really want to show your eagerness, you can self-study for the AP exam or take an online class on a platform like Coursera.

Just remember that these course suggestions apply primarily to highly selective schools. If you’re applying to less selective schools or less competitive majors, then admissions officers will be more lenient about the kinds of courses on your transcript.

Get Help When You Need It

Succeeding in rigorous courses is hard. Don’t be afraid to lean on your teachers and school counselors for guidance. They can give you advice on managing course prerequisites, choosing demanding coursework, and planning an academic journey that fits with your college goals and school’s offerings.


Choosing high school classes with your college major in mind is an important part of crafting a strong college application. It's all about understanding prerequisites, pushing yourself with AP, IB, or dual enrollment classes, and aligning your high school classes with your intended major. Take full advantage of the people around you—teachers, school counselors, and college coaches—to help guide you. The classes you select and how you plan your coursework can showcase your dedication, readiness, and genuine interest in your chosen field to college admissions officers.




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