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While your high school classmates are struggling with mathematical calculations, you’re excelling at it. High school students who enjoy and do well in the math classes that their peers find challenging often wish to go on to major in math in college. If you are contemplating a bachelor’s degree in math, there are strategic course decisions you can make now, before you even finish your high school diploma, that can help you succeed in college. Aspiring math majors should consider taking high-level math courses, Advanced Placement classes, college prep coursework in your other subjects and other classes that fit with your intended career path.

How Do I Prepare for a Mathematics Degree While in High School?


Best High School Math Classes for Math Majors

It goes without saying that you should study math in high school if you want to major in the subject in college. However, you might wonder how many math classes you need to take as a high schooler and which courses are the best options for you.

Aspiring math majors should plan on taking at least one math class every year of high school, even if you can graduate with fewer math courses. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) encourages high schoolers interested in careers such as mathematician and statistician to take “as many math courses as possible” before they earn their diploma. While that recommendation exists in part because gaining a more thorough understanding of math in high school will help students succeed in their college coursework, not following it could prevent you from being a math major. Some colleges and universities require that prospective math majors have a minimum of eight semesters, or four years, of high school math, to gain acceptance to the program of study.

The quantity of math courses you take isn’t the only thing that counts. Some high school math classes are better choices than others. Colleges might not accept high school courses such as business math, consumer math or computer math toward the mathematics coursework requirements needed for admission into the major. Instead, look for courses such as algebra, geometry, calculus, trigonometry and probability and statistics.

While pre-algebra might not count toward meeting your mathematics coursework admissions requirements, high school pre-calculus courses often do count.

The Benefits of Advanced Placement (AP) Math Courses

Often, among the most challenging classes you can take in high school are Advanced Placement classes. The College Board, the organization behind the SAT standardized test, administers these rigorous college-level courses and accompanying exams in more than 30 subjects of study. Students who attain a score of three, four or five on an AP exam pass the test and may be eligible to receive college credit toward their bachelor’s degree.

There are both benefits and drawbacks to taking AP classes, so it is important to weigh all of the factors when considering AP classes. First of all, the workload in an AP course is intense. That means that high school students are learning a great deal and getting a first taste of what college coursework will be like, both of which are good aspects of Advanced Placement programs. However, high school students who load up on too many AP courses at a time may struggle to keep up with their assignments, even if they understand the course material. Students who are trying to do too much may see their grades suffer or find that they have to cut out extracurricular activities. Both of these outcomes can ultimately undermine students’ applications to college, cause them unnecessary stress and affect their overall wellbeing.

Rather than signing up for all of the AP courses their school offers, students should think carefully about which programs would offer them the best results. Prospective math majors can often benefit from taking AP math courses, especially Advanced Placement Calculus AB and Advanced Placement Calculus BC. It is important to know that different colleges and programs of study approach AP course credit differently. Some schools don’t award course credit toward a degree, but instead allow students who have passed the AP exam to enroll in higher level courses since they already have a background in the AP subject. Additionally, some colleges will only award credit toward graduation for a score of four or five on an AP exam, even though a score of three is considered passing. Students contemplating AP classes should also research their top schools’ positions on AP credit.

Both AP courses and the exams themselves are challenging. Nationally, less than one-quarter of all high school students who took an AP exam in 2017 scored a passing grade on the test.

A Comprehensive College Preparatory High School Curriculum

Students often focus more on the subject they want to major in than their other classes, which might not interest them or play to their strengths as much as their intended major. However, no matter what major you declare, you will need to complete general education courses before you can earn your degree. It is important that you take college preparatory courses in the rest of your subjects as well as math. You don’t have to take honors or AP courses in every subject, of course, but you should strive to take a full college prep curriculum so that you are prepared to study English, history, science and other necessary subjects at the college level.

A strong college prep program is essential for prospective math majors. Additionally, taking a class in probability and statistics – along with, rather than instead of, your other math courses – can be useful.

Complementary Coursework for Your Career

What do you plan to do once you complete your mathematics education? The applications of math principles and calculations are widespread. If you have an idea where you want to take your career, studying that field early on – in high school as well as college – can help you determine your desired career path and reach your goals.

Consider taking classes in physics and computer science or programming.

Additional Resources

How Do I Prepare for a Statistics Degree While in High School?

How Do I Prepare for a Mathematics Education Degree While in High School?

How Do I Prepare for an Actuarial Science Degree While in High School?