High School Classes: The Complete List

Picking high school classes is an inescapable part of high school. They also have an effect on your college admissions. If you’re in high school, college applications may seem very far away, or they may seem impossibly close, no matter which year you’re in right now.

There are a number of pieces to the college application process – researching and picking colleges to apply to, maintaining a strong GPA, pursuing extracurricular interests, writing your essays, taking standardized tests, and so on and so forth.

This can be pretty overwhelming. That’s why it’s good to plan ahead, however close or far away the fall semester of your senior year is, for what’s currently in your control.

Note: if you’re in your first year of high school, you don’t need to be planning what you’ll write for your college essays!

What you can plan and keep track of the whole way through high school is the process of making sure you are taking high school classes across a range of subjects, at an appropriate level of academic rigor, and working hard to succeed in them.

There are many different high school classes, ranging from basic required courses to elective “passion projects.” The purpose of this list is to give you an idea of the broad range of topics and specific courses that may be available to you as a high school student.

The list is organized by subject, and you can use it as a reference to plan which areas you may want to focus on for the long haul, including AP or Honors classes. It is not an exhaustive list containing every possible high school class, but it provides a fairly thorough overview of the topics available for study in high school. The names of high school classes are not mutually exclusive – your school may offer “pre-calculus” instead of “trigonometry,” for example, or it may offer both.

You don’t have much control over what classes your high school offers, but if there is a topic that interests you, it is worth talking to your guidance counselor early on about the possibility of doing an independent study, or taking a local college course or a correspondence course for high school credit.

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Standard Required High School Classes

The following subjects are the foundation of a high school education in most states and strong performance in these subjects is essential for admittance to selective schools. Within each of these subjects, there may be some courses that are required by your school or state, and others where some degree of choice is available.

English (Language Arts)

English and Language Arts high school classes provide an important foundation for college success – regardless of what you plan to study or what career path you’d like to take, you’ll need strong reading comprehension and the ability to communicate clearly through your writing.

Most states require three to four years of English coursework in high school.

  • American literature
  • British literature
  • Comparative literature
  • Contemporary literature
  • World literature
  • English (Grade Level)
  • Creative writing
  • Journalism
  • Rhetoric
  • Composition
  • Poetry
  • Debate


Wherever you plan to go to college and whatever you plan to study, you will likely be required to take some classes that rely on the quantitative reasoning skills you will solidify in your high school classes in math.

Most states require three to four years of Mathematics coursework in high school.

  • Pre-Algebra
  • Algebra 1
  • Algebra 2
  • Geometry
  • Trigonometry
  • Pre-Calculus
  • Calculus
  • Statistics
  • Integrated math

Social Studies

Even if you don’t plan to study history or politics in college, your social studies classes are an important piece of your development as an engaged, productive citizen. Studying the forces that have shaped and continue to shape our world are critical for making sense of various subjects you may study in the future.

Most states require three to four years of Social Studies coursework in high school.

  • American History
  • World History
  • Geography
  • US Government
  • European history
  • International relations
  • Economics
  • Psychology
  • Women’s studies
  • Religious studies
  • Sociology
  • Anthropology
  • Political science
  • Current events
  • World religions


Colleges are placing a greater and greater emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Success in your high school science classes is a crucial piece of making yourself a competitive applicant. Scientific literacy is also a necessary competency for enabling you to productively engage with your studies and current issues.

Most states require three to four years of Science coursework in high school.

  • Earth science
  • Physical science
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Organic chemistry
  • Physics
  • Life science
  • Environmental science
  • Astronomy
  • Zoology
  • Oceanography
  • Forensic science
  • Botany

Foreign Languages

We live in a globalized society in which basic multilinguality is a huge asset to you in terms of opening up academic and career opportunities.

Most states require at least one year of Foreign Language coursework in high school.

  • Spanish
  • French
  • German
  • Latin
  • American Sign Language
  • Portuguese
  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Italian
  • Russian

Common Elective High School Classes

The following subjects are present as electives (classes you choose to take) at most schools in most states. You may be required to choose some number of courses to take within some of these subjects, or there may even be specific classes you are required to take, but for the most part, these are classes you choose to take based on your interest and schedule.

Performing Arts

  • Choir
  • Jazz band
  • Concert band
  • Marching band
  • Orchestra
  • Music theory
  • Dance
  • Drama

Visual Arts

  • Art history
  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Digital media
  • Film production
  • Photography
  • Printmaking
  • Sculpture
  • Ceramics

Physical Education

  • Team sports
  • Health
  • Wellness
  • Swimming
  • Gymnastics
  • Weight training
  • Aerobics
  • Racket sports
  • Yoga
  • Physical education


  • Accounting
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Marketing
  • Personal finance
  • Business

Computer Science and Information Technology

  • Computer literacy
  • Computer programming
  • Computer science
  • Graphic design
  • Film production
  • Music production
  • Web design
  • Word processing
  • Media studies

Family and Consumer Science

  • Culinary arts
  • Family and consumer science
  • Home economics
  • Nutrition
  • CPR
  • Fashion design
  • Retail marketing

Vocational Education

    • Auto repair
    • Woodworking
    • Computer-aided drafting
    • Driver education
    • Cosmetology
    • JROTC
    • Networking
    • Metalworking
    • Robotics
    • FFA
    • Electronics

AP Classes

Advanced Placement (AP) is a program run by the College Board, offering challenging high school classes with the opportunity for college course credit / placement into advanced college courses. When you take an AP class, you have the opportunity to take the AP exam for that class, and if you score highly enough, receive college credit or place into a more advanced starting course in college.

    • AP Research
    • AP Seminar
    • AP Art history
    • AP Music theory
    • AP Studio art: 2-D design
    • AP Studio art: 3-D design
    • AP Studio art: drawing
    • AP English Language and Composition
    • AP English Literature and Composition
    • AP Comparative government and politics
    • AP European history
    • AP Human Geography
    • AP Macroeconomics
    • AP Microeconomics
    • AP Psychology
    • AP United States Government and Politics
    • AP United States History
    • AP World History
    • Math & Computer Science
    • AP Calculus AB
    • AP Calculus BC
    • AP Computer Science A
    • AP Computer Science Principles
    • AP Statistics
    • AP Biology
    • AP Chemistry
    • AP Environmental Science
    • AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
    • AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based
    • AP Physics 2: Algebra-Based
    • AP Chinese Language and Culture
    • AP French Language and Culture
    • AP German Language and Culture
    • AP Italian Language and Culture
    • AP Japanese Language and Culture
    • AP Latin
    • AP Spanish Language and Culture
    • AP Spanish Literature and Culture
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By |2019-06-05T20:25:37+00:00February 21st, 2017|Admissions|

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